Writings by a younger, less handsome man who shares my name

This is the first post in a five-part series on missioneurs, a new community of startup and social entrepreneurs.

The premise is that startup entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs need each other. Alone, too many of their great ideas are struggling and failing. Together, they can fill in each other’s blind spots, build stronger companies and make greater change.[Missioneurship image]

A new post in this series will be published every day this week. Blog subscribers will receive them one day early by email or RSS.


Great startups and non-profits are dying needlessly, and it’s time for those of us who care to do something about it.

The obituaries look so familiar that they start to run together.

Here lies Anthillz, a tech startup that failed for lack of traction, inability to attract investors and too much time and money spent building the right tech team.

Here lies Great Intentions, a (barely) fictitious non-profit that died the non-profit version of this same death. It lost its foundation funding, laid off most of its staff, sought help in vain from its indifferent board – most of whom missed that board meeting, just like the ones before it – and forced its founders to look for other work because they couldn’t afford to pay themselves a salary, not even the peanuts they were making before.

If you’re a startup or social entrepreneur, one of these two stories should sound familiar. You probably hear versions of them again and again.

And even if you’ve never seen the other obituary – startups and social entrepreneurs often speak a very different language – you can probably relate to the pain.

Some of these failures are inevitable and healthy. Sometimes the world doesn’t want what it’s offered or a team fails to deliver it.

But many of these failures, far more than we realize, don’t need to happen at all. The better world they imagined is possible and the team is capable of building it.

Yet they fail. They fail and we all lose an opportunity to live in their better world.

Here’s the worst part about it, the thing that no one talks about: their failures are not really their fault.

Their failures are our fault. They are a natural consequence of the things we’ve taught them – and by “we” I mean those of us who talk about, write about and role model startup and social entrepreneurship.

It’s our fault because we have been teaching them how to be 50% entrepreneurs. And the 50% were not teaching is crippling them.

We’re not trying to do this, of course. We’re merely teaching them what we know.

The problem is that we’re only 50% entrepreneurs ourselves, missing half of the equation. We’re seeing the world through just one eye.

The good news is that both camps, startup entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs, are each seeing through a different eye. That’s why we speak such different languages.

That’s also why we have such a critical opportunity to work together. We can’t do great things with one eye closed, seeing only half the picture.

We can do great things together, each bringing one half of the whole picture and, over time, helping each other open our other eye.

Tomorrow, in part 2 of the series, we’ll describe exactly what’s missing in startup entrepreneurship and how social entrepreneurs can help. This second post is called “The one-eyed startup entrepreneur.”


More articles in The Missioneur Series:

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  • http://jamesondetweiler.com/blog Jameson Detweiler

    Blake, I'm really looking forward to the rest of this series. I'm not completely sure where your'e going with it yet, but I'm excited to find out.

    I definitely agree that we all have a limited outlook which causes many of us to go down the wrong path.

  • http://www.blakejennelle.com Blake Jennelle

    Thanks so much Jameson, I'd love to hear your feedback as each post starts to fill in the details.

  • http://crossovercapitalist.tumblr.com/ Garrett Melby

    I'm looking forward to it too. There are a lot of myths about start-ups and entrepreneurs that are perpetuated by the understandable but extreme survivorship bias in reporting on the the break-out successes.

    Let's look under the hood and focus some attention on the failures. It's not as much fun as cheerleading for the winners, but needs to be done in order to build an effective support system here in Philadelphia.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Benjamin-Hellar/9374214 Benjamin Hellar

    This looks like its going to be a fantastic read. As an Entrepreneurial outsider I was never aware that there was a perceived difference between social and startup entrepreneurs. I very am interested to see how you compare these two business cultures. I'm curious is this a distinction that is prevalent in the community itself, or an artifice that you've created for this discussion?

    Also an academic, I'm interested to see how the theme of educating the community permeate the discussion. Especially since Failure-driven learning is one of the strongest motivators (and simultaneously a strong demotivator) for goal-oriented task performance. How failure is handled by the individual and supported by their social network (both strong and weak ties) directly impacts their approach at future endeavours. I'm interested to see your insights into this process.

