Heartbreak and hope. That’s the summary. Read no further if you’ve had enough… because I get it, the past few weeks have been very overwhelming. Still this particular article is not about the virus, but about its ripple effects across society, and primarily its impact on entrepreneurs.
Specifically, I talked to 12 founders (mostly in Shanghai, with different levels of maturity in their busines) for this article and a picture emerged... as if the ground from under them has shifted dramatically. Yet, every conversation had a common refrain: pivot.
The rest of this write up captures their thoughts into into 3 sections:
- Interpretation, &
What happened in your business?
Overnight, there was panic. You could see it in the sales, a 90% drop compared to last year... Oh my god. As a business owner, it feels like we’re going to be broke after a few months. In the beginning, we thought it was going to be back to normal after a few weeks or maybe a month. Now, my guess is that 20-30% of small businesses may close, and the city will look completely different in a few months." -- Shorty Wu, restauranteur, Chill Out
“The virus was and still is a challenge. It got harder to promote running challenges as people needed to stay two weeks in the quarantine, and others were just afraid to go out. Now, it's more than ever we need to feel united, even if it's online." -- Ravilova Renata, founder of uRun Shanghai
“It wasn't simply just a drop in revenue and a disruption in cash flow, but the coronavirus also impacted intangible things such as staff morale and motivation. It's really hard for a business to lose its talented and coveted staff, but the options for retention are running out. Until business goes fully back to normal, it's going to be tough for everyone moving forward.” -- Daniel Cheng, founder of Metric Design Studio (MDS)
“Pray that our whole supply chain doesn't collapse." -- Kevin Jiang, VP of Marketing, nonda
How are you handling it?
“The more you focus on fear, the more it will come. But equally, if you focus on the good, the good will happen.” -- Sebastian Schlenker, Founder of SuperheldenMethode.de (based in Europe)
Build on resilience - “The virus disruption has clearly affected us at the Startup Leadership Program. However we decided not to postpone. Rather we felt such a program would be even more needed to help our fellows stay connected, build on resilience and robustness in the difficult time, and help each other." -- Yuchen (YC) Zhang, Program Leader, Startup Leadership Program
Reprioritize - "The last few months have been difficult for everyone professionally and personally. Putting health and safety first, we've tried to use this time to reflect, work on things we normally don't have time for (ie: creative passion projects), and discuss new strategies to move forward. ” -- Audrey Gourdji, co-founder of A3Collective
“Try to stay practical. I think that if we can make it through April then we can survive. But for all of 2020, our best chance is to just not lose money and keep our staff employed. It’s impossible to find a job right now and after working together for so many years, we don’t want to lose them.” -- Shorty Wu, restauranteur, Chill Out
Where do you go from here?
Use crisis as a catalyst - "We've always had to balance our face-to-face client services with our online services and products. We were already moving slowly toward more online business, but the whole coronavirus situation gave us quite a sudden shove in that direction!” -- John Pasden, Founder of AllSet Learning
“Entrepreneurs are best equipped to handle these types of situations. We're usually the more positive people – those that are always looking out for ‘what is possible?’ instead of ‘what cannot be done.' Now, I’m trying to figure out my next step, maybe my next business." -- Yael Farjun, travel entrepreneur, ChinaClickGo
Don't give in - “The temptation is to ramp down right now. But I'm looking for ways to ramp up. We're finding opportunities to help others through entrepreneurship and creativity. I'm devoting a lot of energy at finding ways to do this without being exploitive and will support the community, my team, and my family.” -- Ami Sanyal, founder at Creative Pulse and The Uncommoners Club (Based in Canada)
"Zoom is the bomb. We’re seriously considering remote-working now even after the virus.” -- Kevin Jiang, VP of Marketing, nonda
Create options - “No matter how difficult the situation is there’s always a solution. We were forced us to pivot and look into creating other revenue streams so I guess it’s good and bad. There are always different paths you can take to your destination.” -- Joseph Lee, Founder of Busy Bee Education
What's the function of entrepreneurship?
Despite the immensity of the crisis, what stands out most is this: every entrepreneur I spoke to was already mid-pivot. We are forward moving creatures, adaptable, persistent. While the virus may be a catalyst for society to change, startups will be the facilitators of that change.
We will build and rebuild, develop new projects, and find more ways to help our customers -- whatever the landscape is. That is the function of entrepreneurship: to be the mechanism of change. Because, yes, there is heartbreak, but there is also hope. Always.
THANK YOU again to all the founders in this article for being so open about your businesses. These conversations have been instructional and inspiring for me... and how about the readers? Which points most resonated with you?
About these articles:
This was part 3 and the conclusion of this special article series by Let's Make Great! about the coronavirus' impact on entrepreneurs. For more, please see links below:
About the author: Brian Tam is the CEO of Let's Make Great! a creativity consultancy that helps companies to develop new products, new services and new brands through co-creation workshops and strategic consulting.