We’re Not Doing Enough to Help Small Businesses

Elizabeth Macbride and I wrote an OpEd piece that was posted on CNBC this morning addressing what we believe to be significant shortcomings of the CARES Act and the SBA’s Payroll Protection Program (PPP). Specifically how the stimulus is failing to meet the needs of small businesses around America in this time of crisis. This is urgent and needs to be addressed as soon as possible. I’d encourage you to click through to read the full piece, but below I’ve outlined the key recommendations we make at the end of the OpEd:

1. Set up individual loan funds

Anticipating that the federal aid would roll out slowly, states, communities and foundations have set up their own loan funds, often with donations, community reinvestment act credits from local lenders and help from local economic development groups. There are more than 30 so far nationwide, such as this one in Louisville, Kentucky, that aims to put 0% interest loans into the bank accounts of businesses with fewer than 10 employees within a week. SBA funds could be disbursed to these loan funds, which have lines of communication to their own small business communities — and can act much faster than the federal bureaucracy.

“We are disappointed in the lack of broader inclusion of community loan funds in the PPP and are hopeful that we can find a way to be partners to reach all Americans and the businesses and nonprofits who are not easily reached by the larger institutions,” says Lisa Mensah, CEO of the Opportunity Finance Network, the association of community development financial institutions, which are involved in some of the new loan funds.

2. Urge big business to pay receivables faster

Big companies that market to small businesses and use their services are beginning to step up, by paying their receivables faster. Last week a coalition of tech companies that serve the small business market —Alignable, Fundbox, Gusto, Homebase, Womply, SmallBizDaily.com, Actual.Agency, Business.com and Small Business Edge — introduced an initiative called #paytoday to urge big businesses to pay faster.

Let’s encourage a national movement around this. It’s our respective civic duty as individuals and businesses to do everything we can do to support the small businesses in our communities.

3. Appoint a clear leader

Whatever interagency rivalry hampers the interpretation of the rules and implementation of the programs needs to stop. This is management 101. The mobilization needs a clear leader, who will be held accountable for making sure these billion-dollar programs run smoothly and transparently. President Donald Trump should appoint such a leader immediately to oversee these programs.

4. Provide more clarity

The PPP loan program needs immediate clarification and to be streamlined. That should be the first priority of the newly appointed Coronavirus Recovery Czar.

5. Expand the program

Additionally, the program itself needs to be expanded. The intent of the program is to save jobs and to provide a lifeline to businesses most affected by the COVID-19 economic crisis. However, the way it’s structured almost completely leaves out businesses such as restaurants, fitness facilities and other small businesses unable to operate in our current “shelter in place” society. Those businesses closed weeks ago and already laid off employees.

These businesses are unable to access key parts of the program related to loan forgiveness: For instance, the ability of loans to be forgiven based on future payroll obligations cannot be accessed if companies have already closed and laid people off and are unable to reopen quickly enough. These rules need to be addressed and updated to allow businesses such as these to receive the benefit of the program as they ultimately get up and running again as society emerges from their homes.

Meet your COVID-19 CFO

C19 Finance NetworkA lot of companies are struggling to figure out how to respond to the economic crisis that was precipitated by COVID-19. Should they cut staff or should they furlough them (and what’s the difference)? Should they ask people to take a pay cut? How much should they be cutting back on marketing and other expenses? What can they negotiate with their landlord? What are the federal programs that might support their business through this? How can they apply for the new PPP (Payroll Protection Plan) SBA loans?

It’s a lot to take in. At Foundry we’ve been having daily briefings, calls and email updates with our portfolio to try to stay on top of it. That’s great for the companies that have access to resources like this, but what should you do if you’re a small business that isn’t a part of a network like ours? The vast majority of small businesses aren’t venture-backed. The vast majority don’t have a CFO or senior level financial professional to help them out.

Today we’re launching the COVID-19 Finance Assistance Network (yes, it was named by finance pros, not marketing ones…). In partnership with Lew’s List (which those in the Denver area will know is a long time networking and finance jobs group with over 11,000 members run by Lew Visscher) and High Plains Advisors (a local advisory services business). We’ve assembled a group of experienced CFOs, controllers and other finance professionals to help small businesses navigate through the crisis. It’s a free service – people are volunteering their time to help out. 

