Coronavirus — inside a company that’s gone from profitable and growing to revenue £0

Revenue £0 is what happened at DeskBeers last week. I’m going to tell you what that’s like and why I care so much about what’s happened.

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First some context

DeskBeers delivers drinks to offices. It offers a full stack service installing and servicing taps and replenishing fridges across craft beers, wines and soft drinks. Customers range from small agencies wanting a box of beer at the end of the week to some of the biggest companies in the world wanting their bar stocked and serviced.

February 25th 2020

I distinctly remember the February DeskBeers Board Meeting because it was the first day I was practicing no handshakes.

Incredibly we actually did a SWOT analysis (the first I have done in a professional context in my life) but we did not put down “coronavirus” in the ‘threat’ quadrant. Instead we discussed growth, customer acquisition, new products and services, customer development and hiring.

Hold that thought.

March 12th 2020

I had a call with Adam (DeskBeers CEO). He had written to all customers telling them that everyone at DeskBeers was healthy but that extra steps were being taken in line with guidelines and reminding customers that they could pause their regular deliveries. Only one large customer pauses.

March 16th 2020

The UK has changed. Working from home is encouraged or mandated across the country and all Deskbeers customers pause their deliveries. ALL. OF. THEM.

Why is revenue £0 a big deal?

Having no income is a big deal for all companies aside startups that have just raised a large round but it’s especially a big deal for DeskBeers:

  • DeskBeers has been profitable only for the past 6 months. It has little cash buffer;
  • In order to support its customers short term demand (“we are having an event on Friday, we need 1000 craft beers with ice in 2 hours time”) DeskBeers has a warehouse full of stock. On principle DeskBeers always pays suppliers promptly. Drinks, especially craft beer has a shelf-life.

So what to do?

This is what Deskbeers is doing:

  • Within 4 days of the crisis breaking, Adam and Jamie (Head of Ops) developed DeskBeers Distributed. The DeskBeers concept for newly distributed teams working from home. This is the fastest pivot I have come across in 16 years working with startups;
  • Weekly cashflow forecasts. DeskBeers will monitor cash closely;
  • New product development. Adam is a software engineer, almost to a fault. To him every problem looks like a product needing to be built. He is building a radically new software product for DeskBeers;
  • DeskBeers is determined not to lay off its team. Any government measures aimed at supporting employment will be looked into.

What does all of this look like?

I have long thought that startup life is as close to the “real world” as a human can experience through their work outside of the military. This is real:

  • Rapid product development;
  • Rapid customer and supplier communications;
  • Whatsapp and phone calls at all hours of the day.

If DeskBeers gets through this, it will be stronger than ever for the experience.

Why do I care so much?

I have known Adam for 10 years. This week for the first time I told him I admired him. It’s a shame it took coronavirus for me to tell Adam that I admired him:

  • Adam is resilient and resourceful. He has been on a 5 year journey to make DeskBeers a category leader, and he’s done it on a shoestring. He has been alone for much of the journey. For one whole calendar year Adam ran DeskBeers on his own. Now most startups start with one person. But this was not the start. Adam ran DeskBeers on his own in 2017 out of necessity to keep it alive. He ran the website, procurement, growth, customer satisfaction, warehousing, finance and all other functions on his own. When money got tight he hustled some side software consulting work and billed it via DeskBeers, he’s taken pay-cuts, eviction, loss of major customers (they ALL came back) and kept on fighting. 99.9% of people would have given up by now. Adam has not given up;
  • Adam is generous and kind — he has done all of this while treating everyone (his employees, suppliers, customers etc) with respect, grace and decency;
  • Adam keeps his spirits up and is action orientated. If this was a military situation, I would love to have Adam in my platoon. I would happily lead him or be led by him. He is made of the right stuff;
  • Aside from work, Adam is a great husband, father, son and brother. I admire him in every way. There I’ve said it.

Adam and I always said that one day we’d write a book about everything that happened at DeskBeers, we just needed an ending.

We can’t let it be this.

Written by

Founder @mintdigital, occasional investor and family man.

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