“Entrepreneurs’ response to managing through crisis”, Survey analysis, visions, & recommendations
In a time when the whole world is under partial or complete lockdown, businesses are facing significant challenges and need to respond rapidly. Today, companies are forced to implement immediate disruptive measures to their business models in order to evolve and survive the new realities.
Endeavor Jordan conducted a survey to get a flavor of the impact of this crisis on startups. The sample included 110 founders of fast-growing companies, including Endeavor Jordan’s Entrepreneurs, across eight verticals including: Agriculture, Commerce, Retail & Consumer Tech, Education, Enterprise Software & Services, Food & Beverage, Healthcare, Smart City, and FinTech.
In this note, we shed a high-level view on how those founders are navigating through this raging sea of uncertainty, and some of the measures taken to weather the storm. We will also present some reflections from Endeavor Jordan’s high-profile network members including board members, mentors, and entrepreneurs. While lack of visibility is making it extremely challenging to plan ahead, entrepreneurs are nonetheless hard at work re-evaluating their priorities and re-engineering their operating models. The transition to remote work was mostly smooth for most, however, a notable number still face dire challenges.
Impact on revenue
Reflecting on the impact of the crisis, a sizeable segment of companies was either completely closed at the time the survey was conducted, or facing a serious slowdown, and notably those relying on offline sales and physical operations. Clearly, the months ahead will be quite volatile and most entrepreneurs are anticipating the serious slowdown to persist beyond 2020. Business will re-open as lockdown restrictions begin to ease; however, a notable few do not anticipate a return to business in the foreseeable future.
Notwithstanding, some entrepreneurs have seen growth and a favorable surge in revenues, particularly those in gaming, ed-tech, e-commerce and health-tech. Those entrepreneurs expect this growth to continue over the next 6–18 months.
When questioned about hiring practices during these unpredictable and very challenging times, the majority of businesses indicated their intention to freeze all forms of hiring.
Around one-fifth have downsized today, and more will follow suit in the coming 3–6 months. As the dust settles, and businesses start to return gradually to normal working modes, more companies believe that hiring will resume as they will either resume working and seek to grow, or pivot their business models to adapt to the new realities.
Preparedness for crisis
Many companies were taken by surprise and were not well prepared to tackle the crisis. The ability to quickly adapt and pivot the business model will be key for survival over the next few months. When asked about business preparedness for the crisis, only 7% responded that they were fully prepared to take on the challenge.
The crisis altered the way we live and work almost instantly. Startups will need to undergo some form of transformation to be able to survive this crisis and adapt to the new realities. In the words of Endeavor Entrepreneur and IrisGuard CEO Imad Malhas, ‘many businesses will certainly reengineer themselves and literally reinvent the entire business proposition in the process.
Those who will survive and prosper will have already started this change and accepted the situation and moved on to doing something more innovative. The value of any business is not in its sales, products, IP or fixed assets; it is in the minds of its founders, the entrepreneurs who endeavor to write the future the way they think it should be.’
Along those critical lines, close to half of the respondents have already transformed their businesses today, and 64% will sustain this transformation. A larger number will introduce a hybrid of both old and new practices in order to keep up with the change.
Transitioning towards digitization
Clearly, this crisis is accelerating the growing trend towards digitalization and automation and start-ups will continue to invest in building their digital/automation capabilities. Endeavor co-chair, and Bank al-Etihad CEO Nadia Saeed remarks, ‘the crisis is teaching us the value of innovation and swift evolution; challenging us to rethink our role as a bank. A new way of doing business is certainly upon us, compelling us and our customers to take a digital leap, and nurture an environment of constant digital learning.’
Today, around 60% of surveyed entrepreneurs are planning to invest in digitization, whereas more than 80% of entrepreneurs are planning to invest in the coming 6–18 months as cash becomes more available.
Pressing challenges of 2020
The most pressing challenges of 2020 revolve around cashflow management and the ability to raise funds. Other matters such as logistics, operations, and HR take a distant third and fourth positions.
Our mentor Ahmad Hanandeh agrees that businesses will struggle to stay afloat this year, and face the challenge of liquidity and sustainability. However, he is hopeful that this sector will witness a significant recovery after the crisis passes, and this is in fact the ideal time to invest in it since the crisis shifted consumer behavior towards digital solutions.
Life as we know it will certainly not be the same post-crisis. Karim Kawar, Endeavor mentor and President of Kawar Group, asserts that the ‘ability to adapt’ will be the standard measure during these critical times, and during the challenging days ahead. He notes that ‘this difficult period compels us to reconsider everything we assumed to be constant, which has for the most part changed at an unprecedented pace. Our ability to adapt to the new reality is key to our success. It is also the hope for prosperity in the present and the future.’ He paraphrases the saying ‘Need is the Mother of all Innovation’, and remains hopeful that ‘this is the golden opportunity for young entrepreneurs to be innovative and creative to enable the larger community to cope with the challenges, and adapt to the new imposed reality of digital transformation.’
New practices ahead
Moving forward, entrepreneurs will be instituting a process for strategic planning, and will certainly integrate remote working mechanisms. Agility and innovation, in addition to crisis management will also top their lists among key practices that will be adopted post crisis.
The natural instinct, while strategizing through this crisis will be to double down on the now as Samar Obeid, EY Partner and Endeavor Jordan board member explains. When the enterprise’s survival is at stake, responding to immediate threats takes on outsize importance. While that’s understandable, she explains, it will also be critical to ‘keep one eye on the beyond, for the simple reason that large crises reshape the long-term competitive landscape. The world on the other side of the crisis may look very different, with different norms, rules, competitors, and value propositions. Understanding the changes ahead can help entrepreneurs take steps now that are aligned with the world beyond the crisis.’
