Want to create a thriving social business? Stop promoting it’s social benefits

We all know that the world faces several environmental and social crisis. Isn’t it crazy that, even if it’s public knowledge, it’s so hard to collectively create positive alternatives to the society we have?

Why it’s so hard to make social / open source / circular economy businesses work when we need them so much ?

Why is money still going to “evil” projects that are ruining the planet, our privacy and our liberty ?

I would argue that a part of the problem is that social ventures promote things people perceive as “nice-to-have”. Not must-haves.

And that’s a mistake. Projects who want to create a social or environmental impact should focus on creating and promoting products that cover people’s needs better than their “non-social competition”.

Most social ventures try to differentiate through their social vision. And this is only appealing to activists or technicians, which represents a minority of people.

“I’m greener / open source / decentralized / privacy focused / circular / community minded”…

Promoting these kinds of attributes has seen thousands of beautiful projects die or barely survive in obscurity.

You might get sympathy, but not a sustainable way to spread your impact across society.

Remember Ello or Diaspora, the ad-free or open source alternatives that wanted to topple Facebook ? Probably not.

Did you know that Duckduckgo, the open source and privacy minded alternative to Google, only has 0.21% of the search market ?

Social projects are talking about saving the world, which is rather sexy and something we all collectively want and share. But when people go buying, even if they said they wanted to save the world, they end up going for what covers their lowly needs. So they go for stuff that saves them money and time or that gives them enjoyment, convenience and so on…

People will buy your alternative because it covers their needs first. Being “social” is just the sprinkles on top of your cake, not the cake.

People will spend their hard earned money or scarce attention only if it covers their personal need, not to support an approach. So give them first what they want. Then give them what they need.

The alternative is to build your company around actual people’s needs first, and use your social vision to guide what you create.

Tesla sells beautiful and powerful cars first, while using their electric and sustainable vision to change transportation.

No mention of ecology, pollution or anything social on Tesla’s homepage.
Speed, range and safety are the ideas that are funding Tesla’s mission.

Patagonia sells high quality, beautiful and warm outdoor clothing. This priority is then guided by their wish to create the lowest possible environmental impact.

Patagonia’s home page also makes emphasis on the quality, lightness, warmth and “packageability” of their gear.

Free code camp focus on creating the best possible courses to help people develop skills required to reach highly paid developer jobs. Them being open source is important but is a nice extra.

Open Source? Yes, but you wouldn’t know it by the home page alone. Everything is set to communicate that Free Code Camp helps people learn how to code, and get experience to launch a developer career.

Interface first sells modular office carpets that’s cheaper and easier to replace and that looks appeasing to the eye. Meanwhile they create this great product so they can afford to create a company that’s absolutely zero waste by 2020.

Interface’s home page mentions that they make beautifully designed carpets, not that they are working to advance the circular economy. (even if they hint at it if you click on the Mission Zero block)

As you see, these companies are successful, and they are complete dreamers and even activists. But the social vision is in the backstage.

You can follow these 2 steps:

1/ Build and promote a product that’s better than what the “evil” incumbents offer. To improve it, you can make it faster, stronger, easier, more networked, for early-adopter or for laggards, beautifully designed…

You can find more improvement ideas to get an edge in Seth Godin’s book Free Prize Inside.

2/ Use your social vision as your compass, not as your product. This will ensure you build a product aligned with your vision and values.

It’s not easy. But it is definitely easier than trying to stand out only based on inspiring values.

Want more free tips on how to build an open and community driven organisation delivered straight to your inbox?
Signup below. (It’s 100% free. Unsubscribe anytime.)

Jaime Arredondo
Find me on:


  1. “Use your social vision as your compass, not as your product.”
    A simple demonstration with a deep meaning. And concrete results when put into practice. ‘Nuff said ! GG Jaime

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.