Building a team, securing funding, creating an amazing product, marketing, and generating a sales pipeline is difficult enough during a boom, let alone during a global pandemic – all while keeping everyone motivated and morale up.
You’ve got a great idea, a great team and are ready to launch your business. It’s go time! But what happens when that “go time” is interrupted by circumstances beyond one’s control? What then? Do you give up? Or, do you adapt and create a culture that continues to innovate and solve problems for customers and thrive? At Netography, we had all the pieces in place to achieve great things when COVID-19 struck. Quitting was never an option.
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Here’s how we adapted some of our processes during the pandemic, and how you can do the same:
A change in the day to day
Keeping costs down is a facet every business works toward, but for a startup, it’s especially important. One of the first (and most obvious) aspects companies had to address in the wake of COVID-19 was what to do about office space, as work from the office shifted to working from home literally overnight.
As a seed-funded company, we were well positioned from the standpoint of moving our offices home, as we were already completely virtual. So, as states across the country began implementing lockdowns this past spring, we were able to stay the course with little to no disruption. All of our platforms, cloud services and clients have (to date) been virtual or work from home. Moreover, our infrastructure was already leveraging conference software such as Zoom, and internally we used Slack and email to a lesser extent. Our culture was sorted out.
Not having office space has obvious benefits, including lower overhead and an expanded talent pool as you are no longer constrained by a specific geographical area for new hires. But there are, of course, some downsides to being virtual, too. Not having a physical office location can be tricky as potential clients want to understand where you are located from a support perspective. It’s not uncommon for companies today to have a team that handles support during non-business hours, so having a clear message about your hours of support and availability is critical.
Risk, rewards and the taxman
The lack of a physical space doesn’t lessen the importance of protecting your sensitive data. Cybersecurity risks are among the biggest concerns for companies doing business virtually. Since we’re in the cybersecurity industry, most of our team understands the importance of keeping private networks secure.
However, for companies and those employees without a background in cybersecurity, there are some things to keep in mind, namely:
- Home WiFI networks must be password-protected
- IT professionals must be the ones to set up company-issued devices
- VPNs must be secured
- Cybersecurity training should be required for all employees
Organizations should also stay vigilant and monitor their networks for abnormal activities and be able to remediate any threats in real-time.
Working from home also brings with it its own set of tax implications, since each state’s tax regulations must be addressed differently. To smooth the transition and avoid tax penalties, we have implemented a policy that requires employees to submit a request prior to moving across state lines. This allows us to review the tax laws for that state and ensure the paperwork is completed on the back end before the employee moves.
With a little help from my friends
Strong relationships are the key to any successful endeavor, and that holds true no matter if you are talking about your employees, your customers or your investors.
It’s important to make a genuine connection even when communication is virtual. Internally, we utilize Slack to keep casual conversations going, but we adhere to a weekly company update via Zoom. Even if there’s not much to share that week, just telling the team there are no new updates keeps everyone on the same page.
Far too often, I see companies limiting themselves to a monthly update. A lot can happen in a week’s time, let alone a month. Information can become stale and irrelevant, so we make sure to message employees promptly. As our team grows, it will be harder to hold weekly meetings, and we’ll likely have to rely on managers to keep their teams updated. In the meantime, we won’t fix what’s not broken.
It’s important to understand that employees are juggling new challenges like supervising distance learning and possible disruptions from spouses, partners or roommates also working from home. It’s a lot to address. We try to limit how many video calls we hold and keep them brief and focused. Even though our company has always been remote-based, we need to recognize that these aren’t typical times, and people are working in some very atypical situations.
Health is the most important thing, so I encourage my employees to take time off when they are tired or need a day to decompress and hope that others are doing the same. A well-adjusted employee who feels supported is more likely to give back and work harder toward his or her goals, and I fully support employees moving to locations that better suit their families and lifestyles. Sometimes that move means a new time zone and meetings have to be adjusted or an expectation set that specific hours are maintained. We’ve been fortunate to have some very dedicated employees willing to be available whenever needed, but we also fully respect non-working hours.
Invest through the downturn
For organizations to stay ahead of the competition, it’s imperative to keep innovating and finding new ways to keep your product or service ahead of the curve. We’ve learned from past recessions that if you don’t invest in research and development (R&D), you are behind once the economy starts up again. To survive, investments must be made now to keep the momentum going.
Sales cycles are long, and as part of our go-to-market strategy, we know it will take a lot longer to land the proverbial “big fish.” A large majority of our marketing budget and efforts are funneled into account-based marketing that focuses on the few key clients we know we want to have on our roster one day. It’s a long-term strategy with a multi-prong approach that includes messaging and offers created specifically for different prospects within an organization. It’s just as much of a top-down approach as it is a bottom-up approach.
Before COVID-19, we relied on industry events for networking, and now that physical events have gone away for the time being, it’s not just a matter of telling them to look us up next time they are in the Bay area. We’ve found that creating lists of VCs and others with whom we want to meet is an excellent first step to initiating a relationship. We target messages and reach out via email or LinkedIn, and because most people aren’t taking such an organized approach, our messages tend to stand out more. The most important thing to remember is that you must be concise in your initial message — let them know who you are, what you are looking for, and what outcome you would like to happen.
The thing to remember is that if you have an amazing product that you believe in, with the right employees and investors, you can execute your vision well, it just has to be done differently in the COVID-19 environment.