Way back in the 1990s, around the time of the dot com boom-bubble I pitched a business idea to my friends in the pub (surely the best place to invent businesses): ‘gamified advertising’ on the then early – and painfully slow - internet.
My idea was to insert well-known brand logos into vintage computer games which would pop up whilst the page you wanted was loading. If you remember broadband dial-up, you’ll recall the frustration with page speeds. So rather than alien space invaders you’d have MacDonalds or Coca-Cola logos raining down on you. Pac-Man’s ghost nemeses would be Nike or Ford icons chasing you through the maze. Frogger’s lorries and cars would become BMW or Adidas logos squishing you in the street.
Whilst I still think that this may have had the kernel of a good business idea, at the time I lacked the wherewithal, coding skills or any kind of business acumen to deliver it. And I focussed too much on the specifics rather than looking more widely at the concept. Gamified advertising is everywhere now. Oh, what could have been.
Looking back on this I realise that this was possibly the first flickering flame of an entrepreneurial mindset. It took me another fifteen years to start my first business – Iridescent Ideas CIC. We deliver business advice to help people set up and run great social enterprises. Our vision is to see a greener, fairer, more socially enterprising world.
Traditionally we have delivered this business advice face-to-face, one-to-one or in physical classrooms. This meant that our reach was limited pretty much to local delivery or, at most, to a location a reasonable train ride away. But the four hour round trip for an hour with a client and all the associated environmental impact was a challenge. I read a lot of books and even wrote a novel on these long journeys. Was there a better way?
Long before COVID I debated the merits of online delivery with clients and contract holders. There was a lot of opposition and people seemed fused to the mantra of ‘face-to-face is best.’ Then, bang, the pandemic hit, and the world turned digital. We were lucky in many respects – our business services translated well into online delivery. We continued to work throughout the COVID years thanks to Zoom and untold numbers of webinar software solutions.
But we started to notice something unusual. Previously all our clients were from the south west of the UK. Now we had people from London, Birmingham and Scotland turning up. We had overseas attendees from Australia, Canada, Spain and Singapore. This got us thinking – how could we reach more people with our work? Could we truly take our purpose and vision to the world?
As this was happening, to while away lockdown tedium, I took to re-learning French on Duolingo and undertook a number of music tuition courses online. Guitar teachers like Justin Sandercoe and Marty Music have been teaching on YouTube for the best part of twenty years. Add in the experience of using amazing learning platforms like FutureLearn and Coursera and we had all the waymarkers guiding us towards a brave new digital world. And thinking back to my wild ideas in the late 90s I knew we had to focus on broad appeal not a narrow audience.
So, we did it. We blended our knowledge and experience and the FutureLearn/guitar teaching model and we created our own suite of online business courses that anyone, anywhere can access. We have developed courses on all aspects of business: funding and finance, setting up a social enterprise, social impact, business planning, legal structures and more. There are videos, quizzes, resources and documentation to enable a rich learning experience. And, rather than wait three weeks for an appointment, you can access all of this on your sofa and work though it in your own time. Using our courses, you could register a new social enterprise business in a couple of hours or so.
Our courses launched a few weeks ago and we’re making sales from all over the UK. We’ve had to learn a lot about online advertising, search engines and business to consumer approaches. We wanted to make our courses accessible and affordable and also appeal to the idea of the adventure and fun in social enterprise and entrepreneurship.
Anyone can start a social enterprise and this approach to business is needed more than ever. We live in challenging economic, social, environmental and political times. There has never been a more important time to take control of your own destiny and start your own social enterprise, earn a good living and make the world a better place.
We now look to the next horizon. I should tell you about my idea for an artificially intelligent robot business adviser…oh, hello ChatGPT. So maybe back to games and adverts – watch out for Donkey Kong rolling social enterprise branded barrels down your cyber-street soon.
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