By Laura Gossman

Editor’s Note: Fieldnotes has profiled many of the Fellows at Praxis and highlighted their basic start-up stories and initial challenges. In order to explore these start-up challenges more deeply, we are examining five tensions identified in the book From Concept to Scale by Praxis’s Steve Graves, Dave Blanchard and Josh Kwan. For a previous introduction to these tensions read here. Below is Meals with a Mission Founder, Scott Tanksley’s reflection on one of the tensions described in the book:’ Scale now or Have patience’. To learn more about their start-up story read here.

Within six months of launching, Meals With A Mission went from six people around a dining room table, to coverage in Fast Company and an event with a Fortune 25 company. Success, right? Not necessarily. That’s where this tension presented itself. Scott Tanksley wondered at this point whether they were scaling something just to get a crowd, or solving an actual problem.

Meals with a Mission first dinner gathering, with Founder, Scott Tanksley and his family pictured on the right.

Meals with a Mission first dinner gathering, with Founder, Scott Tanksley and his family pictured on the right.

Scott knew that if they scaled quickly, they would have locked themselves into being an event company. This would have drastically pulled them away from the original purpose. By having patience, they have been able to mature their vision and develop a pathway to solve a problem – spreading giving behavior by restoring the power of personal storytelling. They were also able to contextualize and grow an offering out of the original model that’s designed specifically for companies to address employee engagement and community support.

Meals with a Mission first work event gathering, just a few short months after their first in-home meal.

Meals with a Mission first work event gathering, just a few short months after their first in-home meal.

To ensure that they were addressing a problem worth solving, Scott and his team had to resist scaling too fast. Slowing down this growth even risked the organization’s survival. Scott reflected, “I was still a student of the method we had, and looking for our path. Being a student hasn’t stopped, but I had to know enough to say this is the issue we’re addressing, and here’s our solution, before asking others to give up their limited time and resources.”

Living in this tension of scaling or having patience had an impact on maintaining the mission itself. The early wins were an indicator to Scott that Meals with a Mission did address a problem worth solving, but these same indicators did not point to a full-blown strategy for doing so. As a startup, it was a big risk to not run after “shiny things,” like press releases, quick revenues, and capital, but as Scott pointed out, “I knew how possible it was to wind up a few years later trapped, leading something you didn’t like or that missed on the passion you started with. My goal wasn’t ‘lead a startup.’ It was live out this passion.”

A group gathered in a home organized by Meals with a Mission. Participants discuss why they give financially to a particular cause, and at the end of the meal they vote as a group which cause will receive their donation.

A group gathering organized by Meals with a Mission. Each participant makes an equal donation, shares about a particular cause, and at the end of the meal, the group votes to support one of the causes with their pooled donation amount.

Managing this tension has had its ups and downs and through this, Scott has learned to extend grace to himself. He is fully aware that most start-ups fail and that the odds are against them. But at the same time, he realizes that if they make it, it is going to be because they stayed true to the passion that put them on this path, and they found a way to serve others who share in the same passion.

With his previous experience as a Praxis Fellow, being around other entrepreneurs was a good sanity check, always probing with questions that are grounded in hope, as well as the raw reality of circumstances.

“Entrepreneurs are the ones bold enough to say, despite conditions not being perfect and resources being limited, I want to move on this. The tensions are ever-present, and learning to navigate them is a great skill set to develop. The truth is the world is not going to bow to your will. You are limited. So, how do you progress despite the limitations? How do you count your blessings and maximize what you do have?” shared Scott. Praxis gave him peers to run with, people to sharpen and counsel him, and a community to laugh with and say, “I don’t know either, so now what?” For Scott, leaning forward into that unknown is the start of all progress.

Meals with a Mission final product: funds to support non-profits as chosen by the participants in a gathering.

Meals with a Mission final product: funds to support non-profits as chosen by the participants in a gathering.

Laura Gossman lives in Pasadena, California. She is the Director of Operations at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership and a recent new mother to son Benjamin and wife of Adam Gossman. She received her M.A. in Cross Cultural Studies from Fuller in 2006.

Fieldnotes Magazine is a publication of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. We would love to hear from you about people, businesses, or other organizations we can interview or feature. Please email the editor at Fieldnotes Magazine.

 

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