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COVID-19 Innovation During the Storm

I wanted to write a few words of encouragement for the founders and entrepreneurs in my network. The past two weeks of March have been hard. They have reminded me of one of my favorite quotes by Mike Tyson, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face”. From Monday March 16th until today, the punches have continued to come. The shelter in place ordinances around the country have halted business transactions. Large companies have begun to lay off and furlough workers, as well as reduce salaries and bonuses. Small companies especially in the hospitality and dining industries are closing their doors temporarily and facing the risk of not being able to open again. And if you are start-up founder like me, you have begun to hear the thunderous sounds of millions of dollars of investment capital disappearing into thin air. The stark reality is that during economic downturns investors are much less likely to “bet” on start ups, and capital usually flows towards existing investments and not new ones. To quote one of my mentors” Start-ups die in downturns”.

But I say, fellow founders, let’s forget about just surviving —let’s decide to thrive. True entrepreneurs can see the opportunity in the chaos and find their footing in the storm. And if you have chosen this path, you are uniquely qualified to solve the enormous business challenges created by the coronavirus and any other challenge that comes your way. That’s just what we do. Founders and entrepreneurs are trained to see the gaps, the spaces, the underserved markets, the most annoying problems before everyone else. To use a hockey analogy (Go Caps), entrepreneurs see the zones where the puck is going, not where it is. And if you were able to do it successfully in your respective field up to this point, you can definitely do it now.

I am thinking of this time as an intense innovation period, and not a crisis period at all. The enormous needs that will emerge from a post coronavirus world are so huge, they are hard to imagine. I am a student of history, and history shows that these periods of time can absolutely be used to a founder’s advantage. They can force financial discipline, spur innovation, and reduce competition. You might be encouraged to know that many of our favorite Unicorns (or companies valued at up to $1 Billion) Uber, Airbnb, Pinterest were all born during the 2008-2009 financial crisis. And look at them now. This is the time for entrepreneurs to recapture that lightning in a bottle. This is the time to lean into your intuition, focus on solving the problems that are top of mind for your customers, and innovate constantly during this storm. It looks like we will be here for a while.

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