If you’re a business looking for help you can click through the link above, fill out a short form with some basic information on your company and we’ll get in touch with you to connect you to a financial pro who can help out.

Please help us get the word out about this. This is open to all businesses who have been affected by the COVID-19 economic crisis (restaurants, retail, services companies, etc). I recognize that many of these companies will be outside of our traditional networks (and geographies). Let’s make sure they know that this service is available to them.

Investing in Downturns

TBH, I haven’t been thinking much about new investments at the moment. I’ve been asked many times how I think the Covid-19 crisis will change investor behavior and fundraising for startups. I generally give the kind of answer I think most VCs give and say something about how we all know that down markets are great markets for companies to grow (lots of great companies have been started in downturns), that there’s a lot of capital sitting on the sidelines at the moment and that capital will have to be invested, etc. All true, but I think not entirely well thought through in most cases.

For example, I also generally point out that despite most investors saying this, the vast majority are hitting pause on new investments for a bit (say 1-2 months, but who really knows) while they both focus on their existing portfolio and the decisions that need to be made in the near term about cash preservation, PPP loans, etc. and while they evaluate the overall markets and just how deep the crisis will go. Additionally, as a general rule, funds with larger portfolios are more likely to be on lock-down for new investments. Funds with smaller portfolios are more likely to be looking at new deals. Everyone is being cautious about valuations. Anecdotally, I’ve heard that early stage valuations are already down 30-50%. It’s early and not clear where this will end up, but I’ll keep my eye on it and will report here what we’re seeing.

For those of you who are regular readers of this blog, you’ll know that I love data and have several times pulled data from Correlation Ventures (who have a huge proprietary database of venture financings dating back decades which they use to power their investment decisions) in an effort to answer interesting questions about the business and practice of venture capital (my favorite such post is here). Yesterday they put up an interesting post providing some actual data to back up the broader statement that downturns are good markets to invest into (beyond the headlines of great companies that were started in downturns – that’s great but anecdotal; this analysis looks at overall returns post downturn).

First, the overall trends, which show both a steady increase of returns post the 2000 bubble and show the specific increases post 9/11 and post the 2008 market crash.

Here’s a bit more detail on investments made the year before each of these downturns and the year after the downturn. Obviously, better to invest after.

For starters, both of these graphs are good reminders that “average” performance in venture isn’t great. That’s always been true, but every time I see a graph like this it does cause me to do a double-take (the graphic below from a recent post I wrote reinforces this). It’s a good reminder of the overall risk of the asset class and, frankly, just how hard it is to generate consistent positive returns (more on that here). But the data are clear that average investment returns increase in the years after a downturn (although part of the lesson here is clearly not to lean in too quickly). That should make anyone thinking of starting a business feel good. But the same trends that make downturns a good time to start businesses also make it a good time to invest in existing businesses (the Correlation data look at all financing rounds, not just first time financings). Access to capital can be tighter (but we’ll see in this case with unprecedented amounts of capital sitting undeployed), but competition for talent is typically reduced. Marketing expenses are lower and customer acquisition costs typically are reduced. Focus can be sharper with fewer market distractions as well as the pressure that comes from having somewhat more limited margins within which to operate. As we emerge from this, it can be your moment.

Markets are always cyclical and although we’re dealing with unprecedented times, the optimist in me knows that over time we’ll dig our way out of this. And that downturns are pretty good times to be building amazing businesses. Stay safe out there.

Tips For Working from Home From The Foundry Network

Over the past week I’ve been gathering work-from-home tips from Foundry Group portfolio companies. Here are some of the best suggestions – from WFH veterans as well as some newbies quickly getting up to speed. I highlighted a few that I thought were particularly good ones.

