People holding hands during time of grief.
The coronavirus pandemic has thrown endless wrenches into life as we knew it. Thousands of people across the United States are sick. Thousands are worried about loved ones they can’t visit in the hospital. Millions have filed for unemployment. Entire states have children out of school — but also largely off the streets. Dozens of big-name stores have shuttered for now.
But entrepreneurs face a unique set of challenges. They feel pressure to keep their employees on the payroll, even as sales decline. They want to help fellow entrepreneurs, even when they don’t know how. They need to increase revenue, even if their products or services aren’t considered “essential.” They want to protect their teammates’ health, both physical and mental.
It seems like grappling with grief and running a successful business are two completely separate things that need to happen at completely different times. But if we think like that, we’ll never see the other side of this.
Grief Blindsides Us
One of the biggest challenges of the COVID-19 upheaval has been how fast it’s happened. While we’d heard about the virus spreading across Wuhan, its arrival to our own cities caught many of us by surprise. We hadn’t prepared for closing our businesses, working from home, or caring for our children and other loved ones.
Recently, an entrepreneurial friend of mine, Dave Kerpen, lost his mother at the age of 79. Losing your mom is very difficult to deal with at any point. But losing your mom during a global pandemic — when she’s quarantined in Los Angeles, while you’re quarantined in New York and your brother is quarantined in Washington, D.C. — feels impossible.
Fortunately, Dave’s wife and a few of his friends stepped in immediately with a solution: Host a virtual memorial service for his mom. In just two days, they built a tribute website and hosted an online memorial attended by more than 300 friends and family members, along with a virtual shiva attended by more than 400.
A few days later, Kerpen, the co-founder of social media company Likeable and HR marketplace Apprentice, realized many other families would be grieving. Because they’d be under quarantine, they would be unable to connect with loved ones in person. Although Dave was still grieving, he remembered the feeling he’d had and wanted to help others experiencing similar grief.
Kerpen and his friend, Sam Nesbitt, built and launched a virtual memorial service company, Remembering.Live, in just 10 days. Its goal: to comfort grieving families during this global pandemic.
Said Kerpen, “I truly hope that with this new initiative, I can help others who are grieving, as I still am. For me, when life hands me lemons, I always try to make lemonade. I wish this service wasn’t so vital, but sadly, I know it will be.”
Making the Most of a Bad Situation
Kerpen isn’t the only one trying to make lemonade. Ashley Tyrner established Farmbox Direct long before the coronavirus came ashore. But the subscription service — which offers fresh produce deliveries — has seen a big uptick in demand during the pandemic. A flood of orders stressed her company’s system in mid-March. “There’s no way we could have taken that many orders overnight,” she said, “but we did. We are doubling the company every 24 hours.”
Attracting new customers who can’t access fresh produce in their own areas — or who need to shop for high-risk relatives in other parts of the country — wasn’t expected. Caught off guard by the high demand, Farmbox Direct is working to make the most of a frenzied situation.
Tyrner says there’s a definite silver lining to this upheaval: job security. The company has helped its Kansas City suppliers avoid layoffs, especially as demand from schools, restaurants, and hotel chains has fallen off. She’s even hired more staff for customer service roles, adding jobs to the hard-hit economy.
What You Can Do While Grieving
What are the takeaways that any entrepreneur can use? A Harvard Business Review study noted that in the 2007 recession, although 80 percent of businesses closed or were unable to achieve consistent growth, 9 percent of businesses actually thrived three years later.
Look for people in need around you: Are they struggling to both teach their kids and maintain their jobs? Are they having trouble finding supplies? Are they looking for new ways to stay in touch with co-workers or grandparents? Are they asking for boredom busters? Are they grieving losses, of either their loved ones or their jobs? Your business likely has ways to meet some or all of these needs, from offering no-contact home deliveries for local orders to issuing a software discount for homebound students. Think about what you can do, not what you’ve lost.
Here’s the advice Kerpen had to share with fellow entrepreneurs: “Breathe. Think about the changing needs of the marketplace. Be bold. Be courageous. Think outside of the box. Solve real problems. Create value. If you do these things and maintain a positive attitude, you will be more than OK.”
How can you solve a problem for others in this new world?