By Nancy Dahlberg

We are all in the same storm, but not the same boat.

That’s true for your customers and your potential customers, too. That’s why branding guru Bruce Turkel’s advice during a recent BizHack Academy Zoom talk made so much sense: You need a strategy for yourself and your startup.

“There are likely parts of your business that won’t come back. “We can yell and scream, we can cry, but if we want to move forward and be successful, we need to accept what is going on, change what we can change, and need to understand the difference,” said Turkel, author of All About Them and other books.

Turkel’s top advice:  

  • Don’t go it alone. Look to what others have done, says Turkel. “Each one of us needs a personal BOD (board of directors). Each of us needs to put together a group that looks out for our best interests and we can count on when we need to get something done… Understand you are not in this alone. Stand on the shoulders of giants and make sure you are taking full advantage of your tribe.” Turkel is a member of a mastermind group and encourages entrepreneurs to find or form a similar kind of group within their networks where they can openly share their fears and challenges.
  • Have a plan. Know where you are going, and we’re talking well beyond this current crisis. He suggests an Optimal Outcome Exercise. Put your goal out there and your time horizon – for example, I want to be a national brand in five years – and then work backwards. What practical, clear and strategic steps will you will need to have completed in year 4, 3, 2, 1, and today. to get there. If you are conflicted about which way to get there – in our example, you may be considering nationwide franchising to expand or growing your business by targeting enterprise customers — build out two exercises, work backward and the path you select will likely become clearer, Turkel says.
  • Reinvent your business for the long-term, not a short-term pivot that has nothing to do with your brand, Turkel advises. And with whatever you do, make sure it stays within the fundamentals that got you where you are. “People don’t buy what you do, they buy who you are,” Turkel said. Make sure your customer can see and feel a difference and you can tell a story around it, how you emerged from the eye of the COVID storm. Learn from Cornflakes: How can people try you again for the first time?

 

I thought about this advice as I thought back on all my discussions with startups and small businesses during the pandemic. Many of them had a plan. In some cases the plan came together quicker than they would have liked due to COVID-19, but they were executing thoughtfully. In some cases, it was about speeding up plans that were already in the works, or taking advantage of technologies they already had developed. They also didn’t pivot to doing anything that was not authentic already to their brand, but they did take advantage of opportunities. And they can all tell a good story around it. We are living through massive historic change right now, like it or not.

Three great #MiamiTech examples of this came by way of a webinar hosted by TheVentureCity last week:

Maxeme Tuchman’s startup, Caribu, brings families together in virtual playdates, including for reading, playing games and drawing together. It has users in 160 countries.  When COVID-19 shelters-in-place began, Caribu made the platform free, rather than $6.99 a month, and usage 10Xed literally overnight. With the 10X growth comes 10X customer support tickets — and 10X expenses. Fortunately, she and her team did not have to go it alone. One of Caribu’s investors, AT&T, offered a $500,000 donation so Caribu could cover those expenses of going free while Tuchman’s team scaled up customer support and executes on a strategy for retaining the customers for the long-term, she shared during a recent webinar hosted by TheVentureCity. One immediate move: She hired a customer support team member in two days.  

With all the new customers overnight, requests for new features 10Xed too. One frequent request was for a Caribu that could be one to many, like Zoom but for kids. Another was for a web app for Caribu. Tuchman and her team considered both but are executing on the web app; the other request took Caribu too far afield from what it is, at least at this time. The web app too was already on the roadmap – it was already part of their strategy. It just got accelerated.

Adam Garfield is also in the eye of the pandemic. He founded SpeedETab, a Miami-based technology startup that empowers restaurants to be more successful by helping them create their own online ordering channels, and SpeedETab is used by 2,500+ locations. Business is increasing. “Our product pre-COVID was in the right position to help…  But [during COVID] our platform became a pure necessity as a lifeline for restaurants to transact. Our focus has been on depending our product offerings,”  Garfield said. Restaurants need their own online ordering more than ever because in a takeout-only situation under COVID, they can’t afford the fees of Uber Eats, Postmates etc that can take 25-30% of the ticket. And now that restaurants are opening, SpeedETab’s focus will be on helping them make the ordering process safer inside the restaurants too, Garfield said.

Garfield’s advice: “Have an incredible team around you. In crisis it shows how valuable the team is. It is easy to get lost in features and feedback and support, but if you and your team aren’t aligned on the vision of the company, it is very hard to have a successful one.” Also he said remember the three s’s – stability, scalability and security – if you don’t have those things you done have anything. “You also need a fourth ‘s’ – you need incredible systems in place.”

Jerry Wilmink is CBO of CarePredict, a VC- backed digital health company in Plantation. Its  wearable bracelet and deep learning platform measures subtle changes in motions and routines of seniors at rick and CarePredict can make a prediction of when a senior is at risk of a fall, depression, an infection, etc., he said. With the pandemic, it technology became even more valuable to senior living facilities.

CarePredict already had tracking technology in its solution, and decided to quickly expand on that and release a product called PinPoint, which can contact-trace seniors in assisted living centers and other places they gather and help contain virus spread. “Our company launched it in three weeks and our customers went crazy. We had the tools in place to do it. It’s been a game changer for us.”

Didn’t see this coming: “We started getting inbound interest from leading hotels, and factories and cruise ships. They wanted thousands of units immediately,” said Wilmink. “We have to make strategic selective decisions with our focus being seniors.”

Some of Wilmink’s key learnings during the pandemic: “Address the primary problem and move fast,” he said. CarePredict is also exploring alternative manufacturers in order to scale up even more quickly.

Says Tuchman:  “In Miami we rise from the ashes and we get innovative and create our own destinies. That spirit is intoxicating – it is the most fun you could have.”

Maria Derchi moderates TheVentureCity webinar iwth Jerry Wilmink, Adam Garfield and Maxeme Tuchman.

This post was adapted from my previous post for GrowBiz, a blog for small businesses. Follow me on Twitter @ndahlberg and email me at ndahlbergbiz@gmail.com.

Nancy Dahlberg
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