How does a startup founder deal with the pandemic crisis?

There is no dearth of dreams. And when you have the temerity to become your own dream merchant and finally go ahead to really set up your own startup business, it can be one of the most rewarding experiences altogether. But no one has ever been left unscathed by the challenges of starting anything new and the accompanying stresses that go with it. Most certainly not the founders of a startup. And then again, most certainly not in a Covid-shadowed era.

While funding always was one of the biggest challenges faced by to-be-entrepreneurs, a few niggles from back then have also perhaps become super obstacles to be overcome. Talent acquisition has taken on a new level of importance, given everyone is looking for stability. It’s hard to find the right people because the right people are looking for a fixed salary and guaranteed returns. Assuming you even attract and interest the appropriate talent, keeping them motivated in the face of an overwhelmingly pessimistic environment is even more of an uphill task.

Then comes the industry-specific hurdle which is that while digital platforms and e-commerce have been given a herculean shot-in-the-arm thanks to Covid, it’s still harder for those who sell experiences than those who sell concrete products. Case in point: an online movie-booking platform, a wedding planner or even a travel-related startup would have a harder time achieving business targets than say a portal that would like to feature/sell makeup or electronics. And if all this isn’t challenging enough, then your biggest calculation — the risk-reward formula — needs to have every assumption questioned and re-questioned. Cash flows, costs, processes, marketing, business continuity… All bets are off.

But a dream is a dream is a dream…

And so, that brings us to the question: how does a startup founder deal with all of this then? Here are hopefully some helpful tips and pointers to give you that much needed boost.

1) The Wisdom of Acceptance: All laws of Nature point to an ebb & flow, inhale & exhale, birth & death rhythmic pattern. Just like that, it is critical to understand that a downturn is always followed by an upturn and vice versa. Consider a modern-day microcosm of these laws to be for example your market swings and corrections. What is today’s downward slide is tomorrow’s skyrocketing graph. Have faith in this, and keep going, riding both swings and slides with equal equanimity and grace.

2) The Wealth of Self-Belief: One of the greatest human paradigms of healing is hope. No hope, and you’re a dead man (or woman). Puns aside, if you, as the founder, lose confidence and faith in your dream, everything can truly be lost. So, when you see the downward dips or spirals coming, surround yourself with well-wishers or spend time alone in Nature — whichever comforts you and do the things that cheer you up enough to fill your cup. When you are happy, everything else automatically becomes better. In fact, inspirations come to the quietest minds in the quietest moments and not in the midst of loud mental chatter. It’s what separates the greatest leaders from everyone else.

3) Healthy Balances: Work-life boundaries are a great trellis to support you. While yes, everyone has had more time indoors than ever thanks to Covid, it’s also easy to forget to disconnect from work emails, phone calls and text messages. Needless to say, however, in the long run, and way below the surface than most of us know, that takes one of the greatest tolls on our mental health and wellbeing. Simultaneously, it’s important to know when to reach out to your employees, and when to respect their private space. You want them well-rested and charged should the need arise for late hours and adrenalin rushes at any later point of time. Your employees’ health and wellness — as much as your own — is literally also your wealth in the bank.

4) Tough Love is Also Good Love: Don’t be afraid to be the toughie. Every business owner has always had to come face to face with tough business decisions and even tougher possible fall-outs. If you avoid making or facing these decisions, the result could be even more dangerous. Think of it like showing tough love to a child. Damned if you do, even more, damned if you don’t. The way to deal with this is to keep in mind that ultimately, you’re doing justice by the business itself and many other people dependent on it/you.

5) Be Prepared. Be Agile. Be Open to Change: One of the greatest limiting factors that cause old businesses to shut shop is a lack of being agile, speedy and open-minded enough to recognize opportunities and harness them. Even if it means killing the old ways of working. What is old is not always right, and also never wrong. Like any software update, it needs to be updated and constantly added to. So be prepared to constantly embrace change and new ways of working, without literally throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It’s the only way to survive in a constantly changing world.

The author, Jyotsna Ahuja Kapoor, is the Founder of The White Space.