There’s absolutely no doubt that 2020 has been a year like no other. Thanks to COVID-19, many businesses around the world have experienced loss of income, staff and general day-to-day operations. A large number of businesses have had to shut down, either temporarily or permanently. There aren’t many industries that will be heading into 2021 unscathed.
Entrepreneurs and start-ups in particular have had to face challenges they weren’t expecting – and many have had to change the way they operate, both internally and externally. Here’s how some top entrepreneurs have made it through: the challenges they faced and lessons they learned along the way.
Jodie Mlikota, Co-founder & CEO Gathar: “The catering industry has been completely disrupted in 2020. When COVID-19 restrictions first hit, events were the first to go. For Gathar, this gave us the opportunity to rethink home dining experiences. Our chefs weren’t able to go into people's homes but we wanted to still create a way for people to come together over a great meal.
Due to this, we created ‘isolation degustations,’ a series of virtual dinner parties with chef-prepared meals delivered to your door and a live stream of entertainment to connect our community. The model proved to be a great success and we’ll continue to host virtual dinner parties even outside of isolation restrictions. Once restrictions started to ease, we saw a huge spike in bookings for private chefs, with dinner parties and smaller weddings well and truly back on the table.”
Cliff Sanderson, CEO of Dissolve: “Most entrepreneurs will have forecast and planned for their venture to be cash flow negative for a time. But COVID-19 will have put a hole in most plans. There is a broad range of problems and possible solutions - I like to think of it as a ‘restructuring spectrum.’ The opportunity is to understand the problem and pick the “least drastic” solution. For example, on the left side of the ‘restructuring spectrum’ we could find ‘underperformance’ and the solutions might be simple performance improvement measures or cost cutting.
In the middle would be ‘financial distress’ which might require an informal workout with creditors. On the right would be insolvency requiring more drastic solutions such as using formal insolvency laws. And here is the bonus – most developed countries have recognized the extraordinary challenges facing the business community and so they have implemented law changes to help companies get over the cashflow gap.”
Tony Xu, Founder of OmniGrowth: “The biggest opportunities have been with e-commerce, video conferencing and digital technology. COVID-19 has accelerated digital adoption by at least 5-10 years across both consumer and business markets. For me, e-commerce will be one of the most exciting areas to be with augmented reality (AR), live-streaming events and fulfilment becoming increasingly important as online displaces bricks and mortar.
When it comes to the biggest risks, it has to be services spend. So many people have taken up new habits over the pandemic and a lot of that involves spending less on coffees, lunches and dinners. With life relatively well without this spending, some households may never return to their previous levels of spending.”
Nick Bell, serial entrepreneur & founder of Lisnic: “There is an underlying pandemic that people are not considering when it comes to Covid-19 that may be more catastrophic than the disease itself: mental health. How to manage your mental wellbeing when hit with something completely uncharted nor tied to your personal actions is something people & business owners alike are struggling with.
That’s why I created my latest venture Lisnic, a platform that connects business owners and entrepreneurs with various types of coaches to keep them on the right path. Our website is also updated daily with tips on how to manage your stress, improve your life and overall business acumen.”
Shane Liuw, general manager of First Page Digital Singapore: “Covid-19 hit Asia particularly hard and early when compared to the rest of the world. Singapore was the first country outside of China to see a positive Covid-19 case. This is then turned into a huge downturn in Singapore’s economy, which reported its worst quarterly GDP growth ever.
While this presents huge challenges as a service-based business, with the right staff and processes opportunities also arise. As a digital marketing agency, we saw an increase in overall ad spend from our clients and the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter and brighter. Looking after our staff’s well-being was challenging, and something we addressed from the beginning of February. Things such as Friday virtual Beer o’ clocks, training sessions and daily catch ups made us close while being far apart.”
