Do you need money to start a business Part 2 (of 3) Maybe not.

We have taken Step 1. The very first step. This generally can be done without using other people’s money. Oh, and if you are not comfortable with using your own money then why are you building the business in the first place?

When we started 2.23AM the original idea was to hold a large event, 1000 guests. I had a zero budget. We were clear about the audience. We knew what they were looking for and the type of  event we wanted to host.

The questions that were circulating in my head where questions such as…

How would I (with no big reputation) attract 1000 people to an event easily?
How could I, with no capital, get this off the ground?

One way was to go big, get sponsors, get the superstar key note…and this is the path we explored for a time, right down to meeting with Sir Richard Branson.

What I knew is that I didn’t want to create an event that wasn’t stunningly WOW. I either had to inspire people to the vision, or it was not going to work.

The route of raising capital just never felt right. We were building a model of business as unusual, and that meant we had to demonstrate different ways of going about business.

One day my good friend, Dr David Martin was in town. David is a world expert at intangible assets and integral accounting. He has spoken at the World Bank, is often on Bloomberg TV, and has worked with governments around the world. We put an expression of interest notice out to my local community….would you like to attend this event with David, on this date? We decided that we only wanted to charge cost. We held two events and they were incredibly successful. The room was filled with 2.23AM’ers. They loved what David talked about and they wanted more.

This was the first step. It cost me time to send out the email, to manage logistics, and that is it. It did not make me money, but that wasn’t the point. The point was to test the 2.23AM target market, and more importantly, start to build the tribe.

Step 2 became immediately apparent from this. Dr Martin was the perfect ‘guest’ around which we could build both executive forums and entrepreneur workshops. The strategy for the executive forums was to find a champion in several countries around the world, bring together 30-40 executives and entrepreneurs into a one day conversation over a beautiful repast.

I needed a beautiful invite…a little evidence of the thought behind what we were doing and the clarity of purpose we were evoking.

We went to our immediate community…the people we already know. From that we got a world class copy writer and designer and experts in branding. For some of this I traded my time.

We then put this invite out to the same community…asking the direct and specific question to entrepreneurs and business leaders…would they champion an event.

Within 12 hours we got a yes. Not only a yes, but “here, let me open my address book for you can meet all the people I want to invite, so they can invite their people.” If we had of got zero response that may have been valuable and low cost feedback.

To this point the whole enterprise had been bootstrapped. We had talked earlier about raising capital, then getting founding partners, and sponsorship. But the timing wasn’t right to do that. 2.23AM was still too young, and I would have had to do a lot of seductive selling to get that happening. And the seduction model is not one aspire to. Rather the model that tells a story and attracts.

However when the opportunity came up to host the first event in Ireland and the doors were opened…I knew I had to go. I also knew that the project was going to fly. We also had a podcast launching with some very stellar guests.

I needed a small amount of capital. But how to raise it? And quickly…in 48 hours. When I really went deep into the desire around what I wanted to happen in this moment, what was apparent to me was that I wanted to invite people to participate. I wanted to take away as much of the risk for them as possible. I wanted them to feel they were supporting a project they loved. I wanted this to be something that really called to them. I was not giving away shares. I did an internal crowd funding campaign.

The money was raised in 48 hours. It was easy. It felt right. I did not feel like a beggar…or seducer. This because I was so deeply committed to the project…I had been through the gestation of it over the last 30 months, it had challenged me, terrified me…I had challenged myself…and yet always it came back to the core knowing that this was what I was to do.

I am not 100% sure we will ever host a large event. I suspect we will. But in being really willing to throw away any story about how this must be done, and really reach into the impulse of what I wanted to create and then the very next step…in time I know we will build something significant. I am happy with small and consistent, vs big hard and bold. Most of all I am happy that we have built it though the community, and in its own pace.

In Part 3 I will discuss the lessons learned.

 

Photo credit:  Venu Gopal via Compfight

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