This unprecedented period in our collective history is trying all of us in innumerable ways. Startups certainly haven’t been spared, and as the founder and CEO of one, I’ve dealt with my share of fear.
Since the onset of the pandemic, I’ve been confronted by a series of panicked questions regarding my business, Thin Air Energy, such as:
- Can I still get my designs built?
- Will anyone want to buy my products in the midst of such large-scale devastation?
- Is the market for my product even viable anymore?
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Each of these concerns led me to the harsh reality that I needed to pivot my business, and fast.
Here are three ways I’ve shifted my startup strategy during the pandemic:
Examine and pivot overall logistics
As news of the pandemic first spread around the world, I realized that I needed to shift the logistics of my business to ensure I was on the most solid footing possible during global upheaval. This meant focusing on raising a round of equity, seeking alternative sources of capital and lessening my dependence on foreign vendors.
The most important trait for a startup in a time like this — and at any time, frankly — is agility.
I no longer like the term “new normal;” businesses need to approach the future as the “new abnormal.”
The harsh reality is that some businesses will need to make extreme pivots to realign with a different vision of themselves in order to survive. Seeking a future “normal” implies a parallel future that looks consistent over long periods of time, which just might not be realistic.
“New abnormal” recognizes that viability depends on continuous agility.
Modify designs to fit the times
My initial product designs were complex. I knew I needed to simplify them if they were going to work for new vendors in the midst of so much change. I changed my designs so that instead of requiring complex, machined parts, they required 3D-printed, on-demand parts. I knew that no matter what happened as the pandemic progressed, a simpler product would be easier to make and have a better shot at success — period.
It is important to adjust as things are unfolding, and it’s essential to realize that nothing is ever set in stone. If you are glued to where you envisioned your company will go, you will fail. If you possess the ability to be flexible and realize that nearly nothing will go as planned, you will be better suited to accept the necessary adjustments.
Consider shifting product development to help our shared society
One of the earliest questions I asked myself when news of COVID-19 hit was, “What other product areas might be more compelling within a pandemic?” I asked myself, “How can I be of use, while also keeping my business afloat?”
I decided to design a series of new products, which would be a viable, long-term business opportunity that represented the most significant pivot in my business thus far. I worked quickly to lay the groundwork, prepare marketing plans and set up a website with first-round products made with a higher percentage of onshore materials and easy-to-produce designs.
The takeaway for entrepreneurs
The most important thing startups can do in this unprecedented moment is not give up. Your business is going to look different at the end of this. All of our businesses will. But that doesn’t mean it won’t survive, or that it can’t be successful in a new iteration of itself.
As you traverse the uncertain months ahead, seek advice from everyone you can. Seek capital wherever possible. Brace yourself to hear “no” often, and embrace a willingness to change, pivot and reinvent. Seek refuge in nature if you need to hit the “reset” button. And now, as always, remember to be friendly, to be generous, and to give creatively to others.