By Cody Candee, CEO of Bounce.
Traditionally, business thrives on stability. But when living through uncertain times — such as a global pandemic — adaptation becomes the key to survival. The travel sector was hit harder than most by the harmful effects of Covid-19. But the businesses that learn to pivot effectively will likely emerge from the pandemic stronger and more flexible than ever.
Guiding Bounce, a travel-based startup, through the pandemic has put us in a stronger position for future growth. And the lessons I’ve learned go beyond the travel sector. I think they can help any business that’s forced to deal with uncertainty. Drawing on those lessons, here are eight strategies that any startup can use to navigate the pandemic.
1. Respond To Customers’ Changing Needs
Flexibility has always been crucial to the success of a startup. But during the pandemic, it has become even more critical. In the early days of the Covid-19 outbreak, the information we got changed almost daily, and we had to play catch-up as customer needs changed continuously. When sanitation and minimizing face to face contact became significant issues for customers, we developed contactless luggage storage so customers could feel confident using our services.
Keep talking to your customers and asking them questions to understand how their needs are changing and how this impacts the way they use your product. Communication is key if you’re going to adapt to the new situation your startup is in.
2. Keep Your Employees Aligned And Engaged
As any business owner knows, it’s not just customers you need to keep happy. As your industry changes, your operations may change too. Make sure you keep your team members aligned with your mission and values. Holding regular team meetings where you can be transparent about your operations and continue to celebrate wins (no matter how big or small) is a great way to keep everyone engaged and onboard.
For us, keeping teammates actively engaged with worthwhile back-end projects was also key for maintaining a positive culture.
3. Extend Your Financial Cushion
With declining volumes, finances can quickly become an issue. The traditional approach is to cut expenses wherever possible. Even if the pandemic forces your hand, this can end up being a worthwhile exercise to make your company leaner in the future. Staying lean is something we’ve focused on from the beginning, and it’s as important now as it has ever been.
Another option is to seek alternative funding sources. Farsighted investors know that times of uncertainty can be a great opportunity (paywall), and if your company has a strong vision for the future, you can attract outside investment.
Finally, plan for the worst. While it’s tempting to sit back and wait for everything to return to normal, you have to be realistic. Analyze the worst-case scenario for your business, and make sure you have enough financial cushion to survive it.
4. Reach Out To People Outside Your Industry
As a travel startup, my company was hit hard by travel restrictions. Talking to other business owners in our niche, I often heard the same ideas repeated: Things would get better. Soon everything would be back to normal. Maybe there would even be increased demand once the pandemic ended.
Healthy optimism is good. But make sure you do not just hear from an echo chamber. Talk to people in other industries who are less invested in a quick return to normal. See what future scenarios they are planning for, and prepare yourself along the same lines.
5. Stay Responsive To Changes In Your Customer Base
When foreign travel sharply declined and business conferences were canceled indefinitely, we lost a big chunk of our target audience. But we found that a growing percentage of our luggage storage customers were locals who didn’t want to carry heavy things around with them more than they needed to. These customers had always been part of our user base, but the pandemic allowed us to focus on them in a more targeted way.
When a crisis as big as a pandemic hits, drill down into your customer data, and analyze the way it’s changing. Combine those insights with constant communication with customers to understand their needs, and you’ll be able to develop a responsive plan to target your new customer base.
6. Double Down On Long-Term Value Creation
With startups, especially, there’s a temptation to focus on the present. When a company is growing fast, it’s easy to get caught up in that growth and find yourself merely responding instead of directing. When business slows down, it can be the perfect opportunity to take on projects you struggled to find time for previously.
For example, we performed a massive engineering refactoring project. Not only did this improve our operations for the future, but it kept our team engaged in positive and worthwhile work.
No company can afford to stagnate. When economic conditions change, find new markets or develop existing ones. This ultimately can make for a stronger company.
For us, the varied handling of the pandemic in different markets allowed us an opportunity to diversify. For example, over the summer, we saw travel within Europe bounce back far quicker than in the U.S. So we pivoted to focus more on Europe and capture the higher level of demand there.
8. Stay Long-Term Focused
Unlike a regular economic downturn, the pandemic is a constantly evolving situation. It’s important to react quickly.
But it’s also important not to become reactive across the board. Stay focused on your long-term mission and goals so that everything you do serves those goals. Thinking of the future helps you remember that no crisis lasts forever.
Surviving And Thriving During The Pandemic
Any crisis can also be an opportunity. Reducing expenses, developing long-term projects and diversifying your customer base are all worthwhile things to do in both good times and bad. Companies that take steps like these are not only more likely to survive the pandemic, but they also can become stronger because of it.