Invest Atlanta Livestream : How to Lead A Company Through Uncertain Times

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After months of the Covid-19 crisis, it has become clear that in-person interaction between members of the startup community — entrepreneurs, investors, and ecosystem supports — is missed deeply by all. It was with great appreciation, therefore, when Managing Partner Blake Patton and Tech Square Ventures CFO Joelle Fox were able to participate in a live video conversation hosted by Invest Atlanta, covering the topic of “Leading In A Time of Uncertainty.”

Blake’s former life as a serial tech entrepreneur saw him leading companies through multiple financial crises, including the dot-com crash, September 11th, and the 2008 recession. And Joelle has worked as part of the leadership team at both a large, highly-acquisitive tech company and a successful bootstrapped startup. During the conversation, they focused on these experiences and what they’re sharing with entrepreneurs now.

Joey Womack of WeWork Labs moderated the discussion, which you can find in full below, along with a summary of key takeaways. Invest Atlanta will continue to host these conversations weekly on their Facebook page.

Shift From Growth to Sustainability

“This is a time to be heads down, prove your products and close that gap.”

The hardest obstacle for him as an entrepreneur during past crises, says Blake, was the shift from a growth mindset to one of building sustainably.

While sustainability might seem slower at first, it sets the company up for steady, continuous growth.

“Watching each of those crises, there were companies that that took advantage of the deck being shuffled during those periods. Some industry leaders right now are going to have to work really hard to tread water and survive, while early-stage companies can close the gap,” says Blake.

“This is a time to be heads down, prove your products and close that gap.”

Act — and React — Swiftly

“If you’re closely managing your cash and you’re looking ahead, and you didn’t hit the milestones, you need to make hard decisions and make them swiftly.”

Entrepreneurs often get invested, financially and mentally, in the decisions they make for their companies — team growth plans, executive hires, big marketing or sales campaigns. But in a crisis, things change, and they change fast.

Joelle shared how leaders must aim to be swift in their decisions, but also swift to react and reorient if the plan is just not going to work out in the current environment.

“You make decisions around hiring or resources, but it’s important to set milestones against those decisions. That way, you will be prepared and less emotional about the decisions that need to be taken.”

“If you’re closely managing your cash and you’re looking ahead, and you didn’t hit the milestones, you need to make hard decisions and make them swiftly.”

Count your Cash

“Just because it’s on a spreadsheet doesn’t mean the cash is going to come in.”

Venture-backed or not, every company should act right now like a bootstrapped company. That means consistently and diligently monitoring cash flow.

“As an entrepreneur, this is something you may have wanted to delegate in the past, but it’s not something you can delegate now,” says Joelle.

Entrepreneurs should gather their leadership team around them, roll their sleeves up, and start reviewing incoming and outgoing cash. Joelle recommends doing this on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.

“Where is the risk, what are the red flags, and what are you going to do if this doesn’t materialize? Just because it’s on a spreadsheet doesn’t mean the cash is going to come in.”

Customer service, always important for a startup, becomes even more important during this time. Entrepreneurs should maintain or increase regular communication with their customers, ensuring an invoice doesn’t fall by the wayside.

“You don’t want to wait until you’re dialing for dollars,” Joelle says.

Equally as important as incoming revenue is outgoing expenses, or burn. Evaluate your expenses and see how you can lower the biggest line items and possibly eliminate the smaller or unnecessary expenses.

“This is a time to use your creativity,” says Joelle. “Prioritize your decisions around the data that comes out of this analysis. Be realistic, and have a best case and a worst case scenario.”

Use Your Advisors

“You’re probably smarter than [your Board], but remember that they’ve got a lot more data points than you.”

As a Board member of several startups, Blake shares that a CEO has the difficult job of balancing advice from multiple sources. At the end of the day, a company leader must weigh all that advice, decide on his plan of action, and execute.

“You’re probably smarter than [your Board], but remember that they’ve got a lot more data points than you; they are talking to many more companies, many more entrepreneurs.”

Leaders should also use their network and Board as a router to connect with other advisors and experts. Now is the time to use those connections you have built over the years to lend an outsized advantage to your company.

It comes down to a simple tenet, says Blake: don’t be afraid to ask for help.

A Clear Vision Matters More Than Ever

“In hard times, you need clear alignment around your objectives, your plans, and you have to communicate, communicate, communicate.”

Core values matter more than ever in a crisis, and that is doubled when a team can’t motivate each other in person. A leader must constantly communicate and over-communicate to keep the team aligned around the larger mission.

“The very first thing you have to do is remind everybody of your ‘why’,” says Blake. “In hard times, you need clear alignment around your objectives, your plans, and you have to communicate, communicate, communicate.”

Blake shared five guidelines he put together on the first week of remote work to anchor the team at Tech Square Ventures and Engage.

  1. Let’s remember who we are. We remembered our core values of Service and Stewardship, and how we use that as a guiding light for everything we do.
  2. Let’s do our part. We talked about the reality of having to flatten the curve and not overwhelm the healthcare system. This also showed that we take our team’s health seriously.
  3. Let’s focus on our 2020 objectives. We may have to change our tactics, but our objectives remain the same.
  4. Let’s pause, reflect, and improve. We knew that everyone had to adjust, take care of their kids, take care of their parents, so we encouraged everyone to take a few days and take care of everything. Then, we got back at it. We talked about using this time as a gift, about what we could do with this time to help the entrepreneurs we serve, the investors we serve, and ourselves.
  5. Let’s communicate. We are used to being in a relationship-driven business, so we knew that we were going to have to rely heavily on over-communicating.

See a full recording of the conversation here

Engage is a collaborative innovation and corporate venture platform that brings together leading corporates and startups to build the future of enterprise.

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