15 Business Leaders Share Their Experiences and Insights on Getting Through COVID-19

There’s no doubt that COVID-19 set the economic tone for 2020. The pandemic has hit investor and customer confidence, forced teams across the world into their homes, and caused many businesses to close down entirely. And, although future regulations in countless countries are yet to be known as governments continue to monitor infection rates, many business owners are taking direct action now while the world waits to see what unfolds over the coming months.

Working in public relations has allowed me to see businesses in a different light. I’ve had the opportunity to help business owners strategize their plans using PR as a tool to help navigate through difficult times with clarity.

This time, I connected with 15 startup and SME leaders from my network to discover how they are tackling the current crisis, and what advice they had to offer to others in the same boat.

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Here are some tips and insights on getting through COVID-19 as a business owner

Jerry DiMaso, CEO and co-founder, Knarr Analytics 

“In times of crisis, it’s imperative for startups to build a solid analytics strategy to understand how their businesses are functioning at a granular level. By gathering and analyzing data, companies will be able to make informed decisions much faster and based on facts, not ‘gut instinct,’ which is crucial during times like these.

Insights gained from an effective analytics strategy can not only save you resources and time, but also broaden your customer base, increase productivity, and put your employees at ease by showing that leadership is educated and responsive.”

Jen Laloup, CEO, Mobile Growth Association 

“Prioritize. During tough times, you have to really narrow down and focus on what is important. What are the most essential projects to work on? Who are the critical team members? What do you need to do to support them, so that they can continue working during uncertain times? Prioritizing can be tough when you have many things to handle, but it will help you focus on your startup’s most important functions so that you can keep your company running.”

Udit Gupta, former head of product, online ordering, Zomato 

“If your startup has enough runway, the most important thing to do is to focus your team’s energy on the right things. Prioritize and separate the ‘needs’ from the ‘wants,’ both from a company and a user point of view.

Usually, the items on the top of your to-do list should either have a direct impact on increasing revenue or decreasing burn rate. Immediately kill the projects which will only have an incremental impact on revenue or burn rate. If possible, align the whole team toward these two goals and double down.”

Akarsh Sanghi,  former product manager, N26

“There are three primary aspects that organizations should focus on while making decisions during this difficult time.

The first is the customer’s perspective. Businesses should continue to provide uninterrupted service to their customers as much as possible, especially if it’s the kind of business that falls under the essential product category.

The next is the team. Companies should fight to save as many jobs as possible. Employees have never been more valuable and they depend on a reliable income right now.

The third aspect is the shareholders and investors. When cutting costs, protecting the company’s cash position is what matters the most. Any decision that a business’ management takes has to consider all three perspectives, which will be challenging, but it could be the only way forward.”

Related: 3 Core Objectives to Help You Lead Your Startup Through the Pandemic

Nick Quain, VP, venture development, Invest Ottawa 

“Go on the offensive. The first rule is survival, but as we negotiate this stage, we are also entering a new phase of weathering this storm: A stage where companies need to respond and take direct action. Times are tight, and companies are less inclined to take on the world themselves, nor are they able to innovate internally at every turn.

The months and years ahead are ripe for partnerships: the unreachable is now reachable. By placing an importance on building relationships, there is an opportunity to partner with major players now — many of whom likely might not have collaborated with you during a different economic climate. Entrepreneurs can go on the offensive during this stage by focusing on a more profitable foundation, attracting top talent and grabbing market share from weakened competitors.”

Vikrant Pathak, CEO and chief data scientist, myautoIQ 

“Use the time to do things you could not do before. If I look at the weeks before the pandemic brought things to a grinding halt, we were coming off a successful product launch in January and seemed to be working round the clock trying to make it a success. We wished we had the bandwidth to take on things that we know will be crucial for the long-term success of the company. Well, now’s that time. If you come to our office, we have a wall full of future roadmap items for our products.

Our goal is to hit the ground running when the crisis ends and be in an even stronger position to help our customers in the new normal.”

Steve Houle, inventor and founder, Parkit360  

“Marketing will definitely have to be adjusted and, depending on the industry you’re in, you may have to reevaluate spend. Strategy and messaging will certainly need to correspond to the times. For us, in the manufacturing industry, we have had to be careful not to over-promise on shipping and delivery.

Similarly, understand that this is a global issue: If your supply chain stretches overseas, keep close communication with your suppliers and any changes they may be experiencing.

Perhaps most importantly, don’t let stress and turbulent times cause you to forget your employees are human beings. Take proper measures to keep employees safe and offer support where you can. Some people are affected more than others in this and in a variety of ways that may not always be apparent on the surface.”

