We’ve come a long way from the Great Toilet Paper Scramble of 2020.
While the desperate and often futile search for two-ply we faced in the spring was an early sign that COVID-19 would impact how we shop and consume for the foreseeable future, months later, we have a much clearer sense of customer behavior amid pandemic. Just take a look at your last credit-card statement.
As we’ve documented, BAM portfolio founders—like all savvy entrepreneurs—have used this unprecedented time to re-strategize, rebuild, and reimagine their companies. And a big part of that is reading the new consumer trend lines that have emerged, to help understand what they want and where they want it, now and perhaps longterm.
The good news? Some of what we were already working on before any of us had heard the term “novel coronavirus” have not only been proven out—but are accelerating even faster than we would’ve expected during so-called normal times.
We recently checked in with some of our BAM founders, to get their take on what they’ve learned from customers and how it’s helped their companies weather this past year—and charge into 2021.
Co-Founder and CEO
“All in all, there seems to be an increased consciousness toward health across consumers, which, thankfully, is the category we are deeply ingrained in. However, we experienced the undeniable shortcomings of retail locations closing down. To maintain our brand presence and connect deeper with our consumers, we aimed at expanding our social channels and customer communication.
“In general, boosting morale inside and outside Neuro became one of our main focuses. We shifted into becoming a more lifestyle-oriented brand that focused on mental health alongside physical health. Thankfully, this alongside PR has led to our business growing—even during these tough times.”
Founder and CEO
“Back in March, when stay-at-home orders were in place everywhere, commuting went down, and with it, podcast-listening. But then something interesting happened: Listeners found ‘me-time’ to listen to podcasts at home. They started to listen later than usual, but they kept listening throughout the day.
“Through research, we know that there was pent-up demand for personal growth and inspirational content—which we provided with our newest show, The Daily Smile, and our special meditation episodes on Wondery+.”
Co-Founder and CEO
“One of the biggest shifts in purchasing behavior is consumers getting more comfortable shopping for anything and everything online. Online grocery shopping and delivery increased. Before the pandemic, I would hear that most consumers would not ‘discover’ new beverage products online—but that has changed significantly. SkinTē launched in January 2019 as a DTC brand, so we were already focused on e-commerce as an important channel. Since COVID, we have accelerated this focus and launched on Amazon,SnackMagic, Goop, and GNC.com. We can also be found on Instacart with retailers that carry us.
“We also amplified our messaging around the health benefits of our product. For example, our herbs have an emotional and physical impact on well-being, so we talked about that aspect more. Our drinks always had 100% DV Vitamin C in each can, but we never called it out in our messaging. We are now bringing attention to the health benefits in a more direct way, while continuing to drive the message around beauty from the inside out. We were hearing from consumers that SkinTē is their “go-to COVID drink” because it makes them feel good. We noticed an increase in alcohol consumption, and since SkinTē was already gaining traction as a healthy mixer, we created more content and recipes to support our consumers. It’s like all the pieces were there, but we dialed up certain aspects as we listened to our consumer.”
Co-Founder and CEO
“COVID-19 has been the most impactful world event that anyone on our team has experienced, and as a diverse founder, these have been particularly complex times. Like all of us, our team has had to re-calibrate so many facets of our lives—emotional state, health and wellness, and macro-shifts in business. Prior to COVID-19, the lion’s share of our revenue came from influencer marketing strategy for brand clients. We planned to release a technology platform to help influencers better monetize affinity from their followers—but Coronavirus accelerated that plan. Now, we’re in over-drive to continue to develop our product as we grow with the tsunami of creator-monetization activity we serve.
“Narrate is a platform to empower creators to monetize their content, turning their passion into prosperity. Some estimate that 90% of the content consumed by Gen-Z is made by creators, rather than media companies. That cultural change along with the “COVID-shock” to our ecosystem has caused a massive shift. Creator behavior is now “monetization-first,” prioritizing actual currency over social currency. For us, that’s meant blistering month-over-month growth, a recent capital infusion, and our team bursting at the seams to keep up with demand. In the way Netflix is a go-to platform for media company-produced content, our mission is to be the go-to platform for creator-produced content. “Arming the rebels,” if you will. We sail forward with optimism in a time that can feel dark and we’re inspired by the livelihood we provide to so many of our creator-partners.”
