For potential company founders, launching your own startup can be daunting. Launching your own business during a pandemic can seem downright impossible or even lunacy. However, that may not be the case. Over the past five months, I have been talking with quite a few startup founders and quite frankly, most of them are thriving. So I was curious about why some were doing well while others are struggling.
One of the things I discovered was that working remotely is not a barrier to starting a business. In fact, with modern cloud based tools, it was rather an easy transition for most founders to work remotely. The pandemic also removed distractions and improved focus; there is nothing going on, so what better opportunity to hunker down and focus on building better products and services. Another benefit of building a ‘remote-first’ company during a pandemic is that it might lead to higher-quality processes. And all great and sustainable companies in the world have solid processes.
In doing some detailed follow-up through email, video chat and calls, I will share with you what I learned from current startup founders and their advice for people who want to start a company right now.
Founders Advising Would Be Founders
– Building a cofounder relationship remotely is different but very attainable. It requires you to communicate openly and honestly and trust the other person faster. If you aren’t in sync, it will show quickly but it also refines how you communicate. Mutual trust is key.
– Leverage all your networks to access the best talent you can find. When you can’t interview face to face, you think about things differently. You tend to focus in on skills in a more detailed way. When you’re impartial to location, your budget and access to talent can go much further.
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– Be all in on virtual meetings. What you lose in personal connection, you gain in effectiveness. Relationships don’t have to be built face to face. Investors, customers and potential hires are willing to make decisions through online interactions. This isn’t mutually exclusive, meet where possible but virtual meetings may open up so many new channels for business.
– Focus on real facts and data. When starting a company in a pre-pandemic world, you would do research but you were also influenced by a lot of outside noise be it advisors, investors, experts, employees, etc. With less noise, focus on the facts and on real data analysis and research to find the truth in an opportunity.
– Force yourself to be frugal, to ensure you have enough runway to revenue. By being remote, you have already reduced major expenses. Save money at every point you can, and develop strategies to make the best use of your limited resources, which will allow you to stay nimble. It’s a balance of focusing on business building and traction, while also being single-minded around cash management.
– Social interaction with your team will be critical. As co-founders, and even employees, you might barely know each other and now you are working remotely which removed all the organic ad-hoc social interactions from being in the same office. You will have to make an extra effort in having ‘social’ Zoom calls to improve your interpersonal relationships. Virtual happy hours, celebrating birthdays, acknowledging accomplishments will play an important role in maintaining morale and building the culture.
– Wellness and mental health are critical in a remote environment. With everyone working from home, it will be important to be mindful of everyone’s mental health. ‘Work-time’ used to be defined as the eight hours per day in the office. Now, it is not so easy to blend work time with playtime and family time. Check in with cofounders and employees and make sure they know that you are okay with how they organize their time to get the job done and that you are encouraging them to spend me time and family time.
Startup reality. Final advice from founders.
Not all industries are suffering. While some industries like travel and hospitality are suffering, others in logistics, remote working, security, education and ecommerce are outperforming. Look for those industries and consumer trends that will drive revenue growth in key marketplaces. By focusing on markets where revenues are growly rapidly, you have a better chance for quick revenue growth as opposed to relying on fundraising which is on vacation right now.
Early stage fundraising is drying (dried) up. Much of the early stage investment money is disappearing. It’s hard to know what the economy will look like in the next six to twelve months. Existing venture capitalists and seed fund investors are focused on helping their portfolio companies survive. You can’t rely on funding so look for strategies that get your startup to revenue quickly, like in the first 30-60 days.
Remote working works. There are quite a few cynics in the world who have said you cannot build a company by working remotely. While it may not be perfect, especially when it comes to values and culture building, you can very successfully build an amazing company through a remote workforce. The same qualitative and quantitative habits you are building by working remotely are the same ones that build great companies. The benefits of working remotely are more effectiveness, learning to be better communicators and having to work more closely in teams.
You better be adaptable. Launching and running a startup relies heavily on your ability to adapt anyway. The pandemic is no different. You still need to be an optimist and willing to work hard. But you have to be even more ready to pivot or adapt as marketplaces and consumers are rapidly shifting their needs. Pay even more close attention to emerging trends that will signal clues about where the real opportunity exists. Even a large company like CVS, looking at declining pharmacy sales, immediately pivoted to offering home delivery.