Work Space

  • Create a dedicated work space distinct from high traffic or personal areas. Make sure that it’s uncluttered, professional and comfortable. You will also want to have good lighting and A/V accessories. If a dedicated space isn’t feasible, get creative and find some workable nook in your home where you’re comfortable and can focus.
  • Listen to some music. If you’re in a lot of meetings this can be hard, but try to squeeze it in when you can.
  • Invest in a good desk chair. Your back will thank you. Yoga balls are cheap, available for quick delivery, and ergonomically healthy. Note: I actually stole back into our office this weekend to get my standing desk and my back is already thanking me.
  • Work near a window and keep it open. The cold air is a game-changer.
  • Light your favorite candle in your office.
  • (For CEOs and managers): If a critical employee needs something, get it for them. Make sure people are comfortable and can be productive. If a key employee needs a monitor or a standing desk, order it for them.  
  • Make occasional tweaks. Move things around in your WFH space and try something new each week. Over time you’ll discover little boosts from mixing things up. 
  • Not every task necessitates a laptop or sitting at desk. Can you take that next meeting from the couch, and use your iPad for your notes? Can the meeting after that be from your phone and headphones while you take a walk? 

Routines

  • Establish work routines that are similar to your in-the-office routines and will trigger you entering work mode. Start with a morning routine (breakfast, walk the dog) and ease into the work.  Similarly, it’s helpful to wrap up the working day with a routine (touch base call or email, jotting down tomorrow’s to-do list or just closing down your computer for the day). This helps you keep the two modes separate. 
  • Take the time you normally would have spent commuting for a workout.
  • If you have kids at home with you, establish ground rules for moving around the house and when and how you can be disturbed. Consider creating blocks of time dedicated for meetings or heads down time. By the same token, establish times when they know you’ll engage with them. That said, know that you’re in a fluid environment and chaos is bound to appear so embrace it with good humor when it comes. Note: I love that the new WFM culture embraces the occasional interruption on a Zoom or conference call from kids or pets. I’ve taken to asking my kids to come say hi when they accidentally step in on a call.
  • Consider chunking up the work into bite-size intervals. Some prefer 60 to 90-minute periods while others like the shorter periods of 30 minutes. The important thing is to leave a space of time 5 to 15 minutes at the end of each period to take a break.
  • Be disciplined about your calendar. This goes beyond faithfully calendaring your meetings. Set time aside for heads down work so colleagues will think twice about disturbing you. On the flip side, consider dedicating a block of time for catching up with people. 
  • Drink plenty of water. Not necessarily because water is good for you, but to replace those “water cooler” moments – Grab your phone when you head to the kitchen for water/coffee breaks and try to text a friend for a few minutes.
  • Stop worrying if you’re doing it right. At home you’re the office manager, so you can change things up!

Communications

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. It is even more important in a remote environment.  Use video calls as much as possible. They create a sense of community much more effectively than phone calls. To lighten things up and have a little fun, many video conferencing apps allow users to change their backgrounds. Try Gallery Mode on Zoom – it’s nice to see everyone’s smiling face in Brady Bunch mode. Also, don’t be afraid to converse on multiple levels. Chat can enhance and add nuance to teleconferences.
  • Back-to-back video conferencing meetings are more draining than in-person meetings and leave little time for moving the body, staying hydrated, etc. Try shorter meetings 25 and 50 minutes, instead of 30 and 60 minutes to force people to have breaks during the day.
  • Behave as if everyone is remote even if you have multiple people in the same location. Have everyone log into a video conference on their own individual computers. It levels the playing field and facilitates engagement by everyone. 
  • If something isn’t solved within 3 exchanges on Slack, jump on a Zoom. A face to face conversation usually sorts things out much quicker. 
  • Update your vocabulary. Out Of Office / OOO and Away from my desk are no longer meaningful in the COVID-19 era. Away from Keyboard is universally applicable.