Co-Founder and CEO
“As an omni-channel business, we've noted a number of changes in consumer behavior on and offline. At physical retail, we've observed an ebbing of discretionary spending, decreased impulse buying, and a sharp decrease in what we'd call 'dwell time,' as consumers shop what they know and quickly enter and exit stores. Online, we've seen spikes in media consumption across channels, an emphasis on self-care, specifically mental and physical wellness, along with a predictable and sustained increase in COVID-related search queries. This has translated to an emergence of niche DTC products and services, a noisy paid landscape, and aggressive pivoting by existing brands to address perceived, often baseless, opportunities in the short-term.
“As a central theme, important for us is a constant, real-time effort to define this new reality, establish clear baselines, and spot executable, lasting opportunities. In tandem and of equal importance is the rapid disqualification of opportunities, to avoid distractions and any misallocation of resources. We have also taken the opportunity to introduce a conservative approach to the business holistically, while investing early in outsized performance in the midterm (e.g. Q2 2021). In the short term, we've elected to 1) maintain our investment in broad awareness marketing stratagem (e.g. TV and OOH), 2) affirm the daily essential and value our products offer as part of healthy lifestyles, often delivered via influencer endorsement, and 3) supplement our promotional efforts with an active discount strategy which, we believe, correctly mirrors a depressed economic reality and near-term outlook.
“Lastly, we are seeing the investment we've made into the brand's authentic message—to inspire and promote resilience, tenacity, and success in the face of uncertainty—pay off meaningfully. We believe brands with this purpose will maintain positive traction and slingshot out of the post-COVID era.”
“Vyng is building a video-based alternative to Truecaller. With Vyng, users can personalize their Caller ID profiles with videos, music, stickers, and messages whenever they call friends. Our new app is set to launch this month, and we are partnering with Qualcomm and Samsung to enable our technology on 90 million devices in India by the end of 2021.
“While COVID affected companies in every industry differently, we found that phone call rates grew 2X during the pandemic and increased conversation time by 33%. Without the ability to travel as freely, and of course working from home, the value proposition of Vyng only got stronger. As all business-development deals stalled back in March, we took the time to focus inward, rebuild our platform from scratch, and be ready to scale by the end of the year. We also cut expenses across the board to extend our runway.
“As for culture, prior to COVID, some engineers worked remotely but most worked in our Noida, India, office. Our team in LA was visiting our India office regularly. Now that everyone has been fully remote and no one is traveling, we’ve set up ways to connect and interact in a fun non-work way, to help make up for the social interactions we’ve lost. Every two weeks we have a culture event on Zoom to bond and play games like pictionary, charades, and even scavenger hunts in our own homes. We’ve also reimbursed employees for creating home offices and subsidized online fitness and meditation programs to help everyone make a smoother transition to this new normal.”
Founder + CEO, Alchemy 43
“Starting a company is basically synonymous with uncertainty. You never know what's around the next corner. It's the reason I love it so much and it's also the reason that it's so difficult. This moment looks like that, but exponentially bigger. So many things outside our sphere of control.
So it presents a new type of challenge for a CEO—instead of running a company, we now pivot to minimizing fallout. Making sure our company survives this and that our employees have a job to return to has become the primary focus of my days. It's actually interesting work. It's challenging in a novel way. In order to stay in the right mindset for this type of work, it's been very important to me to stay connected to people, friends, and family, as well as colleagues. Also, daily exercise and mental breaks in the evenings, which seem to involve a lot of baking.”
