I run a tech startup based in Zurich, which provides free and paid online advertising services powered by machine learning, to any business in the world. I am in calls all day long with our customers – those who got hit the worst are in travel/accommodation, automotive industries, restaurants, as well as all kinds of freelancers. Those are especially challenged – mostly possess no savings, nor secure social benefits. I dare to predict the global lockdown will shoot the unemployment rate in the US up to 20% (now at 14%, according to some unofficial numbers. Officials are at 4%). Most large companies already calculate with a global recession for the next 18 months as a base case – never happened since the war times.
We too lost a good half of our clients – physical businesses who were forced to shut down for an unlimited time. The other half cut down on marketing costs so our revenues took a deep dive already in February. Some of the businesses, I must admit, would have failed down the road anyway – no product-market fit or being too expensive are the main reasons. But most will stay afloat if they’d taken rational but drastic decisions like we did. It’s much harder to do a complete stop and restart the business from scratch, than trying to keep it at just above water and giving it a serious boost later when conditions allow.
In this situation, it was more important than ever for us to stay absolutely pragmatic:
1. Sales – we forgot about making a profit or being paid fairly for our efforts and time.
This is not the time to be picky or to wait for offers to come, keeping prices as high as two months ago. Most people are now stuck inside and open to deals. We convinced our prospective clients by providing concise online content about our extraordinary special offer. We at Nanos started with an action of support for any drowning business at no cost: we create a simple website or a landing page and advertise it across the globe, anywhere our clients want, absolutely free of charge 24 hours later most of our clients have already received new customers and orders. We got as many pre-sales as we could: we are now taking longer delivery times and putting more effort than ever before, but everyone understands.
2. New products and offers.
We started preparing their launch already, today. This challenging time will end and everything will come back to a new normal. If we’re ready with our new offering by the time the lockdown in most countries is over, so we can be sure to win new clients immediately, faster than anyone else in our ecosystem.
3. Loyalty will pay back.
We postponed letting go off our staff, to as late as we possibly can. We cut salaries instead, including mine, as the CEO. If you let your trusted employees go now, they will never come back, knowing that you fired them once to save costs, while still paying yourself a full salary during a time of need. The economy might rebound quicker but do extend your runway for as long as you can, buy yourself time. All we needed was to stay afloat, for a limited, though uncertain, period of time.
4. We shifted to “online” clients where possible and helped our “physical” clients to move as well.
Almost any physical business can be translated into the online world with some minor or larger adjustments. At our company we have a hotline on how to accelerate re-engagement with lost clients and keep them updated about a recently-opened online business.
Many of our clients who felt the dip early on, already came up with the ideas on how to pivot and repurposed some or all of their resources into a new product or service. You can, too.
About the author: Sasha is a founder and a CEO of a Swiss startup Nanocorp AG (nanos.ai) with 10+ computer scientists who turn the process of creating and placing online advertisements into a simple and transparent action. A former Walt Disney Imagineering cast member – founded and developed an innovation group within Disney Research in a collaboration with the Computer Graphics Laboratory at the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH). Background in math, finance and law, with 20+ patents in multimedia, previsualisation, machine learning and online marketing technologies and publications at ACM IUI, IEEE InfoVis, IAAI and ICIDS.
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