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Strategies for Startup Success during COVID

MT>Ventures recently hosted a virtual roundtable discussion that invited entrepreneurial leaders to discuss strategies for startup success while navigating the COVID-19 paradigm shift.

In a time of complex disruption to business as usual, we look to innovative and adaptive entrepreneurs for insights into how they’re meeting the challenge, and how we can benefit from their experiences on the frontlines of change.

1. Lead with empathy.

Being mindful of your team member’s experiences and unique circumstances has always been important, but deepening that understanding with empathetic engagement has proven to be crucial these past few months. As your organization shifts to adapt to new circumstances imposed on your team members, a deep commitment to empathetic understanding has emerged as an effective means to adapt and overcome challenges.

People have a way of coming together in a crisis, and leaders should capitalize on the benefits of togetherness. Leading with empathy allows you to listen to the needs of your team, and to help them adapt to our dynamic environment.

2. Identify talent opportunities.

With uncertainty comes opportunity, and startups in a position to hire should take advantage of the larger talent pool available as a result of COVID-19. 

However, the decision to hire should be tempered with an approach to interviewing that focuses on communication and onboarding. When interactions are virtual, excellent communication is key, and new employees are most likely to thrive when they can hit the ground running. Don’t forget that good candidates will be looking for trust, community, and opportunity, all of which are informed by empathy and core culture.

3. Focus on your brand.

Leading with empathy has the added benefit of strengthening and developing your organization’s core culture, which in turn enhances your brand reputation. COVID-19’s disruption of business as usual has also created the opportunity to turn over a new leaf and work on improving the foundational aspects of your core culture.

Now is the time to engage with your team and your customers to remind them of your presence and your commitment to operating in the new paradigm. What you stand for as a leader and as a business will play a key role in growing your company (and your team and customers will appreciate your values).

4. Emphasize your strengths.

Leverage the elements of your business model that enable you to adapt to the challenges of COVID-19, and seek out new ways to update the elements that don’t. For example, if you use locally sourced goods in your products, strengthening your relationship with those suppliers will generate supply-chain comfort and help offset the risk of unexpected disruption.

Investors and partners have new priorities, so it is worthwhile to ensure your strengths are at the forefront of your business and brand. However, it is important that your strengths are emphasized in the context of the bigger picture of your company and values, and not simply as a reaction to the pandemic.

5. Raising capital during COVID-19.

Be prepared to face questions about whether your business model still exists in a post-COVID-19 world, and be sure to have a good answer when you consider raising capital. Take a fresh look at how your valuation will be calculated and consider whether waiting to raise funds is to your advantage. The more focused you are on the larger vision of your organization, the easier this decision will be. Keep in mind that some startups partner with others to go to market, while others are using this time to focus on development. Remember, if you have runway, focus on extending that runway as much as possible and if you must raise, know that valuations are indeed lower.