Why You Should Mean Business in the Time of Covid

It’s never a good time to start a business.

Now is a great time to start a business.

Seemingly contradictory statements that are actually in complete harmony.

We have unlimited excuses to defer pursuing our dreams; the virus has just provided an assist. Usually our excuses center around risk tolerance and biding time until some imaginary moment in the distant future when our downsides are mitigated. Kids are a bit older. Some money tucked away in a 401(k) and a 529. More experience under our belts.

The problem is, nirvana never comes. There’s always a reason to stay low to the ground and shelter in place. But as the days go by, we grow older, more fatigued, and worst of all, more disillusioned. Your optimism is a wasting asset that must be nurtured and protected against encroaching cynicism.

No, the time is nigh!

Why? Because periods of massive disruption and dislocation open up extraordinary opportunities.

Consider a startup launching in February 2020. To get up and running, the founder needed to hold endless meetings at Starbucks to vet prospective new hires or co-founders. Once the team was assembled, take down some space in a WeWork, develop a minimum viable product, lobby everyone they know to get an angel investor to take a meeting, then spend thousands of dollars to fly out to the West Coast or New York City (only to have several of those meetings canceled at the last minute).

Fast forward to June 2020. Have epiphany, launch company in the morning in your pajamas. Set up series of Zoom calls with prospective team members found through LinkedIn posts. Doesn’t matter if they live 1,000 miles away since all of you will be working from home for the foreseeable future – and besides, the best talent will demand some hybrid setup in perpetuity. So why blow money on rent and office flowers? Lock down team by end of the week (none of whom you’ve met in person). Use Slack to coordinate work streams. Launch minimum viable product. Omnichannel strategy is irrelevant since no one knows how brick and mortar shakes out anyway. Get some intros to VCs who are happy to give you 20 minutes since it’s much easier to say their WiFi connection got whacky than it is to throw you out of their office. Plus, they’re looking for a little inspiration, too.

Think about some historical parallels to draw upon:

  • Disney (Walt Disney Productions) – launched in 1929, at the beginning of the Great Depression, and released Snow White at the end of the Depression
  • Netflix – Founded in 1997, just before the dotcom crash, and was laughed off by Blockbuster
  • Microsoft – launched in 1975, just days after the end of the oil crisis that brought the U.S. to its knees.
  • Businesses founded during the Great Recession of 2007-2009: Airbnb (2007), Uber (2009), Square (2009), Warby Parker (2010, right after it)

I chatted with Robert Herjavec about some behavioral changes that emerge during a crisis and actually make it easier to conduct business:

  1. Survival leaves little room for wasting time. We are scrambling to stay alive, and that means people don’t BS you as much. No more “happy ears” and fake maybes. Which means you can move on and focus on real prospects and investors rather than chasing rainbows.
  2. You’re less afraid because you have less to lose. You’re living the worst-case scenario. We all have this undercurrent of fear about the unknown. But when the unknown becomes known, the unthinkable becomes unforgettable, and you’re still standing, it’s very empowering. If you can handle a pandemic, what can’t you handle?
  3. Success becomes unambiguous in a crisis. Expectations of a hockey stick slide go out the window. Good old-fashioned profitability comes back in favor. You know exactly the object of the exercise – sell something for more than it costs to make it.
  4. It’s easier to face hard decisions. You have no other choice. There’s an economy to your decisions. You level with yourself more than ever before, and others too. Hiring, firing, pivoting – all come more naturally as you rely on instinct more than rationalizations.

If you’ve been harboring a great idea, don’t put it on the back burner just because the world is upside down. Consider if the world is actually right side up for your dream.

So much friction has been removed from the way we will conduct business going forward, and that will inure to the benefit of future entrepreneurs. Of course, we have to get to the other side of this pandemic, which is another newsletter altogether.

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