Co-Founder and CTO, PathSpot
“Right now, life is uneasy. As entrepreneurs, we're used to life being ‘hard.’ We're always hustling to close the next sale, push the next product milestone, recruit the next member of our team, or raise the next funding round. When we want better results, we can always put in more hours, go the extra mile, or push a little harder. When things are hard, just work harder and they get easier. But suddenly, that mantra feels flipped. Budgets are frozen, conferences are cancelled, and businesses are closed. There are new (temporary) roadblocks that we can't simply run through—there is a sense of ‘prepare and wait’ sweeping the startup landscape.
PathSpot is a system that validates hand-washing frequency and effectiveness, with a company mission of reducing the transmission of illness. Before COVID-19, a large part of our routine was education—generating awareness of our product and explaining why handwashing was the most effective way to reduce illness. Now, the problem has entirely changed. Handwashing is more searched and more discussed than it ever has been before. We're suddenly adapting to the new challenges of reduced and frozen budgets in our target market, and how to support a highly in-person, face-to-face industry with a hardware product, while fully remote and socially distancing. As we face new problems, our team is working around the clock to support our quickly growing customers with their hand-hygiene needs, and utilizing our data to try to prepare the restaurant community and public to have the tools necessary for handwashing tracking and efficacy, as consumers and employees are more aware, educated, and focused on transmission of illness.”
Co-CEO, Harper Wilde
“Life is a series of dichotomies. On one hand, I feel very lucky that those closest to me are safe and healthy. On the other hand, I have a deep sadness for the turmoil and loss that permeates daily life. I have confidence in the incredible team at Harper Wilde and our ability to rise to this unprecedented occasion, while also having concern about the unknown unknowns, which seem to have multiplied over the past few weeks.
Being a founder has, in some ways, prepared me for this emotional rollercoaster, where high highs and low lows are often felt in the same hour or even in the same moment. I'm trying right now to make space to acknowledge all of these contradicting thoughts and then push them aside to focus on what's right in front of me.”
Founder and CEO, Elliot
“Life as an entrepreneur, and human being, has never looked or felt more real. Due to today's circumstances, life's forced us all to take a hard look at reality and revisit what's important. While life's challenging, I'm grateful to have a team that's proven to be able to operate under duress, make decisions, and find solutions to complex problems. Moreover, appreciative in having investors that believe in our ability to persevere. For me, my life looks simpler and in many ways more genuine, given I'm using COVID-19 as an opportunity to strengthen key relationships and just get back to the basics. In short, life looks different, but sometimes different is good.”
Co-Founder + CEO, Mented Cosmetics
“Right now, my life looks a lot calmer than it did a month ago. Prior to quarantine, I commuted from Philly to New York every day, traveled pretty frequently for work, and spent most of my free time exploring new restaurants in Philly, where my husband and I moved less than a year ago. These days, I mostly travel up and down my stairs and occasionally to my terrace.
Being forced to slow down so significantly has given me a lot of time to focus on what's most important to me. I've rediscovered how much I love to learn (I've been learning three to four songs a week on piano), gossip (I've been having nightly FaceTime calls with my girls), and go for long walks. I've also been amazed at how resilient our team has been. We've launched a new product, hosted a fantastic Instagram Live, tested multiple new promotions—and they haven't skipped a beat. As weird of a time as it's been, I'm grateful for all of the little lessons that have come with it.”
Co-Founder, Great Jones
“It's a powerful time to be in the business of home cooking. We're very fortunate to be experiencing a continued surge in demand for Great Jones products, and we've expanded our services and content to give further support to home cooks. We've extended the hours for Potline—our free text service for real-time recipe advice—and we've leveraged our partnerships to host a daily cooking tutorial on Instagram. Recent participants include Dominique Ansel and Erin McDowell.
On a personal note, Maddy and I are leading daily standups with our team, as well as enjoying bi-weekly digital happy hours, where we can connect and check in on each other emotionally.”
“As an early-stage, high-risk consumer startup, chaos has been the norm for us. Without the ability to adapt quickly or even pivot, we would've shut down a long time ago. That being said, our terminal values, the core of what we're trying to change in the world, haven't budged at all. I think that's critical. You have to clearly delineate your terminal and instrumental values—the things you should be stubborn about and the things you should be radically open-minded about.”