    Once Again, Great Start Blake.

  • geoffd

    I firmly believe that mission comes first.

    I have always been confused when someone labels themselves as an entrepreneur verses talks about what that care about and believe in.

    For example, it always confused me when people studied business as undergraduates in college. I was like… so… you want to start a business? That's as far as you got? Why not pursue a passion that you care about… and when the time comes, build a business around it.

    The same applies for starting and running businesses. The mission/passion comes first. That is the hard part. Building business structures is something you can learn as you go.

  • http://www.dangerouslyawesome.com alexknowshtml

    So which is it? Did Anthillz die because of “lack of traction, inability to attract investors and too much time and money spent building the right tech team” or “lack of a mission” by which to lead those issues away from failure and towards success?

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  • http://www.blakejennelle.com Blake Jennelle

    Right on. It's all about seeing a business as a means to an end instead of an end in itself, like you say. Let the business be a tool you use to achieve your mission. Mission seems to be much more elusive for entrepreneurs to figure out.

  • geoffd


    That is shocking news to me.

  • http://www.blakejennelle.com Blake Jennelle

    I agree. We take it for granted that so many startups and non-profits have to fail (and then we don't talk about them when they do). Maybe creative destruction can involve a higher ratio of creation to destruction than it does now — and maybe even a much higher ratio.

  • http://www.blakejennelle.com Blake Jennelle

    Startup and social entrepreneurs really don't interact much right now. Going to events for each group, I'm struck by the differences in attitude and in language. I keep find myself wanting to export part of one and bring it into the other. So my hope is that when we bring these groups together, each has that same experience (after a little bit of inevitable cultural shock, which I hope doesn't overwhelm them).

    Differing attitudes toward failure (celebrating vs. tolerating vs. shunning) are often cited as a key reason certain countries do so much better than others in entrepreneurship. I wish I could find the article I read most recently on it. Maybe someone else will drop a link to a similar article.

  • http://www.blakejennelle.com Blake Jennelle

    Good question. Anthillz started with a clear sense of mission and a failure of execution. Lots of rookie mistakes by me as a first time entrepreneur.

    But then by the time we started to figure out the execution part of the game, we had lost sight of the mission (which to me was bringing the freelancing option to all) and found ourselves executing on something the market didn't want, wasn't remarkable and we weren't that passionate about.

  • http://jamesondetweiler.com/blog Jameson Detweiler

    I'm not sure I understand that mission is elusive. I like to think that I know the problem I'm trying to solve with my business. I can sum it up in two sentences:

    “We started GreenKonnect to make it easier and less expensive to build sustainably in order to help speed up the adoption of green building in the marketplace.”

    I agree that some people don't have much of a mission, but I'm not sure how widespread of a problem it is. It would be interesting to survey a group of entrepreneurs and ask them to explain their mission in less than 60 seconds.

  • http://www.blakejennelle.com Blake Jennelle

    I'm going to push you a little bit here Jameson. That's a goal — increasing adoption of green building in the marketplace — but why is that a goal worth devoting your life to, both for you and your team? Why is that going to inspire the people you serve to care so deeply about you that they can't stop talking about you?

    I'm not doubting for a second that there's a great mission in there, I just want to pull it out.

  • http://www.blakejennelle.com Blake Jennelle

    That's a great question. I have some guesses. For example, building a startup is pitched as glamorous, daring and liberating, and so it's sometimes a personal lifestyle choice more than a means to accomplishing something worth doing.

    Truly though, I don't think I've thought enough about this. So I'm glad you're pushing me to think.

  • http://jamesondetweiler.com/blog Jameson Detweiler

    That's pretty simple. I didn't expand the mission as far as I could because in my daily life and the circles I run in, most people would naturally come to what I'm about to state below.

    The way we build buildings today is not only so consumptive that we're likely destroying the world for our children, it also results in extremely unhealthy places to live an work. I believe we have an obligation to future generations to change this.

  • http://www.blakejennelle.com Blake Jennelle

    Now we're talking!

