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Dream-Killers and the Entrepreneur: The Expert

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In the first installment of this series, I shared the common experience of entrepreneurs encountering Dream Killers. Dream Killers are oft understood as barriers to the entrepreneurial dream, a sentiment I certainly shared in the early phases of launching Strong Women, Strong Girls. A few years in and thousands of conversations with and about Dream Killers, I've seen two things:

1) About Dream Killers: they come in five types. Know the type you're working with and it's a lot easier to understand their viewpoint and hear the value being shared.

2) About Entrepreneurs: They ignore Dream Killers... to their detriment. Part of the entrepreneurial DNA to ignore reason. While making the impossible possible is the daily goal, grounding and guidance avoids unnecessary pitfalls.

Understand the five types of Dream Killers, prepare for their feedback, and walk away with the Grain of Truth to help you build a better business.

First up: The Expert in the Field: Americans love experts. Entrepreneurs--adventurers and risk-takers that we are--are no exception. Meeting with experts, in my case, individuals who led not for profit organizations, allows start-ups to gain a deep understanding of the landscape. Early in my work, I was also certain that this group would be an easy win. They would share wisdom, I would share new ideas, and we would both walk away with renewed energy for making the world a better place.

To my surprise, the recurring theme that I heard from Experts in the Field was: there are too many nonprofits. It was repeated like a mantra at the start of each and every meeting I had. Before I had time to pitch my idea, to hear their wisdom or to drop some innovation of my own, it would begin: "I'm sure that this is a very good idea but you really should know: there are just too many nonprofits already."
As an entrepreneur, I believe that innovation and competition are intrinsically good. A crowded field pushes organizations to be better, faster, stronger, and more disciplined. I was confused by the message that there were already too many nonprofits and that, as a result, innovation should be checked at the door.

The Grain of Truth: While I still believe that competition drives innovation and improved performance, in the social sector--where need is growing and capital is shrinking--each new nonprofit organization brings with it administrative and overhead costs. While keeping the lights on and operations running smoothly is critical to effective organizations, there are opportunities for collaboration and resource sharing of ventures that maximizes efficiency and allows funds to be directed to scaling services. By saying "there are too many nonprofits," what the Dream Killers were really saying is "there are too many nonprofits operating inefficiently." While I'm not sure that further exploration would have led me down a different path in launching a new venture, this advice has pushed me to think critically about the choices we make as an organization. It has driven us to work collaboratively with agencies on back office functions, creating a culture that brings competition, innovation, and continually improvement in-house to drive efficiency and continual improvement.

Tune in next week when for a discussion on Dream Killer Type II, Dear Aunt Sally.