3 Things Startup Founders Should Have Learned From the Pandemic
As we can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel, let's assess what the weird dynamics of the pandemic should've taught startup founders and how we can use our experiences in a post-pandemic world.
Let me set this straight: The pandemic is not over. People still die from Covid, they still get seriously ill, and societies are still forced into lockdowns. It's not over until the WHO says it is; there might still be new dangerous variants, and we may look into more restrictions next autumn.
Still, thanks to the vaccines, there is a general feeling in many countries that the worst is behind us, and that things are very close to normal. We can finally begin to see what the world might be like in post-pandemic times.
As a startup founder and CEO, the pandemic was challenging to navigate. The economy was weird, it caused new social dynamics, and the unprecedented nature of the situation meant that none of the usual tools in the toolbox seemed adequate or useful. We had to improvise and trust our guts. So, now that it at least feels over, I feel the need to ask: What does the post-pandemic world hold for startup founders in the tech industry? And what did we learn from it all?
1. Stick to the steady path
During the past two to three years, we've experienced an economic boom, a quick recession, then another boom, and now we're undergoing ballooning inflation while increasing interest rates and possibly a new recession lurks just around the corner. Between that, we've had various supply crises, the Great Resignation, a declining stock market, new layoffs and whatever is happening in the crypto world.
The economic turmoil we're experiencing right now, in my opinion, is a return to normal. That Zoom stocks are down, for example, doesn't mean that Zoom is suddenly a bad company. It means that it was a crazy good company during a lockdown. The pupils went back to their classrooms, workers returned to the office, and growth slowed a bit. That is not the burst of a tech bubble. It's a return to the world of 2019.
This new market cycle with higher interest rates requires founders to adjust their expectations and be more disciplined. But the pandemic gave us a lesson we need to remember: Stick to the steady path. If you're zigzagging your way through this, you're likely to overplay your hand or act too drastically.
Don't panic. Find the middle of the road. Focus on your core unit economics, be a bit more disciplined, and find the balance between realism and ambition in your strategy.
2. The future of work is not so futuristic anymore
The pandemic forced everyone to develop new ways of working. Our societies became more digitized, software adoption accelerated, and we had to work from home. Decades of innovation were propelled in just a few weeks.
Now, things are slowly adjusting again. Some are going back to the office, some aren't. Some are going back to old workflows, some aren't. We're seeing that the future of work is no longer futuristic. It's the present, and it's real.
The pandemic has allowed us to adopt a much more realistic view of the frontier of modern work. We don't have to be radical about remote work. Some thrive in it; others don't. Some prefer a hybrid solution. The same goes for automation. Some tasks proved to be ripe for automation and some didn't.
Now is the perfect time to reflect on the future of work. What was a tad too futuristic, and what worked out well? In that way, we can adopt a more pragmatic approach to the way we work.
3. Mental health is here to stay
Sometimes you get the impression that the pandemic was an excuse for us to change our lives as if we hated them before. That is not true. I think we have a tendency to overestimate how much the pandemic will change long-term. People will go back to offices, because people like offices. People will go back to nightclubs, because they like clubbing. And people will start traveling again, because they love traveling. We had the world before, because we liked to have it.
That said, some things have changed. The pandemic took its toll on people's mental health, which seeded the ground for a new cultural attitude. We need a break, a little less stress and burnout and a little more work-life balance. This new zeitgeist, named The Age of Anti-Ambition by The New York Times, forces founders to focus on mental health in the workplace, adjust incentive structures, and realize that you don't get productive employees by over-working them. The pandemic showed many people that work could be done differently. To win the post-pandemic, founders must accept this reality and develop a workplace that doesn't undermine the mental health of its employees.
In general, as you have already gathered from this text, I believe there is room for a new kind of realism. We've been through some unpredictable, bubbly and weird years. They've shown us that acting weird and bubbly doesn't help. Instead, it's time to adopt a pragmatic approach and stay cool.
Trust in your strategy. Don't jump the next hype train. Bet on the stuff you truly believe in. Do your thing, do it well, and act rationally. That is the key to winning post-pandemic. Stick to the steady path, adopt a realistic view of the future of work, loop up, and take care of the people around you.
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