The new entrepreneurship: move fast & fix things

Published on: 03/07/2020




The new entrepreneurship: move fast & fix things

The phrase “move fast and break things” famously uttered by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has been ingrained in entrepreneurship for years, becoming something of a motto for innovators and entrepreneurs worldwide.

Unless you are breaking stuff, you are not moving fast enough, claimed Zuckerberg back in 2009. This thinking celebrates disruptive innovation and creative destruction. As a way of working it emphasises velocity, potentially at the expense of quality. Zuckerberg’s quote came to not only epitomise start-up culture, but also inspire an international movement, sparking events, TED talks, and best-selling books.

But business has evolved, and speed and disruption – in particular breaking things – is too reductive a way to approach growth, innovation and entrepreneurship. Strong evidence tells us that the public increasingly favour companies that are addressing economic, social and environmental problems with integrity. And in the age of COVID-19, this has been exacerbated. So now we ask: why can’t we move fast and fix things instead?

From a development perspective, local impact enterprises are crucial. The disruptive ‘break stuff’ business approach is too big of a risk, and can do real harm when stakeholders need to work together. We can’t afford to lose impact enterprises to this mentality, not least because of the millions of consumers who would be at risk as a result. As this report states, public sector innovation is, at its core, about fixing things. As this LSE webinar suggests, moving too fast, and breaking anything, can actually lead to harmful outcomes. We need a different mind-set: sustainable progress.

In addition to fixing things, there is a strong case for stitching too: the stitching together of unlikely partners and stakeholders for the greater good. Competitors and cross-sector organisations must work together, not against each other. Combine this collaborative outlook with the ‘fix it’ mentality of impact enterprises, and you’ve got a formidable force for good.

This thinking is fundamental to the core of TRANSFORM and the organisations within it: Unilever, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), and EY. We work with local enterprises in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia to truly understand local behaviours, mind-sets and development issues, and create products and services that fix problems.

We fund impact enterprises that use their local knowledge, agility and expertise to create innovative and creative products and solutions, and provide them with access to distribution networks, business tools and insights, and marketing and comms materials.

Take the case of Kasha, that provides women’s health and personal care products in Rwanda and Kenya.  At Kasha they’ve used local know-how to create a confidential digital ordering system that does not require internet connectivity: making it as inclusive as possible. Their innovative platform collects and analyses anonymous consumer data to deliver market insights on products, brands and preferences.

Another example is HappyTap, that provides portable and affordable sinks in Vietnam. The product was designed to address a critical development issue in a country with very low rates of handwashing. The HappyTap product removes structural barriers that prevent people from habitually washing their hands with soap. It makes the process more convenient, accessible and fun. Working alongside TRANSFORM, HappyTap is now expanding into Bangladesh and optimising the product for integrated behaviour change within communities.

Both of these enterprises, and the many others that we work with, are focused on one specific goal: fixing things. They do not do this through being disruptive, but by listening to the needs of consumers, partnering with others, and finding ways to bridge gaps to create long-lasting behaviour change.

Entrepreneurs are at the frontline of addressing development challenges, but we all have a role to play. A progressive and collaborative outlook based on fixing, rather than breaking, and stitching – through collective action – is the solution: even if that does contradict conventional entrepreneurial wisdom.