The entrepreneurial journey is, almost by definition, unpredictable. Launching and growing a company brings countless challenges that even the best laid (business) plans can't account for.
The good news, usually, is that there are others out there who have walked the path before and encountered those same challenges at some point, allowing them to offer advice and guidance to other entrepreneurs.
Today, we face a challenge that splits from this model: None of us have ever lived through a global pandemic.
There are some parallels we can draw to past world events and economic downturns—World War II, 9/11, the Great Recession, among them—but there's no denying we're in uncharted waters with COVID-19. Beyond the obvious business disruption, this comes with a personal one too. Our daily lives have been upended and we're left navigating the course of our companies from our living room sofas.
But let's make something clear: We will see the other side of this, sooner than we can imagine in real time, and between now and then, there is still opportunity out there. It just looks nothing like we thought it would when we started the new year.
We actually conceived the idea for BAM Voices several months ago, as a way of checking in with BAM's portfolio company founders and getting their take on a range of business issues. A cross-section of smart viewpoints all in one place. With the outbreak of COVID-19, it has taken on new relevance and impact.
So, in our first dispatch here, we decided to start with a simple but obvious question: What does life look like right now? Here's what our founders had to say.
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.”