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5 less-than-obvious techniques for startup survival during the pandemic

This may be a time to take a page out of your competitors’ handbooks.

5 less-than-obvious techniques for startup survival during the pandemic
[Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images]
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If you’ve just founded a startup, you’re probably feeling that you’ve just made a huge mistake. Fortunately, this is probably not the case (at least not yet). One of the many problems with a crisis like our current one is that they can lead relatively inexperienced entrepreneurs to make a series of rash decisions.

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In other words, the appropriate ways to respond during a pandemic are often not completely intuitive. To get ahold of some survival tactics during an unprecedented time, try a few of these nonstandard strategies.

Minimize, than go even smaller

Here’s the first point. When the pandemic hit, and you saw your revenues take a nose-dive, you probably started looking for more VC funding to cover the shortfall. That’s a natural reaction for many startups because if you are in your first year of business, you’re probably thinking you’ve built the most compact version of your company.

However, you may be overlooking a few areas for further scaling down. There are likely loads of extra costs you can cut before you go desperately seeking more investment. Many companies thought that they already had the lowest staff costs they could before lockdown measures forced them to work from home.

You can consider doing the same, and moving to a permanent remote workforce—just make sure you also use tools to protect remote workers from hacker attacks—or you can even consider replacing staff members entirely with AI tools. In other words, take a fresh look at the minimum viable product (MVP) you can offer, and strive to reduce your operations down to this point.

Switch sides

If you are in a business that has been particularly throttled by the pandemic, consider one not-so-obvious approach: Working for the enemy. Another way to frame this—become your competitors.

It’s a completely sensible idea, especially if you did your research before founding your company. From a thorough research process, you likely uncovered your competitor’s way of doing business, inside and out, as well as the factors that contributed to their success. If they are experiencing a more positive downturn than you (perhaps because you provide cuddle therapy and your competitors’ provide emotional support services remotely), just swallow your pride and muscle in on their business.

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That might sound like an absurd suggestion, but examples of it can be found everywhere. For many years Israel produced cyberweapons. Now, as the coders who developed these enter into the private sector, the country is dominating the cybersecurity market, with many of the same individuals offering services to secure (rather than jeopardize) internal communications.

Rebrand

Here’s an even more radical solution: You can rebrand your startup. The pandemic is the perfect time to refresh your image, for two major reasons.

One is that with so many people “working” from home (so, probably using social media more than ever), you have a huge (and possibly hugely bored) captive audience just crying out for some stimulation. To spice up the same old logo in your audience’s social media feeds, hire a professional design assistant, who will can work with you to dream up a fresh image.

The second reason is that the pandemic has fundamentally changed the way business across industries is conducted. Your target audience and trading partners are likely looking for companies who recognize this. Some companies have successfully turned the pandemic into an opportunity. One example: Time Out has temporarily rebranded to “Time In” to encourage social distancing, and various restaurants have begun transforming into small grocery stores to mirror the changing needs of their customers.

Seek out help

Another unconventional suggestion that many entrepreneurs often overlook is finding a business mentor. Yes, you may think seeking out a mentor and compensating them may take up your limited resources. But you should recognize that there are currently plenty of knowledgeable people out there who want to give their time to share their knowledge and experiences with you, especially during uncertain times.

Take advantage of the lockdown measures by drawing on sources of expertise that would be inaccessible when the world was “normal.” These can include lecturers at your local university, with more time on their hands due to online classes, or even your close friends, who might be looking for something to do while they wait for their employer to reopen their businesses.

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Take action

Finally, make sure you do something. There can be a tendency (especially among newer entrepreneurs) to try and “ride out” crises like the one we are living through. This tendency to suspend operations and start again after the dust has settled can feel like a comfortable choice. However, surviving the pandemic is shaping up to be a race against time, and startups must be reactive and decisive and intelligently reactive to successfully get through this period.


Nahla Davies is a software engineer and technical copywriter.