Antoine Bechara, Founder of Antoine Bechara: “As for pretty much everyone, 2020 has been a bit of a roller coaster in regards to challenges and opportunities. Being in the software development space I worked in an agile environment which involved a high level of daily communication with my teams. This was disrupted when we had to suddenly all work apart. This challenge ended up becoming a huge opportunity as we all quickly adapted to meeting online and it actually seems to be working just as well as before.
This has opened up a much wider net for hiring, as previously I would look for engineers from my city but now I am much more worried about culture fit then location. The main challenge remaining is how to maintain the team culture (or transition to whatever the new one will be) and the opportunity is I am able to reduce my overheads and due to the sudden extra push online there looks to be a lot more work for the digital industry.”
Sa El, Co-founder of Simply Insurance: “The biggest challenge this year has of course been the pandemic and the fight for social justice in the African American community and how they both affected the flow of business and relationships. However, at the same time, both of these challenges have created an opportunity for the growth and creation of online businesses.
More people are shopping online than ever before and with the larger companies pulling back on their marketing budgets, smaller shops with less overhead have a better opportunity for marketing. If someone has been thinking about starting an online business there is no time better than right now.”
Laura K. Inamedinova, Founder of LKI Consulting: “When rough times hit, the first department that loses their budget is always marketing. And those who work with external service providers, switch their activities in-house. Fortunately, my agency was always mostly focused to tech industries like fintech or cybersecurity, which during these times, grew tenfold.
We also saw a massive increase in inquiries from logistics and e-commerce industries. Even in the light of pandemic, internet-based businesses are booming: hiring people, expanding to the new markets. 2020 is a buyer’s market. With the cost of advertising decreasing, this is a great time to establish your brand, take a market share from a competition and come out even stronger than before.”
Yanis Bargoin, Founder of Fresh Mag Paris: “With this sanitary crisis due to Covid-19, the world has already changed. It has become more difficult to keep our previous life habits. This is why if you want to be successful, you have to be more ingenious, cleverer, and more efficient. Many companies will go bankrupt, but we all know that in any crisis, there are also great winners. Firms must adapt to this situation, change their methods to survive, or find new activities.
Now is a good time to build a new project because new opportunities are being created. Even if you are demotivated by the current atmosphere, people need to come up with positive topics and new ideas. In my case, I have launched my new print and freemium magazine, Fresh Mag Paris, that covers Parisian Lifestyle. Everybody will say ‘You are insane, the press market is falling,’ but if you believe it, and have a good idea, and if you have a place to do it, now is the time to do it. Believe in your project, believe in yourself even if people try to discourage you!”
Jonathan Maxim, Founder at K&J Growth Hackers: “As the founder of four companies and a podcast, backbreaking challenges are nothing new. However, 2020 has presented a different kind of challenge for entrepreneurs, and all humans alike. It's one thing when we have self-imposed challenges, like achieving a revenue goal or buying our first home. While that can still cause huge disappointments and emotional breakdowns, it is dwarfed by challenges that are out of our hands.
2020 has presented many challenges that are not by the hand of us, which can make us feel as if we don't have control of our own life or destiny, and that's very discouraging. But, the light at the end of the tunnel is this: we can acknowledge things we cannot control and soon begin to focus on things we can control.”
Dan Awm, Founder at iBankie: “2020 has been a wake-up call for many people and businesses. The challenges presented are creating an opportunity for companies that are focused on convenience and helping lessen the burden from people’s everyday lives. That is what we are doing at iBankie with our innovative banks BIN lookup tool that helps people search and find true bank info based on SWIFT, BIC, BIN, or bank names. Not only does this add convenience, it is accurate where many times information found online is not.
To date, iBankie has compiled nearly 53,000 banks, over 100,000 SWIFT codes, 98,303 BIN card codes, and over 150,000 IFSC codes. I expect more companies to hyper-focus on customer service and convenience as a way to mitigate some of the challenges the past year has brought upon the world.
Disclaimer: The writer does not hold any positions in the companies mentioned. The writer did use personal relationships to source insights for this article.
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