Physical/Mental Health and Morale

  • Encourage people to get outside. Spring is arriving so get out, breath in some fresh air, and soak in the energy from rebirth all around you (but keep social distancing rules in place, please!). 
  • Think about the fact that you’ve been given the gift of time and place. Sure, there’s a lot that’s out of your control, but you now have more control over your time and your immediate environment. In many respects, the pace of life has slowed down. Be selfish with this newly found time and spend it with the people with whom you are close – at home or virtually. Reach out to lapsed friends or family. Finish a project. Read a book. Make the best of it.
  • Regulate the amount of news you consume and pick your times to check it. Many of us are news junkies. It’s easy to get distracted and even consumed by events in the world around us. While the new information is constantly coming to light, the overall narrative rarely changes.
  • As a culture/excitement perk consider sending a little something to your team. Cookies or snacks help spirits stay high and give people a little surprise. Their families appreciate it too. 
  • Build social interaction into your work routines. Carve out opportunities for spontaneity with banter time at the start of regular meetings. 
  • Try 4pm “Happy Hour” meetings with no agenda. It’s a great way for the team to connect for 30min and bring everyone back to their workstations if they got distracted for some reason. You can also try “crew time”: lunches or yoga. Trivia or Jackbox games over Zoom are also fun. Slack has apps like Poke or Donut that encourage ad hoc engagement. 

Lots in here. And lots more that I’m sure others have discovered and are implementing (a quick Google search reveals a number of blog posts and articles on this subject). Remember, everyone is in the same boat. As for help if you’re struggling with the new reality. And remember to stay connected.

Some additional jobs resources

A few more quick thoughts building on my Job Hunting in a Time of Crisis post from a few days ago:

 

Here is a link to a spreadsheet that lists out remote jobs as of Feb (there are 1575 on the list).

Ross Freeman sent me this link to “100 Developer Jobs – Companies still hiring amid the coronavirus crisis” 

Mike Volkin suggested targeting industries like Health and Wellness, EdTech (online education and remote learning) and even remote collaboration tools to keep staff and teams aligned (i.e.Zoom and Slack). Can you provide services to companies in these industries. And for business owners, bring your business online (we’re already seeing this in personal fitness, coaching, medicine, etc). 

And, of course, in case you missed it we launched the Colorado #COVID-19 Talent Network yesterday

Keep the ideas coming in!

CO #COVID-19 Talent Network

With so many jobs being lost to the COVID-19 crisis a group of us thought it would be helpful to put together a talent network to help support those looking for work during this challenging time. We know there are companies out there hiring, and that includes tech companies. The Colorado #Covid19 Startup Talent Network provides job seekers access to upload their profile information and job skills. It also allows companies to search for talent and sort on various job criteria.

Please share this network so we can get the word out. You can use this bitl.ly shortlink for ease: bit.ly/COCovid19StartupTalent.

You can also quickly share through social media with this ClickToTweet link: https://ctt.ac/fbncf

A few thoughts as we launch this. We know it’s rough. Our goal was to get a basic set of capabilities launched as quickly as possible. We also know that the need beyond the startup/tech community is great. We started with tech because that’s what we know. We’re looking for help to stand up other versions of this database and create Talent Networks for other industries (Retail, Hospitality and Restaurant are urgent, but there are others). If you’re interested in helping make that happen you can reach out through the “contact the organizer” link on the Talent Network site or just email me directly (we need some people with some technical talent who can create the data fields and host the networks).

A number of people helped get the Talent Network ready to launch. First and foremost, Micah Mador from Foundry, who set up the database in Airtable, created the splash page and is maintaining the network itself.

Others provided valuable feedback to earlier versions of the Network. At Foundry this included Jason Lynch and Jaclyn Hester. Also, Kendra Haberkorn, Jennifer Goldman, Marc Nager, Jennifer Shedd, Jon Landau, and Natty Zola.

And thanks to all of you for getting the word out.

I’ll update this post as we get additional versions of this Network launched.

And while we’re calling this a Colorado network (mostly because it was created here), we recognize that most jobs at the moment are remote and many will remain that way. We’re not trying to put any artificial geographic boarders around this – but do want to recognize the limitations of what we’ve so quickly built.

Job hunting in the midst of a crisis

My posts last week (which included predictions of pending lay-offs at technology businesses) prompted a number of people to reach out and ask a variant of the question: “How can I find a job in the middle of a shutdown/meltdown?”. I don’t know that I have a great answer to that but I thought I’d take a stab at it with the hope that some of these ideas will be at least somewhat helpful to those that find themselves in the position of being out of work during this crisis.

