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Open Letter of Support for the Startup Community in Romania Amid Coronavirus Outbreak: Founders, Keep Calm and Step Forward

My Fellow Romanian Founders,

You’ve been told that building a startup is hard, one of the most difficult things you’ll probably do in your life, that 1 out of 10 succeed and, still, you’ve embarked on this journey. It’s 1% luck and 99% hustle, they say… Except, today it became much harder. 10X harder.

You might be in the 1%, but if you’re not, like the rest of us, read on.

As I’m writing this letter, in the studio apartment I rented in Montreal through Airbnb, I can’t help but think that just 10 days ago I was in Romania planning my meetings with clients, partners, and investors. As a founder and CEO, you know how it is, you have to hustle, do what you have to do for your business to grow.

Like many other startups, we had ambitious growth plans for 2020 and one of our main goals was (and still is!) to raise a $1M round in the first half of the year. #shithappens

Today, with so many people and companies being impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, ourselves included, our focus has shifted in a matter of days (the advantage of being a startup!) to figure out a way to cope with this unforeseen situation.

I’ve been an entrepreneur for as long as I can remember and I had the “fortune” of going through another crisis back in 2007–2008. I had just graduated from CS and my first steps as an entrepreneur (and engineer, yey!) were indeed governed by the impending crisis that eventually hit Romania. And like everything else, it found Romania unprepared. It was not pleasant.

Crises have happened before and things will come back to normal, they always do, but not everyone will make it through.

This one is in its early innings. The number of declared cases is still increasing rapidly in most regions. Authorities in Europe, the US and Canada are all responding to this, but it’s hard to predict the aftermath.

Even if it’s hard to anticipate how investors, customers, and employees will behave, I think it’s best to figure out an action plan. The following points are my assumptions and I’m sure I have my blind spots. Take them with a grain of salt and work your way from that:

  1. While VC funding doesn’t immediately follow the public stock market trajectories, they are eventually influenced by them. Yes, there’s still tons of capital available, however, it’s safe to assume new deals (as opposed to follow-on deals) will be harder to get.
  2. You know how important the burn rate is under normal circumstances. These are far from normal. Review options to reduce expenses, plan for revenues being lower than expected as well and customers taking longer to pay their invoices or worse.
  3. Plan to bootstrap for the next 12–18 months. Seems harsh? Well, better safe than sorry, right?
  4. Your team is the most important ally during these times. Make sure you communicate often and reassure everyone that you have their backs. Don’t just say it, actually have a plan.
  5. There’s a very fine line between panicking and making hard decisions quickly. If you do have to operate temporary pay cuts, do that instead of laying off people you want to keep.
  6. Don’t forget you’re a founder, the CEO of a startup. Lead by example! Innovation is the name of the game. Reflect and disrupt. Go back to the drawing board and think of the impact you can and want to have with your business during or post-crisis. Awesome companies lived through the dot-com bust in 2001 and we’re now looking up to them. Be one of them!
  7. Get some perspective: be grateful if you and the people you love are healthy. Be humble: understand the struggle that others go through and help whenever you can.
  8. As a founder, you often feel alone. You’re not. Get together with other entrepreneurs and create a mastermind group. Nobody else is coming, we’re all we’ve got.
  9. It’s times like these that we turn to our WHY. What better way, as a small and ambitious startup, as a team, to prove your core beliefs, your WHY?
  10. Keep calm and take it one step at a time. Forward, as that’s the only direction worth pursuing.

My fellow founders, we’re in this together.

As much as we might want it any other way, this has little bearing on the way they are. Our plans are being thwarted by the COVID-19 crisis. What do we do? It’s so unfair! It’s so frustrating. It’s just not right…

Yet, yet, yet…

We can get angry and declare our disapproval. We can throw our clenched fists in the air, curse the Gods, and tell whoever will listen about how unfair life is. As much as we desire, we can’t alter reality. Reality is a stubborn thing, so, we must embrace it!

In closing, I would like to leave you with this ancient stoic wisdom from Epictetus (c. 55–135 AD) that I hope will guide you through this setback and help you emerge a stronger, more mature founder:

“The true man is revealed in difficult times. So when trouble comes, think of yourself as a wrestler whom God, like a trainer, has paired with a tough young buck. For what purpose? To turn you into Olympic-class material.”

#givefirst #obstacleistheway #startwithwhy 💪

PS: If you’re an investor and the founders you’ve invested in don’t contact you with updates and contingency plans, choose better next time!

PPS: If you’re a startup CEO and you don’t hear from your investors, choose better next time!

Yours truly,

Ciprian Borodescu
Co-founder & CEO, MorphL AI

Written by

Co-founder & CEO at MorphL (Techstars ’19) | On a mission to helping 10,000 companies with AI adoption | Love to play 🎾, squash and 🏓. #givefirst

Co-founder & CEO at MorphL (Techstars ’19) | On a mission to helping 10,000 companies with AI adoption | Love to play 🎾, squash and 🏓. #givefirst

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