Am I crazy to launch a business during Covid-19?

Written by: Lara Stancich, an entrepreneur, completing an MBA (researching start-up resilience) and a mother of three. She has around 20 years’ experience developing and applying strategic thinking to diverse situations, from oil rigs to award-winning workplace design, and now to transforming the way women can access and enjoy super stylish maternity and post-pregnancy fashion through her online subscription business, Aka+Pip. Lara believes passionately that women should be empowered to look and feel confident, whatever shape their body may be and do this in a way that reduces fashion’s impact on our environment

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Am I crazy to launch a business during Covid-19? This is the question I asked myself in late February as the region I live in (Veneto, Italy) careered towards lockdown. We were about 10 weeks away from ‘go live’ date for Aka+Pip, and my first instinct was to yell ‘stop’!

Aka+Pip is a maternity and post-pregnancy clothing rental concept that transforms the way women can access, enjoy and dispose of fabulously stylish and top quality designer maternity fashion. It is a circular economy concept focused on sustainability and style – two real problems in the world of maternity fashion – and above all, helping women to feel and look great as their body changes shape during and after pregnancy. I have been working on full time for about six months now, using my savings to get things going while preparing to seek investment.

I hit pause to consider what was going on, the barriers we faced, and contingency options. I reviewed the cash outgoings, re-negotiated where possible, to ensure that even if we delayed the launch, we would still have something to launch.

I spoke to my advisory board, sounding them out on my first thoughts to shift focus from pushing the business to building the community engagement side. I think they were all in shell shock though, since they mostly agreed that was the way to go. Except for one, who challenged me with a series of very clear and relevant questions.

As I considered her questions and discussed further with her and as I reflected more deeply on what this world might look like post-Covid, I realised that the values and concept underpinning the business are just as relevant during this crisis as for ‘business as usual’, even if I need to change the emphasis. In practical terms it would be difficult to fulfil orders, since couriers are being selective about whether to pick up or not – but its not impossible.

Going through this experience, there are five key lessons I have drawn so far:

1) Don't go it alone. Now more than ever is the time to draw on the support of your team, advisors, networks to help discuss the business, fears and concerns, ideas and tactics. Getting diverse views and perspectives as well as the moral support is really valuable  

2) How well does your business connect with your own values?  Does your business stand for what you stand for? At risk of overusing the word ‘authentic’ – right now more than ever, this matters for potential customers

3) Time.  I am acutely aware now of the ’elasticity’ of time, but mostly, I have a deeper appreciation of letting things take the time they need. In reference to Louise Nicolson’s fab book ‘The Entrepreneurial Myth’, as business founders we so often get sucked into the maelstrom of moving so fast, ‘hustling’ to chase overnight success, when really building a business takes a lot more than just a cool idea and guts. It takes time, perseverance, and a lot of listening. Now is actually a really good time to stop, reflect and think again. Yes there is still always a ton of stuff to do but let’s take the time as well to consider its relevance and value to you and your customers.

4) Relevance.  Is your business relevant to the new world we are entering? Glenn talked a bit about this in the first #PioneeringSpirit episode. While none of us really know how different life will be post-Covid, trends we had seen - eg towards more sustainable or sharing economy business models - will continue to gain traction, while mass consumption of clutter is likely to reduce.  

5) Build resilience. This is closely linked to having a learning and growth mindset. It’s something we can all build up and practise, to help survive these existential crises. Resilience doesn’t mean ‘keep calm and carry on’ but rather, acknowledging the reality of what you are facing, and working with your team or support network to tackle the situation, drawing on a combination of creativity and experience to figure out the responses, which may be stay the course, adapt, pivot, or something else entirely. This is where a lot of newer small businesses and entrepreneurs may struggle, though, having potentially less access to diversity of thought and experience than more established businesses. This is just where the start-up ecosystem could be a big help.