TBC, while we’ve already seen a number of layoffs, I think there unfortunately are many more coming. Early lay-offs were widespread in the hospitality, travel and related industries. We’re just starting to see these in the tech sector – especially for companies that have exposure to travel and hospitality. I think we’ll see many more as companies get their hands around the cost cutting measures that will be required for them to weather this crisis and (hopefully) stay in business. I wrote the other day about companies considering measures such as covering a few months of COBRA and/or allowing for longer stock exercise periods as some tools they can use to help mitigate the pain, but the reality is that being out of work right now is challenging and something that millions of Americans are going to be dealing with over the coming month. This advice is focused on people working for tech companies, as that’s the world I know. Some of the advice is applicable outside of that sector, some not.

Don’t Panic. That’s my first advice for just about every situation and in this case it can be significantly easier said than done. But it’s important in this case, even though your emotions and fear may be running high. Take it one step at a time, form a plan, then get out there.

Companies are still hiring. Yes it’s true that many startups are locking down hiring (and that’s been the VC 101 advice that most investors – including Foundry – have been giving in general to their portfolio companies). But most are still hiring for at least some key positions. There are many companies that are actually seeing an uptick in business (sustainable uptick, not just the near-term “WFH” bounce that many saw last week into this).

Focus your profile/resume on return on investment. More than typically, companies are measuring return on all their spend. Crisis brings focus and focus brings out the data analysts to measure everything. This is probably a good thing (as long as eventually budgets free back up for experimentation) but it’s something you should have in mind as you think about how to best position yourself for another role. Be clear that you fit into this paradigm of measured expenditure. You’re comfortable with it; you’ve done it before; you think everyone should be measuring return and focusing their dollars (whether marketing, sales, development, etc) on those things with the highest near term return.

Expand your geographic focus. Everyone is working from home so at the moment we live in a “post-geographic” world. Might not be the first thing you think about when you’re starting to look around (maybe in this environment it is, so sorry if this is obvious). Go broad and don’t worry about location. Most companies are much more open to WFH as a longer term prospect now that they were 2 weeks ago.

Get your Zoom game on. It’s not ideal to interview over Zoom, but that’s today’s reality. Make sure you show up like a pro. And embrace it – it’s the new normal.

Keep at it. Lots of companies that put hiring on hold a week ago will have a better sense for how their business is really being impacted over the next few weeks (and to be clear, most companies are making week-by-week assessments). Pace yourself and keep at it. Companies are changing their views continually through this and what their plans are today (no more hiring) may be completely the opposite a week from now.

I’ll keep thinking about this and will post updates. I know this isn’t a great time to be looking for a job. But markets are cyclical and I know that we’ll ultimately recover from this.

 

 

3/19/2020 Thoughts

I had a few things on my mind related to the startup environment right now as it relates to Covid-19 and the massive market disruption that we’re in the middle of. It’s a struggle to get them all sorted out in my mind so apologies in advance if these are a little disjointed. As you can imagine we’ve been having conversations all week across the Foundry portfolio (which includes not just companies but also our ~ 35 fund investments; between those we have look-through into a few thousand companies). With that, here are some general observations on the market as well as a few things specific to startup companies (relevant across stages).

We’re still in the quiet before the storm phase. I’m hearing from a lot of companies that this disruption hasn’t affected them. They’re still seeing strong sales pipeline (although this is concentrated in deals later in the pipeline – be careful that you’re watching top of funnel metrics as well). While there are some businesses that have the potential to benefit from our new WFH reality (Zoom is the classic example but we have a handful in the portfolio that fall into this category), the majority I think are simply seeing a brief bounce due to everyone’s schedules freeing up and people having time to actually finish evaluating your product. That’s great, but the truth is that most companies haven’t fully internalized the new economic reality that we’re facing (see more on that below). The result is a brief period of “business at usual, but from home” that is driving some near term sales closes for companies whose longer term prospects aren’t as bright as they may appear once businesses start getting their arms around just how deep an economic downturn we’re likely to be facing. And to be clear, it’s going to be deep.

Companies with direct consumer, travel or related businesses are already seeing the downturn. We have a few companies in the portfolio who have businesses that relate directly to travel (or indirectly to that), people getting together, consumers out shopping, retail and restaurants, etc. These businesses are already seeing a significant impact on their businesses. My point is that they are tip of the spear and are seeing the effects of the downturn first because of the specifics of their businesses. It will ripple down further. Your business needs to plan for that.

