So What Do You Do At TDi?
In 2012, I met Bessi Graham and Paul Steele, who were planning something exciting. Their idea was The Difference Incubator, an organisation that would help social enterprises to grow, thrive and take on a serious amount of investment.
I soon became TDi’s first employee, and over the next three years worked with every enterprise that came through the door.
Today, I am an associate – coming in to run workshops and consultations with social enterprises and charities that are looking to improve their business model.
TDi’s work is hard to describe, and has changed over time.
When asked what I did for work, my default answer used to be “I work in the CBD”
Thankfully, it’s evolved since then.
Building a business is hard.
Solving important social problems is hard.
Doing both at the same time is both incredibly compelling, and borderline impossible.
Some brave people believe that it can be done. For these “social entrepreneurs” , having a good support team can transform their idea.
Having a partner who will encourage you when times are tough, spot problems before they arise, and walk the journey alongside you is a huge advantage.
These are people who are not afraid to tell some harsh truths, who know what investors want, and can ask great questions.
They strengthen your business, and enables you to grow at the right speed.
We want to be that partner.
At first, every entrepreneur told us that they wanted investment. We would help them do a “Capital Raise”, where they take on money from an investor, and use it to grow the business.
Our minimum investment size was $500k, and we would take a success fee when the deal happened.
As a show of good faith, our fee was often taken as equity, meaning we own a small part of the business. This makes a lot of sense – if we were going to recommend the company, we needed to believe in it too, like a chef eating their own cooking.
It turns out, 99% of the enterprises that said they wanted a capital raise didn’t really want it at all.
Instead, they wanted financial security – the knowledge that they’d be able to make payroll in three weeks’ time.
When times became tough, they thought: “What we need is an investor!”.
Instead, what they really needed was a sustainable business model – one that isn’t bleeding money.
That’s where I come in. My role is to design, test and validate the underlying business model, to make sure it works in the real world.
If the business model works, the enterprise makes money.
No panic, no desperation, no sleepless nights.
We describe this as the three M’s.
You need a good Mission, a good Model, and a good Management team.
If we can get those three right, pitching to an investor is actually quite easy.
I work alongside entrepreneurs using a range of tools, such as the Business Model Canvas, Value Proposition Canvas and The 5 E’s of Customer Journey.
These tools are incredible – they permanently change the way you view your business.
They empower you can spot trouble ahead of time, and identify exciting opportunities that are otherwise hidden.
They also provide a way of testing your assumptions, quickly, cheaply and painlessly.
Sometimes we work with groups of 10-12 enterprises at a time, sometimes it’s with just one team and their board.
The sessions are always engaging – we use a lot of real world case studies, back and forth discussions, and a few rounds of great coffee from Kinfolk and School of Life.
They’re also mentally draining – we’re exploring new customer segments, reframing value propositions, experimenting with new pricing strategies, even changing what business we’re in.
I love the tough, honest conversations.
It’s important to get the tone right – one that encourages constructive criticism, honesty, creativity and passion to all come out at once.
Change is uncomfortable, but we can help make the process go as smoothly as possible. Having helped hundreds of other social enterprises through the process, we can provide some creative suggestions, and hit bad ideas on the head quickly and politely.
I hate the typical “Seagull Consultant” – who flies in, craps all over you, then flies away. Our industry doesn't need smartasses and negativity, it needs honesty, vulnerability and ingenuity.
Our approach is to be in it for the long haul. The process of scaling up takes time, so we touch base every few weeks with the business to see where we can help. It’s a tough journey, but it’s worthwhile.
If you’re a social entrepreneur – or would like to be in the future – then the tools and techniques we use can make your life easier.
If you’d like to get in touch, I’m at Isaac@isaacjeffries.com
To arrange a coffee with TDi, head to www.tdi.org.au