Ideas for Business Stability and Growth, Today and Tomorrow


Ideas for Business Stability and Growth, Today and Tomorrow

From the perspective of 4 NEXT entrepreneurs, leading startups across 4 very different business verticals. As heard on LaunchPod

  • Daniel Rodic, Head of Market Development at Clearbanc
  • Michael Cheng, Co-founder & CEO of Lumen5
  • Jaclyn Ling, Co-founder & CEO of Hatchways
  • Emily Lonetto, Head of Growth at NEXT alumni venture Voiceflow

Recently, we sat down with 4 entrepreneurs from the NEXT community to dive into how they’re guiding their startups through this  period of great instability. A lot of our  alumni and, broadly Canadian businesses, have fallen on hard times so we expected to have some hard conversations. Lo and behold, not all startups are created equal, so some of our conversations have provided a glimmer of hope. Based on their financial war chest, resiliency as leaders and nuances to the verticals in which they operate, these four entrepreneurs have found tools, resources and insights  to both stabilize and drive some growth. 

Ideas for growth and customer engagement

Daniel Rodic: Certain verticals will see an influx of growth. Ecommerce, virtual products, working from home… all of these were already trending forward but, these things may have taken 10, 50 years to happen and we’ve now been forced to accelerate that time scale.

Emily Lonetto: Previously, we spent a lot of time doing in-person workshops, keynotes, partnerships and growth discussions – a lot of that has shifted. So, We’re thinking of online solutions to build community and keep people interested while they’re separated right now.  We’re doubling down on creating channels that let users speak directly with us. I’m not talking about just making it easy for people to find support, but instead really focus on engaging the users that are already on your platform. See how they’re navigating and use this time to really do your Q&A with your existing user base. It’s a great time to focus on referrals. It’s a great time to focus on building community and a brand around that community. And, it’s an even greater time for you to reach out to companies that are synergistic and also have similar audiences to you. Ask yourself: How can you broaden the scope of what your audience looks like and how can you engage them in ways that are going to be more organic and authentic right now? Right now is a great opportunity to do that. 

MIke Cheng: At Lumen5, we’re fundamentally a communication tool and in times of crisis, people still need to communicate, if not more so than before. Customer behaviour has changed in that their buying motivations are different in this climate. Prior to the pandemic, people buy to win, to grow, to hit their business goals. Whereas now, people are playing a bit more on the defensive. People are buying software for the sake of saving money. We asked ourselves – how can we, as a machine learning solution to video production, allow our customers to save costs? From that angle, we’ve had to pivot our selling methodology, which has given us the opportunity to grow our relationships with our smaller customers and acquire new ones looking for cheaper solutions to video production. 

Jaclyn Ling: Given the circumstances that we’re in right now, everyone has to move online. And so, businesses that haven’t been in the forefront of that and who haven’t built the infrastructure needed to be able to move online are now going to realize it. That means bringing more technology in-house and hiring people. The need for technical talent is only going to increase. Once the market changes back into a hiring mode, employers are going to be overwhelmed and inundated with developers coming in, interviewing and wanting to work for them. So, solutions that can streamline that process and filter through and find the best talent are going to be top of mind for employers. We are well positioned to help them with that and expect some growth in that sense post-COVID. 

Ideas for nurturing your culture, virtually

Daniel Rodic: We’ve taken to tactics like replicating high touch elements with things like daily all-hands at 5 where we don’t necessarily talk about work. Another big thing is putting a mindful lens on your communication and being overly kind and communicative. Lastly, being OK with giving more ownership to your team – everyone now has the ability to live a life more akin to a founder’s, let them!

Emily Lonetto: Internally, Humble Dot and Road Monk are great virtual spaces for team building. 

Michael Cheng: Building digital communities is something I’ve always been passionate about – this has really been an opportunity for me to flex those muscles. Creating a virtual space, not slack or zoom, but using tech that allows you to connect in a physical way without the physical presence. We introduced a virtual office space called Sococo, which gives you a birds eye view, virtual office layout with desks, tables, lounges and meeting rooms. Because of this platform, those “water cooler” conversations still happen. The key is to create opportunities for people to express the equivalent of body language in a digital space – which can be tricky. In Sococo, if you’re sitting on a couch that means you’re open to conversation while being at a desk means you’re heads-down. This allows people to communicate how they want to work that day non-verbally and connect in a way that you would in a physical office space. 

Ideas for maintaining an optimistic mindset*: finding the resilience to move forward 

*but it’s also ok to feel like things are really hard right now and lower your expectations around productivity

Daniel Rodic:  When it comes to mindset, one framework that I use and highly recommend stems from the book “The Obstacle is the Way” by Ryan Holiday. The crux of this framework is about separating your feelings about something vs. factual outcomes of that thing. You can take any situation and it’s up to  you to frame it how you like. For example, an output of COVID  (and the economy slowing) has been a slowing in pollution output in key areas around the world. So, if you were to take that thought experiment one step further, we don’t know what would have happened if we kept producing at the  normal rate – there is a world where this has saved us from some planet level calamity. Not to downplay the effects of the virus,  but it shows how you can frame something as a positive or a negative. 

Additionally, in terms of habit forming, I had to accept that my old routine didn’t match the new world we’re living in. I tried my best to forget about the old world, and create new habits that suited the rules of this new one. As a framework here, I think people should start from the ground up and be open to testing as many different habits and routines as possible. Such as trying to meditate and if it  doesn’t work then move on to testing something else. Everyone will have something different that works for them so if you are open to testing as many new habits as possible, chances are you’ll find something that works for you.

Jaclyn Ling: A big source of optimism for us is figuring out how we can come up with creative solutions to the problems that we’re facing right now. Obviously, there’s a slowdown in hiring and we have a bunch of candidates that have been pre-qualified by us and are really talented developers. In The given economy, there’s not a lot of opportunities for them right now. We wanted to create a solution that would set them up to be attractive hires post-COVID and really stand out. So, we encouraged them to work on projects that help with COVID-19. In doing so, they’re using their technical skills, but they’re also contributing to a cause that kind of put them in the situation that they’re in in the first place. That’s really been such a motivating thing for us to see.

Michael Cheng: Mindset is very important right now. For me, I look at the situation like this – in some ways, it’s business as usual in the startup world in the sense that every startup is always almost live or die from quarter to quarter. If it were not for a physical manifestation of a major shift in the world, there are market changes that are threatening the livelihood of startup entrepreneurs all the time. So, I wouldn’t say we’re thriving, but I also don’t think that the pandemic is a unique situation. It’s just one form of how a startup could be threatened. Fortunately, as entrepreneurs, this is somewhat the life that we signed up for.