We’re about to see the first in a few waves of layoffs. Companies are scenario planning around just how bad this is going to get and many are looking at some level of staffing cuts. These take some time to plan and the reality is that the market has not yet realized just how many people are going to start being laid off (outside of the startup market we’re already seeing this in other businesses). We’re going to start hearing/reading about these layoffs over the next few days and this will accelerate next week.

Prioritize cash preservation over growthNow is the time to be careful about your cash reserves and spending. Many companies had been leaning into growth – and spending at a very rapid rate to support that. The advice I’m giving most of the companies I work with is to not worry about 2020 growth rate but to focus on preserving cash so we can have the greatest possible optionality when we eventually emerge from this downturn (and we have no real sense right now just how hard things will get). To be clear plenty of companies will grow (some a little, some a lot) through this – but spending ahead of some assumed growth rate right now is a bad idea. Great companies get started in downturns and plenty of great companies that had already been started see their businesses emerge stronger then ever from downturns (both for similar reasons around less competition for resources, better talent available, less expensive marketing, etc.). But you need cash to take advantage of that and now is the time to make those adjustments. Drawing down your debt (as many people have already pointed out) is probably a good idea now as well – you want that cash on your balance sheet (there are some cases where this won’t make sense, which is why I’m avoiding a blanket “you must do this” statement around debt.

Stress test your operating planEntrepreneurs are optimists and the temptation is to rationalize how this downturn may actually be good for your business. Most of you will be wrong (either completely or in magnitude). You should be adjusting costs now, full stop. You should have at least 2 other plans that you’ve considered – a zero growth plan and a 25% revenue drop plan. Before you tell me that this isn’t going to happen to your business, just do the analysis and know where you’d stand in these scenarios.

More, not lessI’m sorry to say this, but the reality is that you should be cutting costs more rather than less right now. Whatever your first instinct is, you’re probably off by somewhere between 20% and 50%. Having seeing countless companies go through this (more typically not in such an emergent time), the vast majority of the time companies look back and wish they had adjusted more.

Stock exercise. This is related, but random, but I’m suggesting to the companies I work with to extend option exercise periods extensively for employees that you have to lay off. Most plans require employees to purchase stock within 90 days of leaving (this may vary but 90 days is most common). This feels harsh.

Consider extending COBRA. It’s hard to lay off employees – especially into the job market as it will likely exist over the next few months. And hard to balance being fair to those you’re letting go and preserving cash to continue to operate your business with the employees who are staying at the business. One thing that some companies are doing (and this varies based on capacity and inclination) is trying to offer a few months of paid COBRA for employees they’re letting go.

I just reread this post and it’s more pessimistic than I actually feel. Markets cycle. Even when the disruption is something large and unprecedented like Covid-19. We will get past this. The markets will rebound. Sales will come back. Great companies will emerge. I strongly believe all of that. But I hope the advice above will be helpful to you as you think through navigating the early stages of this crisis and best prepare your business to survive.

Decision making in uncertain times

Making decisions for your business can be hard even in normal circumstances. Right now, in this time of great uncertainty and high emotional stress it’s even harder. I’m on countless calls a day now where I’m trying to talk through with people in our universe (CEOs, GPs of other funds, fellow board members, etc.) critical decisions that in many cases will define the future for the businesses involved. How to react in a time like this is complicated and in most cases is not obvious. Just how bad things may get is unknown, as is how long this will last and what effect that will have on various business sectors and on specifics businesses is unclear. Below are a few thoughts that I’m using to guide my own decision making in this time of crisis.