Jerod Mund, VP of business administration, Rift Title 

“The direction of the wind has changed. Don’t try to fight it. The opportunity is there, you just need to find it. I see car companies now making ventilators, I see companies that make bed sheets now making masks, and I see restaurants selling their uncooked food just to get something going.

Be the business that does what it takes to stay afloat even if you need to adjust your model. Find the opportunity for your business in this mess and do whatever you have to in order to survive because the companies that survive this will thrive on the other side in a big way.”

Kain Tietzel, CEO, Start Beyond 

“The most important thing you can do is to plan for a market that looks different from the one you’ve known. Use the tools you have already developed, leverage your reputation and make a plan that enables you to react dynamically to the market and builds to an alternative goal.

I’ve always loved the Wayne Gretzky quote, ‘I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been,’ and it is especially true in this moment of rapid change. We’ve spent time assessing the immediate needs of the market, envisioning what it might look like in the immediate, mid- and long-term future and developed a new strategy to match. No one can predict the future, but we can plan and assume that change will be a constant and become the new normal.”

Ramzi Jreidini, CEO, Handiss 

“The COVID-19 pandemic struck us hard and completely derailed our expansion strategy for 2020. At first, there was a lot of anger, despair and feelings of hopelessness as we saw our plans falling apart and that there was nothing we could do about it.

After the initial shock subsided, we realized we had to put our thinking caps back on, get creative and figure out how to get through this. We saw that amidst the crisis, there were still opportunities to be grabbed: Handiss is, after all, a digital platform that is all about remote work, connecting businesses to freelance professionals in architecture and engineering. Although the market is shrinking, there still are businesses out there that we can support, and perhaps they need us now more than ever before.”

Siddharth Sinha, founder, Dresma 

“It is not easy for startups to survive times like these, especially if they are entirely self-funded. Dresma has been greatly impacted by the turn of events and one of the first things we started exploring was the opportunity for strategic partnerships. We started interacting with others in our space, offering complementary and even similar services.

The idea was two-fold: One, to understand and learn how they are surviving the crisis and two, to explore possibilities of partnering together. We believe this approach has helped us to create a stronger pipeline for when the lockdown lifts and has opened up more aggressive growth opportunities for the near future.”

Chen Raizman, co-founder and CEO, The ActiveSeat Co

“A company needs to retain its flexibility, mainly in its executive-level mindset to adapt and change to this new world. Normally, staying true to the company vision and business plan is important, even when facing setbacks. However, while facing an event like COVID-19, businesses need to accept that pivoting decisions and strategies will be necessary.

For example, our company, which was built for a B2B market and selling directly to enterprises, is now looking into shifting the strategy to B2C and the home office market instead.”

Lesley Pyle, founder, HireMyMom

“Considering that many business operators have been forced to close their doors, my biggest piece of advice would be to use this downtime to look for ways to improve and grow your business.

Some examples of this could be to update or implement a CRM to maximize customer communications and sales efforts, get your business on Pinterest to increase brand visibility and drive traffic, revamp your website and content, or even create webinars from your expertise to attract new clients.

Last but not least, look into digitizing your training manuals and other documentation to better prepare you if something like this happens again in the future. This pandemic is shifting everything to an increasingly digital future.”

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Rish SharmaCEO and founder, Mallama 

“Be transparent. The worst thing you can do in a crisis is act distant. Whether your business is doing well or badly, you should be upfront about where the business stands.

If your business is struggling, be an open book about it. Show your team the numbers, alternative options and what they can do to be a part of the solution to help get through the crisis. If your business is in a healthy position, be equally as clear.”

Mingfeng (Farris) Wu, founder and CEO at DecorMatters

“The COVID-19 pandemic is reshaping our physical world, and to get through the pandemic, all companies should adopt online channels, tools and technologies and make them dominant over physical channels as soon as possible. This is because the shopping behaviors and sentiments of customers have completely changed. They will not go back to normal any time soon, or at all.

We have seen KPIs jump more than 50 percent in the last month because people are stuck at home and have more time to spend with social gaming and shopping communities. Startups need to work harder and faster to capture this trend. Many existing companies that were heavily driven by capital and labor will not be sustainable, while the startups driven by tech and data have a huge opportunity to capitalize on.”

Key takeaways

As we continue to check off the weeks in isolation, with pre-COVID-19 working conditions and business plans now seeming lightyears away, the startup community will no doubt continue to adapt accordingly and spot opportunities from within the rubble.

All that’s certain right now is that whatever kind of “normal” is ahead will bear a difference to that which we were familiar with before the pandemic. The smartest entrepreneurs will be those who embrace this change and channel resources into the power of their team and the relevance of their product.

From crisis comes opportunity and the potential for innovation; companies that champion this idea and adopt an optimistic outlook will be best-set to emerge stronger than ever before.

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