Tackling the new reality — some words of wisdom
‘In times of adversity and challenges, the entrepreneurial spirit of individuals and nations thrives to lead change initiatives to emerge with creative solutions that contribute to change for the better’, Endeavor Jordan Chairman, President and CEO of Integrated Technology Group, Walid Tahabsem states. He also notes that the social solidarity we are witnessing during this difficult time will be crucial to reviving the Jordanian business sector after the crisis ends. He asserts that we must all continue to support this positive course by bolstering collaboration between all sectors, so that we are able to transform challenges into great opportunities for growth inside and outside our beloved Jordan.
Moreover, ‘we are seeing a rapid transition from an industrialized economy into an information economy, and founders are positioned to lead in these difficult and uncertain circumstances’ notes Dr. Fawaz Zubi, Endeavor mentor and CEO of Silicon Badia. He asserts that if we want to help founders drive an economic recovery anchored in job creation, we need to continue to believe in the potential of public-private partnerships, eliminate regulatory hindrances that inhibit the digitization of our economy, and provide conveniently structured capital to sustain them as they transform their business models.
Conversation with an EE
Endeavor Entrepreneurs (EEs) are resilient by nature. This is a conversation between Endeavor board member Ali Al-Husry and one of our EEs:
Saad Mouasher, Endeavor board member and Chairman of the Jordan Ahli Bank believes that ‘capitalism needs to evolve, and the focus must shift from simply maximizing shareholder value to maximizing stakeholder value.’ He asserts that ‘this will introduce a ‘conscious capitalism’ model where the interests of all stakeholders are identified, measured, and optimized in a sustainable, holistic way. Business stakeholders include customers, employees, partners, regulatory bodies, shareholders, the community, and the environment, to name a few.’ He encourages all entrepreneurs and organizations to think of how they can sustainably maximize stakeholder value, and in the process, create meaningful progress and a better world for all.
‘At the end of the day, the difficult situation will pass, and what will remain is how each one of us dealt with it, and how as a team we overcame it’, remarks Ahmad Abu Ghazaleh, Endeavor board member and CEO of the International Wings Group and Abdali Hospital.
As a final inspiration note from our board member Maher Kaddourah, we also need to know the why, in order to figure out the how. He asserts, ‘make no mistake; we are being tested as individuals, families, friends, companies, governments, and humanity at large. We can, and will bounce, not only back, but also forward. We can bounce forward when we become hopeful not only wishful; we see possibilities not limitations; we generate opportunities not threats; we fix problems not blames; we think of WE not only ME. Each of us can be the hero writing their own story, what we do and we don’t do will define who we are for the rest of our lives. So I choose to be a hero.’
What have we been advising our entrepreneurs?
Entrepreneurs who run innovative and fast-growing companies are used to living in the ‘un-natural state’. They are constantly driving the businesses with optimism and passion, while at the same time planning different operational scenarios internally. They are agile and ready to pivot fast, turning threats into opportunities so nothing derails them.
To weather the storm, Endeavor Jordan is advising entrepreneurs to focus on three critical components of the business: cash management, human resource management, and business model shift/pivot.
I) Cash management: Stretch your penny till the last mile possible
· Revenues, budgets, and projections for 2020 will not be met — PRESERVE CASH AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE.
· Negotiate all your payables and receivables. Stretch out payment terms, and try to negotiate discounts on what you owe.
· Cut all non-strategic costs and minimize all variable strategic costs.
· While restructuring your costs today make sure you do not create long term damages that will impact your ability to raise revenues.
· Include any legal or severance costs to your cost analysis during cost reduction.
· Talk to banks to restructure your debt; cheaper funding gives opportunity to build new cost structures.
· Improve margins and efficiency — constantly.
II) HR management: Stand out as a leader
• Transparency and empathy with the team you hired is a must.
• Think creatively before letting key talent go. You can offer stock options instead of salaries, leave without pay, or a pay cut.
• If you cut salaries, start with yourself, the c-suite and managers. This has to be a top-down and not a bottoms up approach to cost saving.
• Frame it as a salary decrease applicable to all as you move into survival mode; saving the company now in order for employees to keep their jobs in the future is the message you need to clearly communicate.
• There are costs to laying employees off as you will incur severance packages. Carefully assess the costs of this as talent is hard to come by. You will need it again when your business picks up.
• Document all arrangements you make with your employees to mitigate any future legal actions that may arise.
• Keep the team motivated, updated, and engaged in the decision-making process — You’d be surprised how considerate and supportive they could be!
III) Rethink your business model: You cannot remain static and continue to be relevant
It’s important to pivot your business to maximize revenue because the consumer landscape has changed. You need to segment every part of the business and examine how you can align your service/product with this new reality. Drop any product/service lines that are performing poorly or have the lowest margins. Look at your products/services and imagine how you can re-invent them to match the new reality. Your business must become technology enabled; adopt more technology; rely on digital networks and platforms to carry out your day-to-day business.
Managing a business during crisis is very complicated. You need to plan various scenarios to guide your decision-making process. See reliable business intelligence and data sources to help you understand the trends and possible opportunities you can capture. Don’t do a complete pivot to capture new opportunities — do a pivot shift. Refocus on areas that were previously small opportunities for you, and now can be much larger. Today, it’s impossible not to take risk when the alternative is no business at all.
Today is also the perfect time for R&D and upskilling activities. You must explore how to improve your product or service, and use this time to develop your personal skills, and improve your productivity. This will have long-term benefits.
Finally, if you are an offline business you need to think of ways to shift to online, if possible. Use e-commerce platforms to place your products or open up an online store; and use delivery services. You need to have a presence online. If you are already online, you need to look for ways to maximize your reach to new networks, communities, and marketplaces.