Starting up while locking down!
Starting out a new business in the midst of the pandemic has been daunting, to say the least. Our days see us go through a roller coaster of emotions — sometimes all in one day — and long “to do” lists that never seem to shrink. But what keeps us going is that we really, really believe in what we’re working on. And fortunately the many people we’ve tested our idea with have been very positive too.
A lot looks different today than what we have ever experienced before, but the fresh air and clear skies during the lockdown re-emphasize the need for solutions like Economyz — a platform that helps people live consciously and reduce their impact on the planet, on their terms, while keeping it fun and keeping it simple. We think now is a good time to build for the future.
Born in the Year of the Corona
Having worked on the seed of an idea for the best part of 4 months — researching, refining, exploring — we finally convinced ourselves to take the plunge in Feb this year, and pull the safety net of a comfortable job from under our feet. Excited about the potential, looking forward to the work ahead, slightly apprehensive about how she would manage it all, things started off well.
And just as we were celebrating our small team going full time, and getting ready to build out more, the world started locking down around us. Discussions with potential partners, potential investors, potential early customers all suddenly started going into holding patterns for the first couple of weeks.
Calls and engagements started to return swiftly enough, thanks to the pervasiveness of the video call. We even had a user design testing session via screen share, and over a glass of wine. But our original plans have all been thrown up in the air and we’ve needed to change our expectations and our modus operandi.
You always hear of the power of “the pivot” for start-ups — being flexible enough in how you operate and approach an idea. Didn’t quite expect it this way, but the lockdown has taught us how to pivot very early on in our start-up lives.
- We’ve adjusted our expectations for funding — we think it’s likely to take longer and need many more discussions before getting there. New money is following existing portfolio firms that require further cash injections due to the economic dislocation, more than brand new ventures.
- We’ve adjusted some of our recruitment and marketing plans. We’ve engaged different partners than perhaps we had initially envisaged.
- We’ve changed the sequencing of how we build the business out — there is a lot to do, but we need to focus on making the most of this lockdown time with limited resources.
It may take longer to achieve what we wanted to, but we want to be ready to roll when the world bounces back.
Keep calm and carry on
They say the life of a start-up founder / entrepreneur always has ups and downs, alternating between days of exuberance and self-doubt…and quite lonely. So what happens when a business is born into a situation like the current one we find ourselves in? Complete black swans that shreds to bits any business continuity and disaster recovery planning, leave alone start-up forecasting. And isolated in the literal sense of the word.
In the last 4 weeks or so, for us, it has meant that the extremes have been even more pronounced. The downs can be daunting — the more we read articles, speak to people in the thick of it, speak to investors about how it’s such a tough environment out there for businesses, the more uphill our journey feels.
But then you walk outside (only for our once a day exercise, of course) and you can feel the fresher air, you can see for miles through the city because of clear non-smoggy skies. And you realize that the lockdown has just demonstrated the impact of human activity and consumption on the environment so quickly. We can see the relevance and significance of our business even more.
So the ups are more energising and make us even more determined — we are still healthy, still able to work from the comfort of our homes, not at the sharp end of this virus fight. It could have been that much worse if we had launched already. In a way, we are looking at this period as an opportunity for us.
We are using this time to build out our product, learn as much as possible, have fun building the business out. We have video calls for hours on end, brainstorming product design, user experience, data architecture, propensity modelling. We take breaks sharing some of the most creative, funny and ridiculous videos and posts that the lockdown has brought out on social media, and philosophizing about what the world will look like post lockdown — generally keeping spirits up! Obviously, we need to conserve as much cash as possible during this period, and re-plan for the future — waiting out this pandemic that has enfolded our lives.
We have also found that reaching out to experts in different areas to help guide us has been quite successful via video calls. And we would like to make some small difference ourselves, like taking on summer interns where perhaps other businesses may have had to step back.
On the one hand…and on the other…
As much as the situation right now still feels very strange to most, many people have started getting ‘used to it’ to a degree and some are even getting quite comfortable with it! The current situation certainly has thrown up things we miss, but also some things we quite enjoy. While many of this will apply to all, as a start-up, some of these have had a greater impact on us.
Here are some of the things that we do miss…
- Not being able to meet face to face with the team to brainstorm and scribble on whiteboards (video calls help but are just not the same)
- Start-up + lockdown = not just limited weekends, but no concept of weekends. All days blur into one
- Networking to develop partner / customer / investor connections
- The odd weekend trip away to clear your head
- Being able to work in a café or with people around that you can chat to, get feedback from
- Hanging out with people after work for a drink or two or three
…And some of the things that we could get used to
- Not having to wake up to beat the crowds and traffic on the way to work
- Being much more in control of our time (code at night, sleep during the day!)
- More flexibility and more people being available and accessible through virtual meetings
- Sunshine, fresh air, clear skies
- Better diet, less drinking and junk food. Healthy for me and my wallet!
Of course, it’s early days yet, and time will tell if, when and what ‘new norm’ awaits our day to day lives ahead. That can have a profound impact on how we build out our business, what we focus on and how we help people help the planet.
The overarching concept of driving conscious consumption will stand the test of time — if not in the next 3 months, in the next 6 or 12. But within that, what consumer behaviour changes because of the experience of the last couple of months — even if not permanently, for the medium term — remains to be seen.
We write this at the start of our journey…and hope to reminisce about how we made it successfully through these times and beyond in a few years’ time!