  • Don’t Panic. I say this all the time. 1) Don’t Panic; 2) Gather data; 3) Make informed decisions. The order here is important. This is especially true when times are crazy and there’s even more pressure to make rapid decisions. Take a minute to breath and calm yourself. Think about what data you can gather that will help inform your decision making and what time frame is reasonable to allow yourself to make that decision. Give yourself a little space to collect the information you need to make as informed a decision as you can given the unknowns that will inevitably exist as well as the time frame that’s reasonable for the decision at hand.
  • Move quickly but don’t rush. Related and not in opposition to #1, you can still make decisions quickly and decisively, but do so without rushing. When you’re stressed it’s easy to interpret that stress as a need to just get things done. Don’t fall into that trap. You can still move rapidly without rushing.
  • Prioritize. When you’re making quick decisions and have a lot of information hitting you at once, it’s tempting to try to just get things off your plate. But that’s a bad way to organize your work even in the best of times. I’m a consistent user of Asana (but you could use Trello, Todoist, Wunderlist, etc) to prioritize my days. It’s especially helpful when things feel out of control to have the framework that a well though through task list provides. Use it to help you prioritize the decisions you need to make that are urgent and to keep track of what’s left to do.
  • Be comfortable with ambiguity. One of the most challenging things about making decisions for your business right now is how much we don’t know. That’s disconcerting but you’re just going to have to deal with it. Hopefully your business is well instrumented so at least you’re getting some data in. Take in what you can, recognize that you won’t have perfect information and make the best decisions you can at the time, recognizing that some decisions will need to be revisited when you have more information.
  • You can’t control what you can’t control. There’s no sense in focusing on things that are out of your control. So focus in on the things that are within your control.
  • Make contingency plans. One of the things that I’m encouraging companies that I work with to do is to engage in some scenario planning. I’ll have a longer post up tomorrow about this but the general idea is to free yourself from pressure in the moment by coming up with multiple plans of action. If we see X we’ll do Y (times a bunch of different scenarios). Your thinking ahead of time will more likely be clearer than in the moment. And you can revisit your thinking over time (before you’ve actually had to implement what you’re working through) and have the benefit of multiple looks at the same set of problems.

Overall I’m seeing high degrees of anxiety and concern about making the “right” decision. That’s understandable given the circumstances. Recognize that no one really knows what’s going to happen here and that your job is to make the best decisions you can. “Right” doesn’t exist in times like these.

Dealing with evolving information about Covid-19

Humans are, as a general rule, poor at changing their minds once they’ve developed a view about something. This can be the cause of plenty of arguments and I suspect is a significant reason we’ve become so much more polarized as a country in recent decades (that, and it’s ancillary effect of causing us to seek out only information and data that  support our unbending view).

But in the case of dealing with a pandemic like Covid-19 it can be downright dangerous. I thought it would be helpful – perhaps even important – to talk about why being open to new and evolving information is so critically important in a time when what we know about Covid-19 is changing so rapidly.

I’ve certainly been through this journey myself. My views continue to change as I learn more. An hour ago I posted about the need to dramatically change how our society is approaching the virus and specifically some radical changes that we need to make now to slow the spread of the disease. People reading it will have various world views about the virus, bring varied biases about just how severe it is and as a result what we should do about it. I’d encourage you to keep an open mind.

My own views on this have evolved quite a bit and very rapidly. My very first reaction to hearing about a novel virus effecting an area of China was one of skepticism. The data I saw suggested that it wasn’t particularly dangerous for most people and it was pretty far away so it didn’t feel like something that was emergent. Even as it started to spread in Asia and Europe, I dismissed some of what I was seeing. As it got to the US I spent a lot of time talking about the “denominator problem” and just how little we really knew about how dangerous the virus really was because we didn’t really know how many people actually had it. Last Monday (that’s not even a week ago, for those of you playing at home), when we were trying to decide if we should go ahead and host our annual CEO Summit that was due to take place Wed evening through Friday of last week, I argued with my partners that we should continue with the event (fortunately I lost that vote). By Thursday we decided to close our office and ask everyone to work from home. By Friday I had pulled all in person meetings off my calendar and cancelled all non-critical meetings generally to free up some time. Last night I joined a growing group of colleagues calling for essentially closing down all social gatherings (bars, restaurants, churches, etc.).

Once views get entrenched it’s hard to change them (we’re watching as an entire major new network deals with this – or really fails to deal with this – in real time; it’s agonizing). I’d encourage everyone to step back from whatever their initial impressions were of the now unfolding crisis and view it with a fresh lease.