Co-Founder and CEO
“The biggest change for us, operationally, was transitioning to a remote-working culture. In March, as COVID started unfolding in the U.S., we had to sit down and dedicate time to creating a system in which my team would keep the open communication and creativity flowing, even when we are not sitting next to each other. Setting those parameters since the get-go was extremely effective, because in a world with so much uncertainty, my team knew exactly what to expect and how we would operate during
“We obviously didn’t anticipate in March that we would not be back in the office for so long. However, the structure that we set up has naturally evolved over time. One thing that has been noticeable is how important it is to have a team with high EQ, or emotional intelligence. I’m extremely happy with the way my team has adapted to the new normal—and open communication has been key during this process.”
“Like many other early-stage companies, Kanga has moved to a fully remote work model. We’ve adapted in two major ways: The first is operational and the second is psychological. Operationally, we are now focused on asynchronous work. Daily, we do remote standups posted in Slack at the start of the workday, spend our Monday planning, and check in on Thursday, but the majority of the work is done whenever employees are most effective.
“I've noticed some of our developers commit late at night, others work frequently on weekends, but ultimately team members work in a manner that is most efficient to them. I made a conscious decision to move everyone to New York for our first year in business, which not only fostered a sense of belonging but also immense trust. This trust is essential, so team members know everyone is working hard and will get tasks done, so the company can succeed.
“Maintaining that sense of belonging is the reason for that second change. The pandemic has been incredibly stressful for everyone, and it's important for every employee to know their team members are there to support them. Having a constant temperature check on team psychology is necessary. We spend a lot of extra time on how we are feeling, and everyone on the team has a one-on-one catch-up about work and life with every teammate, every other week. Also, we have a special channel in Slack where we post how we're feeling every one or two weeks. This personal status report is called the ‘PPPM,’ which stands for ‘Progress People Problems Me.’ Finally, we do a virtual team happy hour every Friday afternoon where we play online versions of board games that promote team bonding, such as Spyfall, Code Names, or Mafia.”
Co-Founder and CEO
“During the crisis, NestEgg has had an important role in our customers’ lives, to help them operate in the new normal. We helped renters stay in their homes during financial hardship, and we added reliability to our rental owners’ income during an unpredictable time. These stresses will leave an echo long after the event itself is behind us, and our customers will feel renewed urgency around managing their properties efficiently online. We're focused on that need by pivoting our roadmap around optimizing NOI and cash flow for rental owners.
“Today, we are seeing 100% rent collection success rate versus the wider industry benchmark of 70-80% and we added $1.4M in rent business in the last 30 days alone. We recognized that landlords and tenants tend to have very different personal financial situations, but today's paradigm for renting forces them to commit to a single shared process that often only works for one party. As a landlord, you want rent from your tenants on the 1st, because that's when all your loans and other expenses are due, but many tenants get paid weekly or rely on disability checks that are sent mid-month, so coming up with the first big rent payment at the beginning of the month is difficult for them to budget to and sets them up for failure. The landlord-tenant relationship becomes very transactional and adversarial.
“We totally restructured this by decoupling when the landlord gets paid from when tenants pay. NestEgg pays rental owners up front on the 1st, and residents have flexible 30 day terms to pay us anytime throughout the month. They can split rent with roommates, pay across multiple payment methods, and even make installments. Especially now, it’s a win-win.”
Co-Founder and CEO
“The health, economic, environmental, and social crises we have faced in 2020 have led to an unprecedented amount of stress, anxiety, insomnia, physical pain, and other health challenges. WTHN's mission is to help our clients thrive with both mental and physical well-being. Given our unique offerings of time-tested, science-backed healing therapies—acupuncture, cupping, acupressure, herbal medicine, and more—we are focusing on the best ways to support our community members and their health during this time.
