The COVID-19 has caused a seismic shift in everyone’s lives around the globe. While the ‘black swan’ event threatens to set off a global economic contagion, startups have been rudely thrusted into survival mode. They must go back to the drawing board and question every single assumption made about their businesses. However, if it’s anything to go by, entrepreneurs may be better equipped than anyone else to combat the consequent challenges and uncertainty brought about by the pandemic. After all, that’s what makes them entrepreneurs in the first place.
Employing the ancient wisdom of Heraclitus, considered to be the world’s first ‘creativity teacher’, here is a simple yet effective survival toolkit for startups to navigate through choppy waters.
Startups must galvanise all resources at their disposal, simplify, pause, pivot and substitute. What do we mean by this?
In the event of revenue stagnation, startups must exhibit miserly mentality. All variable costs such as marketing costs and salaries must be reduced. Resources must be strictly directed towards the core functions of the underlying business. Furthermore, startups need to draw on capital, both knowledge and financial, provided by their investors. The collective perspective and wisdom of a network of investors and experts belonging to various strata could prove to be more important than monetary resources, in times like these.
Simplify and rearrange; identify pain points and bottlenecks, pivot. Startups must take this opportunity to streamline their internal processes and test nuanced approaches and ideas to alter their product offerings, especially if their products are not finding much market success already. They must also find ways to adapt to the new (albeit transient) normal, keeping the employees and customers in mind. For example, they could leverage social media platforms such as TikTok for marketing instead, which will see a surge in users. Another example is of Swiggy, the food delivery platform which has launched a new feature of contactless deliveries.
Pause; look around. Is there anything that has been constantly neglected because other things took precedence? Is there a plan that requires restructuring? Is there a product that requires tweaking? The coronavirus has paralyzed the economy in large parts. Entrepreneurs must use this time to revisit, recreate and refine.
It is prudent to assume that fundraising will slow down from the fast pace we’ve seen in recent times. Most investors react to uncertainty with increased caution. This is a double whammy for startups, which face shorter runways and funding uncertainty. Startups must look at Venture Debt, not merely as a complementary tool, but as a substitute for Equity financing to bridge the capital gap.
For a business whose 12 month runway has been halved to 6, with no expected equity funding for at least a year, short term debt could play a pivotal role. Startups with robust institutional backing and sufficient capital could incorporate working capital structures to better manage their mix of capital. With the Venture Debt space, especially short term flexible structures, largely untapped in India, this could truly be an opportunity for startups to explore a new asset class.
Last, but by no measure the least, entrepreneurs need to demonstrate strong leadership during this time of stress. There’s a responsibility they have towards the safety of their employees, and must take bold and decisive actions to ensure the greater good, while keeping the business in perspective. How they respond to these challenges and seize on opportunities would be a manifestation of true character.
While these are testing times for the startup ecosystem, we must view this as an opportunity to work together as a fraternity, quickly adapt to the changing business landscape and come out stronger than ever, from this unprecedented challenge.
Written by Devansh Thapar, Analyst, Stride Ventures