Pivots, hires and marketing during a crisis: Here's what any biz leader can learn from these 5 promising startups - Technical.ly

Growth

May 11, 2020 3:11 pm

Pivots, hires and marketing during a crisis: Here’s what any biz leader can learn from these 5 promising startups

At Introduced|Virtual, founders at gettacar, Sorcero, clean.io, Second Chances Farm and Abridge AI talked navigating company changes and how they're thinking about the future.
An illustrated recap of Introduced|Virtual’s RealLIST Startups panel.

An illustrated recap of Introduced|Virtual's RealLIST Startups panel.

(Illustration by Terry LaBan of Breakthrough Visuals)

For the first few months of 2020, Wilmington, Delaware’s Second Chances Farm put a team of returning citizens in place, and planted seeds at its indoor farm that would become its first harvest for local restaurants. By March 16, the team was all set to begin the first harvest.

That morning, the announcement came: In the face of a pandemic, restaurants would have to close that night.

It was a world-changing moment for Ajit Michael George, who founded the operation. The customer changed, but Second Chances Farm still had the product. So, they decided they would just have to shift who they thought of as the end user. After social media posts they identified a market, and developed packaging and plans for home delivery.

So far, it’s been a success.

“We might have just found a new business model from this that we never anticipated,” George said. “The unintended consequences of this was that the people who are buying it have turned into a fan club, and many of them want to potentially visit us and invest in us when it’s open.”

The pivot was among the stories shared by a panel of mid-Atlantic entrepreneurs from a handful of Technical.ly’s 2020 RealLIST Startups at Introduced|Virtual, our daylong webinar on building better businesses, held last Thursday as part of a reimagined Philly Tech Week 2020 presented by Comcast.

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Moderated by Technical.ly DC Market Editor Michelai Graham, the speakers in addition to George included:

Couldn’t attend live? Watch the recording below (skip ahead a minute to get to the beginning of the panel), and read on for the high-level takeaways:

 

Digital adoption is moving faster.

Tech companies position new tools as a better option. With stay-at-home orders and social distancing, now many are a must.

When it comes to how Philly-based gettacar talked about itself, the team keyed in on how its platform could make the car-buying process faster. Now, as others might shift into that realm, they are the domain experts.

“We like to say, ‘Would you order Chinese food from an Italian restaurant?'” CEO Levi said. “We specialize in this.”

At AbridgeAI, CTO Konam said the startup moved quickly to enable its service to help patients navigate the crisis at a time when clinical visits are happening online. At the same time, telemedicine policies have changed quickly.

Playing off the post by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella that said the pandemic has brought two years of digital transformation in two months, Konam said that, for healthcare, it’s been like “10 years of transformation in a month.”

Be a helper.

Even with an impactful solution that can make a difference for customers, it’s still important to be aware that we’re still in a pandemic. Some will need help getting through it, while others will be changing plans that could present selling opportunities. But against the backdrop of tough times for everyone, it can come off as tone deaf to sell aggressively.

Baltimore’s clean.io has identified how the number of malicious ads are rising, which is among the cybersecurity threats that have only been exacerbated by the crisis as workplaces and marketplaces shifted. At the same time, CEO Gillis said the company is focused on: “How can we lean in and help?” It’s bringing a sense of empathy and service to clients.

Hire anywhere.

The office is more than the place listed as an HQ for many companies — it’s where the company’s culture and ideas flow. But digital workflow tools and the recognition that hiring didn’t necessarily need to be tied to place was leading companies to consider being distributed.

With the shift to remote work, it leads to a question: What does it mean to be based in a specific place? Sorcero CEO Das said that she is spending a lot of time thinking about hiring for the rest of the year. It was a strategy that was centered around the company’s D.C. office. But as talent is moving quickly in a time when everyone is remote, the company is weighing a shift to hiring from anywhere. At the same time, Das is thinking about how it could affect the culture. After all, Zoom fatigue is real.

Transparency matters.

At a time of crisis when there’s a lot of uncertainty, people look to leaders. And that’s no different within a company.

But when a pandemic was spreading quickly and the economy was slowing down seemingly overnight, the unknowns meant that founders and CEOs didn’t have all the answers. That’s OK, said panelists: The important thing is to be transparent, and provide as much info as possible about the state of company. In the absence of definite information, areas like financial stability and just offering a note that you’re going to fight to keep the company going can help.

Das said Sorcero implemented a few strategies to help both communicate information and open up space for employees’ mental health:

  • Daily health bulletins that were a “single source of truth” for info around COVID-19
  • An additional one to seven days of PTO so employees could prepare for the changes brought by the pandemic, as well as remote work and distance learning
  • For mental health, a day for employees to vent about concerns and questions

What will be the next big companies?

It’s a time when people have to spin up new solutions to problems quickly, then test and change them as they’re building and potentially do so on limited resources.

In other words, it’s a time when entrepreneurs might thrive. Even against the backdrop of an economic downturn, new companies have found a way, despite many years of steady decline of entrepreneurship rates. Just look at the startups like Uber, AirBnb and Rent the Runway that were founded at the time of the recession in 2008 and went on to become wildly popular.

And it doesn’t mean a company that’s already building can’t sustain growth on the other side. Gillis previously worked at Millennial Media, which was founded two years before the recession and went on to become a publicly traded company in 2012.

At the same time, 2008 introduced everyone to the social web. Apps and data tools are out there. So the way consumers approach technology is evolving. While technology of that previous decade has been built around “interesting and cool” things, Das pointed out that it’s the ability to separate needs and wants in the marketplace will be important.

“The entrepreneurs that are able to zero in on what that unchanging need is and build companies around that will do well,” she said.

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Catch the full day of panels on YouTube and watch Breakthrough Visuals’ Terry LaBan illustrate our RealLIST Startups panel live here.

If you’d like to show your appreciation for our free programming and support our independent newsroom, considering donating to the Technical.ly Journalism Fund, of any amount, including the organizational level of $1,000.

Philly Tech Week 2020 is more like Philly Tech Year, with more virtual events like this coming throughout the next few months. Get updates on speakers, sessions, attendee specials and more by signing up for #PTW20 emails today:

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