I launched a small start-up in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis. Has it been 100% straightforward? No. But then when is it ever?
That said, some of my experiences have been unexpectedly positive compared to what it was like to launch a new business pre-pandemic.
That is why I thought it might be worth laying out what I learned, and why launching a business in the time of COVID might be better than you might expect.
Successes & Failures
1. You Have More Perspective
I’ve been in my line of work for a long time. But this is the first time I’ve had a project canceled due to an infectious disease.
It forced me to acknowledge that we couldn’t possibly control everything. And it provided some useful perspective that will help me to deal with failures that we encounter on our journey.
2. You Have To Trust Your Judgement
Launching a start-up can be a long and sometimes lonely path at the best of times.
But with lockdown in full swing in New York, I couldn’t see or meet any business partners or colleagues.
While that is not ideal, it has had its benefits. For example, it’s encouraged me to be that much more confident in the business decisions I’ve made.
3. You Are Forced To Take Your Time
Rushing to complete something that isn’t quite ready is never a great idea. But it is also the approach that too many start-ups take.
The pandemic postponed a few of our plans, and slowed down our launch schedule. As a result, the last couple of months have sometimes felt like they’ve been passing in excruciating slow-motion.
A long launch, though, has come with its benefits. It has given me time to reflect and to focus on all those crucial small details. We are in a better position as a result.
4. You Question Your Business Model
The tried and tested can be a tempting path. After all, it has worked in the past. Why wouldn’t it again?
According to CB Insights, the number one reason – at a staggering 42% – for start-up failure was “lack of a market need for their product”. And that’s in ‘normal’ times.
I had already planned for my business to be slightly different from the traditional model for my industry. Still, the pandemic has encouraged us to push our thinking further and be more radical. Different times call for different measures.
You Only Focus on the Fundamentals
The pandemic prevented us from doing some of the things that we had initially planned for launch. For example, a launch event was simply impossible in the current climate.
That has allowed us to re-focus on the fundamentals, rather than getting distracted by ‘bells and whistles.’ That means: spending more time working through the specifics of the service offering, getting the right systems in place, re-considering our strategy, and delivering on crucial marketing activity in the run-up to launch.
The realities of launching under lockdown have freed up more time and budget to dedicate to the things that were going to move the needle.
Besides, it has forced us to be lean. And I’m pretty confident that puts us in a stronger position going forward.
Productivity & Working Habits
6. You Can Reduce Meeting Time (A Lot)
There is a much-cited – and slightly outdated – statistic that 15% of an organization’s time is spent in meetings.
Whether or not that number was 100% accurate pre-pandemic, we all still spent a lot of time in them.
I have found that this statistic hasn’t been accurate during lockdown. Pre-pandemic, the advisors and collaborators we work with would have wanted to meet in person – requiring precious time to travel and meet up.
During lockdown, the meetings didn’t happen, but the work has still been completed, as if by magic.
Fewer meetings gave me more time to focus on doing, not just talking.
7. You Shut Out the Background Noise
On a similar theme, I’ve had to expect a lot less immediate/synchronous communications from clients and colleagues.
Rather than this being a negative, this has been one of the biggest positives of my start-up journey.
It meant I was able to focus on one topic at a time, and get into a ‘flow state’ rather than having to drop what I was doing every five minutes to respond to every Slack or email immediately.
8. You Have Fewer Decisions to Make
The average American adult has to make somewhere in the region of 35,000 decisions a day.
A lot of these are admittedly trivial. But, when combined with the critical decisions that are required when launching a business, the toll they take can be significant.
Start-up founders often talk about the dangers of ‘decision fatigue.’ One of the unintended benefits of launching a business in the past few months is that a lot of decisions were made for me.
I didn’t need to think about where to go for dinner because there was nowhere to go. Which meant the only decisions I had to focus on were the ones that mattered.
9. You Learn When to Stop
You don’t start your own business if you’re not prepared to commit to a hard workload. You work hard during the day and, sometimes, during the night.
Working from home 100% of the time has forced me to take it a little easier to avoid my work-life balance becoming unhealthy.
That’s no bad thing. Slowing down has been excellent for my physical and mental health, staving off the exhaustion typical at this stage of a start-up launch.
10. You Look for Different Ways of Operating
Most industries are like professional echo chambers.
You’re surrounded by people who act like you, think like you and talk like you. Opinions can become hardened. Behaviors can be normalized.
One of the more unexpected benefits of this situation has been working daily alongside a partner from a completely different industry.
It’s shown me that my – and my industry’s – approach work isn’t always the ‘right’ way. And that there’s still a lot to learn by looking at how other industries approach their work.
In summary, my list of reasons as to why, despite everything, a global pandemic actually might be a good time to launch a business:
You’re less likely to be too hard on yourself – and will tend to trust your judgment more
You can focus on one thing at a time
You get to cut back on all those unnecessary decisions
You quickly have to find your limits. When it’s time to stop, you stop
It’s (slightly) easier to question what you’re doing – and how you’re doing it
You’re forced to cut out the flab – and only focus on the things that will make a difference
You’ve got more time to make the right decisions
You may get to work with a partner in a different industry. (This last one, on reflection, might not always be feasible.)