In times like these, the old Yiddish proverb “We plan, God laughs” rings with a certain ‘told-you-so’ acerbity that can’t be ignored. Sure, you could argue that when it comes to running a startup, one should always expect the unexpected. But the havoc wreaked by the Coronavirus pandemic has taken the unforeseen to a whole new level of unexpected.
At NUMA New York, an accelerator for international startups expanding to the US, the #1 question we’ve been getting from our startup founders is “So, what do I do now?” And though we certainly don’t claim to have the answers to everything, the way we see it, you have two choices: Give up or show up.
Whichever one you choose, commit to it 100%.
For those of you that have opted for the latter, here are 5 tips for showing up fully and authentically for your startup:
- Look for the business opportunity
Before you dig yourself into a hole of sorrow and regret, ask yourself, “How can I flip this negative situation into a positive one?” It’s no secret that certain industries are thriving in the wake of the pandemic, so how can you reposition your company to align with newly emerging painpoints? Perhaps your product can directly or indirectly help with remote work, remote health/wellness, remote education, or remote communication. Once you’ve honed in on your solution’s COVID-19 related value-prop, the next step is to communicate it to your potential clients and partners in a way that is empathetic and attentive to their needs. This isn’t a time to sell anyone on anything. It’s a time to listen and act on the signals of change.
- Be adaptable
One of the greatest competitive advantages young startups have is their innate malleability. As much as we would all like to have a strategic plan that we can follow impeccably to achieve forecasted returns no matter what, this isn’t always the case. In turbulent times like these, business models, strategies, and routines become obsolete, and only those who are able to throw out their neatly articulated game plans, decode the external environment, and act quickly and intelligently emerge victorious. Being adaptable inherently means upholding a high level of trust among your teammates and encouraging knowledge flow, autonomy, and risk-taking. Yes, experimentation necessarily produces failure. Failure is fine. The more important measure is how quickly you are able to bounce back from failure and implement your learnings.
- Ask for help
A good place to start is this toolkit we developed at NUMA detailing COVID19 funding and resources for SMBs. Remember: we’re all on the same boat. Entrepreneurs all over the world are going through the same challenges you are. Reach out to your peers, mentors, and entrepreneurial networks to ask how they’re coping with the situation. You’d be surprised how willing people are to help you if you just ask.
- Help others
While it’s important to know how to ask for help, it’s just as important— if not more— to show up for other people during their moments of hardship. Reach out to other businesses and members of your community and ask how you can help them. Show your clients that you care by writing them a thoughtful email or even by offering your services for free (for a limited time of course). They say that crisis reveals character. Take this moment as an opportunity to prove to your clients, partners, and investors that you are there for them even when you don’t need to be.
- Stay positive
Demonstrate the leadership your team needs during this stressful time by staying positive, yet prudent. It’s ok to admit you don’t have everything under control, because you don’t. If the Coronavirus pandemic was in your control, we wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place! As Reinhold Niebuhr famously said, “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” There are plenty of things that are still in your control, namely, how you choose to react in this situation. Your employees are looking to you to see how you react and what it will mean for them. If you exude positivity, you will give them the confidence boost they need to remain focused and effective.
Final thoughts: How you show up in this moment will not only define the type of leader you are, but also, the very survival of your company. So, yes, the stakes are high. While these 5 tips aren’t ground breaking, in times of crisis, taking even the most basic, common sense actions can feel difficult. Every morning, we must make the conscious decision to show up for ourselves and for each other. We will get through this challenging time together, and we will emerge more intentional, thoughtful, and united because of it.
Please feel free to leave a comment below if there are any additional resources you’d like to share with the community, or if the NUMA team can support you in any way.
Wishing you and your loved ones good health!