“In late May, acupuncture was designated an essential health service by the State of New York, enabling us to re-open our New York City acupuncture studio, and we have done so with the safety of our team and clients as our highest priority and a heightened sense of urgency around our mission to provide safe, natural, and effective healing. (More on how that experience can be found here and our rigorous sanitization protocols here.) Given the changes in our client base—primarily the large numbers that have left New York either permanently or temporarily since COVID began—we are focusing on rebuilding the base and finding innovative ways to connect with new clients, including partnerships with other businesses/brands as well as referrals from other healthcare providers. There is an increased sense of urgency around the power of preventative medicine and people are thinking about how to stay healthy more than ever before.
"We have doubled down on our digital efforts, including launching virtual healing sessions that are 1x1 telehealth consultations with an acupuncturist for guided acupressure, stretching, herbal consultations, breathwork, and more—so we will continue offering that option to our clients that may need to stay home longer.”
Co-Founder and CEO
“At Sleek, we are reinventing the way people wait in lines. Much long before COVID-19 broke out, we were already envisioning a future where you could step into a venue— and not only instantly know of the wait times, but also choose to have your phone hold your spot in the line.
“As the world grapples with COVID-19, we initially paused to see how our customers' needs evolved in this new normal. Given safety is a topmost priority for businesses to stay open, not having to wait in lines is now a necessity versus a nice-to-have. And lines have come to exponentially grow by six times given the social distancing.
“We re-adjusted our focus from the live-events market and are assisting essential businesses with our core technology to keep the community safe, from grocery stores to food trucks, and now have added tens of thousands of new businesses as customers. You can check out our COVID-focused product offering here.”
Founder and CEO
“Even under normal circumstances, building a new business requires a somewhat contradictory combination of focus and flexibility. That’s especially true now with uncertainty in every aspect of life and business. There are a few key elements that help us operate and succeed in this new ‘normal.’
“Fluid communications are essential. We accomplish this with frequent huddles that keep everyone in sync. When we were thrust into a remote work mode in March, we immediately put in place all-hands stand-ups every morning to align around the priorities of the day, twice weekly virtual happy hours to stay connected and have fun, plus the usual sprint planning and demo days. I can honestly say we have more effective and focused communication now than ever before.
“The ability to compartmentalize and focus on the task at hand is also essential, and this applies to both filtering out the chaos of the world and also successful multitasking. I think the team finds our work a reprieve from the stressors of the world—I know I do. Usually it’s the other way around, right?
“And last but not least, it’s essential to have a high degree of comfort with ambiguity, which we screen for as part of our hiring process. We’re blessed with a seasoned, mature team—we take the curves and ups and downs together, with logic and without emotion.”
Co-Founder and CEO
“We’ve come a long way from the Great Toilet Paper Scramble of 2020. While the desperate and often futile search for two-ply we faced in the spring was an early sign that COVID-19 would impact how we shop and consume for the foreseeable future, months later, we have a much clearer sense of customer behavior amid pandemic. Just take a look at your last credit-card statement. As we’ve documented, BAM portfolio founders—like all savvy entrepreneurs—have used this unprecedented time to re-strategize, rebuild, and reimagine their companies. And a big part of that is reading the new consumer trend lines that have emerged, to help understand what they want and where they want it, now and perhaps longterm. The good news? Some of what we were already working on before any of us had heard the term “novel coronavirus” have not only been proven out—but are accelerating even faster than we would’ve expected during so-called normal times. We recently checked in with some of our BAM founders, to get their take on what they’ve learned from customers and how it’s helped their companies weather this past year—and charge into 2021.“
Founder and CEO
“Allin all, there seems to be an increased consciousness toward health acrossconsumers, which, thankfully, is the category we are deeply ingrained in.However, we experienced the undeniable shortcomings of retail locations closingdown. To maintain our brand presence and connect deeper with our consumers, weaimed at expanding our social channels and customer communication.
“Ingeneral, boosting morale inside and outside Neuro became one of our mainfocuses. We shifted into becoming a more lifestyle-oriented brand that focusedon mental health alongside physical health. Thankfully, this alongside PR hasled to our business growing—even during these tough times.”