Well, none of us saw this one coming! The coronavirus has really hit the world – it’s just such a shame that it was a virus that forced us together and not something like, global warming, as an example (if together can be used in the same context as border closures, lockdowns and social distancing!)

From a start-up perspective this really is our time to shine – I know some of you will want to take your slippers off and throw them at me for saying that, which you can’t as we are all working from home, but we need to pop our growth mindset helmets on, get on our bike and just go for it (and I don’t mean escape!) We need to take the challenges we face head on and innovate like we have never done before. Why? Because that’s the beauty of being a small business, that’s why you have read all those business books and attended all those start-up ‘how to’ sessions – we are agile and have the ability to suddenly change to survive.

I’m not here to make you angry – I am sure you are in a really lonely and frustrating place right now but I was there last week too. Let me explain…

I help to run a company that teachers children how to code during the school holidays through in-person camps, in schools. As the coronavirus became more and more prevalent on the news we started to worry that school’s would close – especially as other countries started closing theirs. At the beginning of this week our outlook was looking bleak and our Founder and CEO, Elizabeth Tweedale, approached me and said we need to split into two teams.

Team 1: I will lead and it’s as if our April in-person camps are going ahead. She said I should take half the team.

Team 2: She will lead – Live Online camps and she would take the rest of the team.

We spoke to the staff and started working in our teams – Wednesday then hit and our school venues were choosing to close one by one. Elizabeth and I had a decision to make – do we cancel April camps and focus the full team on the Live Online project or do we continue to split resources? We got on a call with the team and it was unanimous – cancel in-person teaching, as it looked like this decision would be taken out of our hands pretty soon anyway, and focus all attention on our new business – we had to pivot overnight.

Usually when you get told about pivoting it’s not restricted to such a finite time frame but unfortunately we had no choice – we went into design sprint mode. Not that we didn’t appreciate our team before but we certainly were reminded of how amazing they were as everyone pulled their socks up and just went for it. To put this in perspective, at this point, we hadn’t actually had time to speak with them about the cash flow position of the company and whether we could pay them – they were passionate about keeping Cypher alive and didn’t ask questions.

48 hours later and Cypher Live Online launched – initially to those who had booked to attend the in-person camps, then to our general mailing list and finally everybody else. We used the expertise from all team members to successfully pull the launch off and everyone got stuck in – sometimes working in areas which were unfamiliar to them!

I appreciate that it’s still early days but my main messages from this adventure we are on are:

  1. Growth Mindset – find it quickly and use it. This situation isn’t going to go away as quickly as it arrived so focus on the CAN rather than the CAN’T.
  2. Innovate – how can you change your current offering, using the skills and expertise you have, to pivot to ensure your business survives during this turbulent time? Again, using that growth mindset what can you quickly learn to get you up to speed to deliver what you need to.
  3. Sacrifice – where can you as a Leader sacrifice? Can you take a wage cut or cut some of those luxuries out in order to keep the business you built survive? Yes, I know you have probably already sacrificed a lot but don’t let short term pain impact your long term gain.
  4. Team – don’t suddenly make unnecessary cuts. First see where you can innovate and then divide the hours/resources you do have depending on the skillsets you require to make the pivot work. But most importantly be transparent – your employees and contractors are probably extremely anxious and being honest is always the best policy. Remember, this situation won’t be forever and you will need them again in the future. It’s not going to be easy but from my experience if you are honest and fair people usually understand.
  5. JFDI – just f**cking go for it with everything you have, stay positive and continually let those who are helping and supporting you along the way, whether your team, family, friends etc, know how much this means to you.

I know you can do it,