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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.

By Jason Kothari

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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 Housing.com, FreeCharge, Snapdeal and Valiant Entertainment, in crisis, can be a guide.

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".
Jason Kothari

Former CEO, Housing.com, FreeCharge, Valiant Entertainment

Jason Kothari is a passionate entrepreneur and business turnaround leader.

While still in college, he acquired his childhood favorite comic book company, Valiant Entertainment, out of bankruptcy for less than a million dollars. He then led the transformation of the US based company as the CEO to the third largest superhero entertainment company after Marvel and DC Comics and a sale for $100 million, a record industry return. The Company was named Publisher of the Year, was nominated for 90 awards, and completed a landmark five-movie deal with Sony Pictures based on its characters.  This includes blockbuster movie Bloodshot starring Vin Diesel, where Jason served as an Executive Producer, releasing worldwide on March 13, 2020. He imagined the story of the Valiant comic book ‘Bloodshot’ as a movie at the age of 12 and years later worked on bringing it to the big screen, including landing the movie deal with Sony Pictures.

Subsequently, Jason was the CEO of Housing.com, one of India’s largest online real estate companies, where he led the transformation of the distressed company and then a merger with News Corp’s PropTiger to create the $350 million industry leader with News Corp., the largest strategic investor in the space globally, investing $50 million and becoming the lead investor. The Company had increased revenues by 400%, while reducing costs by 70%, and its platform became the most popular for buying and selling homes in the country. 

Following this, Jason became the Chief Strategy & Investor Officer of Snapdeal, one of India’s largest ecommerce companies valued at $6.5 billion at its peak, where he played a lead role in transforming the distressed company.  This included leading the Snapdeal 2.0 strategy & plan creation, the restructuring of the company, and the sale of non-core businesses, resulting in the company going from an over $20 million monthly loss to a profit, a first for an Indian e-commerce company, and generating $140 million in excess cash.

During this time, Jason was also the CEO of FreeCharge, one of India’s largest digital payments companies owned by Snapdeal, where he led the distressed company from a $10 million gross monthly loss a few months earlier to a gross profit and then a sale to Axis Bank for $60 million, a vital deal for Snapdeal’s turnaround and a key strategic deal in the Indian fintech space. 
In addition, he has been a senior advisor to various companies, such as Softbank, the largest technology investor; Noon.com, the largest e-commerce company in the Middle East that has raised $1 billion; Infibeam Avenues, the only publicly listed e-commerce company in India; and is on the Board of Directors of Emaar India, one of the largest real estate developers in India with over $2 billion in assets going through a turnaround. 

He holds a B.S. from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and is a member of Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO).  Jason was born in Hong Kong and spent most of his childhood there. He now lives in Mumbai and is passionate about helping entrepreneurs and financing media projects about inspiring stories.

His book Irrationally Passionate is a highly personal, authentic, open and complete account of a young entrepreneur’s life. Brimming with practical advice and philosophical insights, it will force readers to reflect on how they perceive life, work, family and spirituality by giving them a fresh perspective. It reveals the inside story of how a rebel, train-wreck kid transformed himself into a successful young entrepreneur and business leader who became one of the top ten paid executives in India while only in his 30s.

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