Four Survival Principles For Start-Up Entrepreneurs Amid This Crisis

It's not always easy to focus on the light at the end of the tunnel. However, there actually may not ever be a better training ground for entrepreneurs.

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Start-up entrepreneurs during the COVID-19 crisis are playing a daunting game where the old rulebook has been thrown out and the future looks like an abyss. I hope these four survival principles gained from my experience helping lead a number of start-up companies such as, FreeCharge, Snapdeal and Valiant Entertainment, in crisis, can be a guide.

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Accept Fear and Anxiety is the New Normal - The human race across the globe is in crisis with millions of people sick and many thousands dying.  There is uncertainty if, when and how the world will recover from this pandemic and what the level of destruction will be. It would be abnormal for a person not to be afraid and anxious during this trying time. Therefore, there will be dark days where you will feel depressed, demotivated and unconfident - and you should accept that it is the new normal.  It is important for people to take time out to rebalance, diffuse this negative energy and focus on positive energy generating relationships and activities.  As an entrepreneur impacting other’s livelihoods, investor’s capital, customers, among others, it is particularly vital to do so.   A leader who is not calm and balanced is not one who can make optimal decisions.

Your Runway = Your Lifeline – The timeline for the economy, as well as particular industries or businesses, to recover is completely unknown.  Also, most investors are very risk averse at this time, so raising capital is very challenging for most companies and even capital already committed cannot be relied on.  This means entrepreneurs need to use their existing resources to extend their runway for as long as possible and, in turn, their lifeline.  This is also not a time for bold or risky decisions.  There are countless start-ups and established companies that will be faced with the inevitably of shutting down because their runway is less than the time required to endure the crisis.  It is vital to do whatever one can to conserve cash and extend this to the maximum – such as cutting costs, deferring liabilities, improving efficiencies, focusing on core activities only - so your company can emerge from this pandemic with a chance of survival.

Turn Lemons Into Lemonade – There are many big and small ways for entrepreneurs to turn crisis into opportunity. For example, there may be long-terms projects, such as new strategy and business plan building and new product creation, that are better suited to be worked on now with less distraction than during business as usual times.  There may be candidates you wish to hire that you couldn’t attract before that are possible to recruit now because of the rapid change occurring in the market for human capital.  It is crucial to take advantage of the silver linings during these times.

Build Adaptability into DNA -  Everyone has heard “the only constant is change”.  Today, the only constant is not just change, but hyper-accelerated change, making flexibility not just a good-to-have competency but a required competency for every individual and company.  The ability to continuously reevaluate all key aspects of a business, such as regulation, market dynamics, products and services, teams and business plans, and adapt an organization accordingly is critical. 

It’s not always easy to focus on the light at the end of the tunnel. However, there actually may not ever be a better training ground for entrepreneurs than the current environment of chaos and uncertainty.  Important qualities are being forcibly honed - agility and flexibility, inner strength and resilience, clarity of values and vision, among many others.  There is the adage that “If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere”. Well, ‘if you can make it through the COVID-19 crisis, you can survive anything”.