Innovation, creativity and togetherness are three of the things that can help businesses to survive and thrive during a crisis.
That’s the verdict of three leading entrepreneurs who have all adapted during the coronavirus lockdown.
Founder of Sofar Sounds and world-renowned marketing expert, Rafe Offer, was joined by Goodordering’s Jacqui Ma and Crosstown Doughnuts’ JP Then on the expert panel at Virgin StartUp’s first online MeetUp, which attracted well over a hundred people.
The trio talked through how their businesses have made quick, tough decisions during the crisis to keep business flowing.
Rafe, who has also worked with global brands Coca-Cola, Disney, Diageo and Microsoft, said his business was in a fortunate position, so it was important to help others when the virus hit.
He said: “The initial response was: ‘what could we do to help artists?’. We had money in the bank, but others had their income evaporated. We focused on getting them something.
“We offered to pay them, which they otherwise wouldn’t have been, we began live streaming with a donate button which is helping people to earn $500-$1,000 per gig - and we’re also doing webinars. That’s taken our minds away from how brutal everything is. But we’re also taking tough decisions about cuts and furlough.”
Jacqui pivoted during the lockdown, selling masks as well as her trademark bags. She also took out a government loan to help ease any pressures.
“I wanted to double my year-on-year sales. I got in touch with friends in a different industry whose work has dried up and offered to sell their products on my website as I had an e-commerce facility. I thought I’d sell a few, but I’ve sold 600 masks so far!
“I recently got a CBILS loan, not because I necessarily needed it, but it took the pressure off,” she said. “I wanted to use that money to flourish. It wasn’t needed to survive, but there’s no shame in borrowing money if you can. It’s not free money, but having that cash flow doesn’t put me in a stressful position.”
JP Then’s business traditionally thrived on walk-ins, so he launched a new project to survive.
He said: “Hospitality has taken a huge blow. Traditionally, about 75% of business is walk-in. But now we’re 100% online and created the Crosstown Collective. We’ve come together with others and said: ‘our business is gone if we don’t do anything’. Within half a day, we pulled together an offer and off we went. It was quite an amazing journey. The response has been significant and meaningful. It’s keeping hundreds of people in work.
“We’re not a mini Ocado but that’s what it feels like at the moment. We’ve actually scaled some aspects of our business. We’ve completely pivoted our business.
“The challenge has been our staff side. We’ve had to furlough the vast majority of our people, but we hope we can open again soon.”
Despite the three founders leading very different businesses, they have all seen the importance of community during the uncertainty.
Rafe said: “Building a community-based business; when everything’s fun, it’s great. But when the chips are down, that’s when people come together.
“Community is bandied about way too much at the moment. You have to make a commitment to make it a real community, which is hard at the moment. You have to go to great lengths to build that.”
While not being able to arrange product photography during the lockdown, Jacqui partnered photographers with her products to set up their own shoots, saying the results were better than she ever imagined.
She added: “You need to lean on people. My partner is furloughed, so she’s looking after the kids a lot. It’s good to carve out your day. I work three hours in the morning and the rest of the day is spent being a teacher and so on. If I can keep the business afloat, that’s all I want.
“I use a network of freelancers for my business. The power of really small businesses has finally come to light. I think there’s a new appreciation of these now.”
JP added: “The response from the public has been really amazing. The delivery drivers are keeping the world alive. The government has done some good initiatives, but when it comes to bigger business, it’s harder. For us, the way to get through this is to fight. You have to listen to your customers.
“I think it’s a really good time to innovate. People need to be able to think beyond the walls.”
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