  • http://jamesondetweiler.com/blog Jameson Detweiler

    I guess you could say that the mission is so ingrained in me, that I don't usually take it that far.

  • http://runt.ly/ Muhammadatt

    “For example, it always confused me when people studied business as undergraduates in college. I was like… so… you want to start a business? That's as far as you got? Why not pursue a passion that you care about… and when the time comes, build a business around it.”

    I'm not sure I follow. That's sort of like asking why someone would study programming in college, rather than waiting until they actually had a application that they wanted to build?

    For me the passion for entrepreneurship can be summed up in five words: I like to build things. I love the process of discovering opportunities and building somethng useful where nothing existed before. I guess you could say i have a passion for the process. I think you'll find a similar sentiment at work amongst most serial entrepreneur types. (Disclaimer: I was an undergraduate business major).

  • http://twitter.com/bglusman Brian

    Touche Muhammadatt! I know what Geoff means here, and I've had similar thoughts meeting some people, but I think there's an underlying point that's still valid, which is, you can get into it for good reasons or bad ones, but if you go into it because you want to be rich, either of them, it's not a very good sign…

  • richardbrunner

    Hi Blake, I'm impressed with your posting. I'm a new PSL member. Are you a member of the PSL Board? The first thing is personal assessment, defining strengths and weaknesses and not being afraid to ask for help. I would say that I'm a designer, practical engineer, but mainly an artist. This statement of ability also defines my weaknesses. I love 3-D CAD and don't know much else about computers! Like many early innovators I lost over $20K to Scams like InventHelp. I know I can't do this alone, and don't even know the right questions to ask and who to ask. I would like to offer my efforts and case for you if it would be helpful. My efforts are designed to help homeowner save money, and I'm meeting much resistance from the industries, ie. co.s that have reviewed the sander also sell sandpaper. The AIA doesn't want to talk about heat losses that they don't yet recognise. We can't reduce energy use without identifying losses. These industries are holding us back from reducing energy use and protecting the environment. You're on the right track, let me know if there's anything I can do to assist your efforts. Thanks for being there! Richard

  • http://www.blakejennelle.com Blake Jennelle

    Are you glad you majored in business Muhammad? I'm not asking with any bias toward the answer. I've always wondered how useful entrepreneurs find their business education once they start launching companies. FWIW, I have a humanities degree that I'm happy to have and that was largely useless from a professional perspective.

  • http://www.blakejennelle.com Blake Jennelle

    Welcome to PSL Richard! I started the group and am still active and on the board. You're in the right place to meet like-minded people and get some outside ideas on what you're trying to do. In fact, Jameson Detweiler (who left some comments on this post) has a company in the green building space. You two may want to talk.

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  • richardbrunner

    Thanks Blake! I am talking to Jameson, and your blog strikes home with me. In construction its said “A jack-of-all-trades is a master of none.” I'm in uncharted waters, and what I don't know can and does hurt me in ways I don't understand. I'm my efforts biggest asset and hinderance. Here's my household thermal model: fill a plastic bag with water, poke holes in it with a pin, and observe. This hurts low income families the most, and must be corrected for any number of causes and reasons. Failure is not an option, unless we want to continue to suffer the results. Re: PSL Board- I knew it from your content! I'll be watching and looking for answers to questions that I don't know to ask! Keep at it. Richard

  • inyah11

    We should cross promote and speak at each other's events/ tele-classes or blogs. I teach something called Big Mission Group Projects – 7 steps to get you project and mission on the world stage by helping charities and building a community of collaborators to create your movie, book, event, services in 10 weeks or less. My team walks you through the exact steps I went from clueless to partnering with national charities, best selling authors, award winning journalists and a responsive online community… in the first couple weeks of the product launch. Let's connect. -Ruth

  • http://www.blakejennelle.com Blake Jennelle

    Great to meet you Ruth. You should sign up for the Missioneurs Community Google Group we just created. It's where the community will be talking about these issues and sharing relevant events.


  • inyah11


    I just applied to join your group! http://groups.google.com/group/missioneurs/

    Thanks, -Ruth