When I was doing a talk at a conference last week, a number of people thought it was strange that School of Everything was set up as a company. So I thought it might be worth setting out why we chose this structure and some of the things we've built into the model that make us a bit different.
Legally speaking School of Everything is a company limited by shares registered in England and Wales. It's the most common form for any company in the UK and the form that almost any internet start-up here takes.
The reason we chose that structure is the flexibility it gives. This comes from the way that you raise money as a company - in our case through investment. When you go out for early stage investment you start with what you (as founders) want to do. Then you get investment when you meet investors who share your worldview and believe that your idea and the way you plan to go about making it real will work.
If, by contrast, you set yourself up as a not-for-profit or charity and choose to apply for grants, you start from an application form with questions on it. We tried a few but found ourselves straining to fit the criteria of another organisation. It made us think do we actually want this money anyway?
We chose not to be a community interest company because of the extra administrative burden it adds (and there seems to be more confusion about how to make it work as very few organisations have done it so far). Neither are we a social business as Muhammad Yunus has defined the term, because we haven't chosen to limit the return our investors get back to what they put in.
The other advantage of being a straight-forward company is we get talked about as a 'silicon valley-esque' startup. We were chosen as one of the 20 most promising start-ups in Europe for Seedcamp last year. And some Techcrunch coverage has cemented that impression. But it's not quite as simple as that. We still have some scepticism about the silicon valley model of investment. Umair Haque is raising the right questions in this article.
The way we've made sure we keep true to our original mission is to choose our investors carefully. They include a charity (the Young Foundation) and a public service broadcaster (Channel 4) who, while they want to see a return on their investments, have social motivations written into their organisational DNA that fit very closely with our motivations as founders.
We're very happy with the way that things are working out so far but I'd be very interested to hear what others think about the way we've chosen to do things. Is setting up a company the best way for us to change the world?