Launching your startup in COVID-19: Advice from our founders
In the midst of COVID-19, many companies large and small are taking appropriate action and moving their companies to remote work for the time being. The technology and education sectors were fairly quick to respond and transition to online and remote activities. Most others have followed suit after the recent declarations this week and are practicing social distancing. COVID-19 has had an obvious and significant impact on the market overall, companies, and individuals. Small businesses and startups are not exempt from this and many wonder how they'll manage during this time.
If you’re a young startup, you probably have a few concerns going through your mind about how to manage your early stages. In our specific case we have the benefit of not having any employees and we've slowed our burn rate by pushing marketing to a later date. That said, we weren’t really certain about launching, but we went ahead with a quieter launch anyways. We are self-employed, but as we are pre-product, and therefore pre-revenue, we may not qualify for any additional support. On the other side, we are not at risk of losing customers, as we are in the market validation stage. We're taking everything as it comes. We’re excited to put our company out there, even understanding that there will be changes to our original plan of action. If you’re launching your startup and need some advice on how to handle launch, find programs to apply to, and access funding right now, then check out the links below.
Focus on your product plans
If you’re in the process of building out your product, there is no reason to put this on hold. If your company can positively contribute to anything in this complicated situation, then get that product out there! Offering support and positively contributing to your community or globally is important right now. If your product is waiting for launch, consider opening or pushing up the release of a private beta if you feel ready. The majority of people are working from home, staying in, and likely wouldn’t mind testing a beta right now! They may have more time to spare towards feedback and really digging into your creation. Further, this type of market can help establish whether or not your company is a "need." If customers are willing to pay for your products or services in an uncertain market, it helps establish your company as a necessity.
If you had plans for a big marketing push, I’d suggest saving it for now. With the important news circling, you want to be sure you’re not taking away from that or not contributing positively to it. There is certainly disruption in the advertising industry and you may have to explore new ways to reach customers or wait until a more appropriate time. Keep your team members remote, continue to work from home, and focus on product, content, and building digital connections in the meantime.
Keep applying for programs
A lot of you may be nervous about applying for accelerators or pitch competitions amidst COVID-19, but don’t be! In the worst case scenario where your program gets canceled, it is still worth applying. Applying provides you the opportunity to pitch, introduce new people to your company, and reframe how you present your startup. As well, many programs have moved to an online format, while still providing their typical financial, mentorship, and other support. This could benefit many startups by opening up programs to more global audiences or sparing you moving hassle and costs to attend an originally in-person program. As well, some programs have extended their deadlines to accommodate for these changes. Search through F6S and Founder’s Beta for incubators, accelerators, pitch competitions, and more by location and type. Both F6S and Founder’s Beta tend to have extensive lists and it’s how we find most opportunities.
Find other ways to connect
Networking can certainly prove challenging during this time. In Ontario, there is (rightfully so) a ban on gatherings of 50 people or more. From the start of March, many of the networking and other events we were planning to attend got canceled or postponed to much later in the year. Especially in the early days, networking is key for startups to meet other founders and entrepreneurs, seek advisory boards, and find potential venture capitalists or other funding opportunities. Thankfully, people are very open to connecting online now and though it may not feel quite the same as meeting in-person, there are ways you create a valuable experience.
Start a podcast, video chat, or similar digital series
There is an increase in media consumption in general, as many people are at home and looking for entertainment or information. Brands like Netflix, YouTube, and Twitch have all experienced an increase in first time users and/or usage in general. If you wanted to start an online series, now is the time! It’s fairly easy to set yourself up to record a podcast, a video chat session, or interview-style blog/magazine.
Though we normally meet our guests in-person for our podcast, Float or Founder, this season we have switched to virtual recordings. We are going to use Zencastr, which has recently changed their plan for hobbyists during COVID-19 to allow for unlimited guests and recording hours per month.
For video chats, all you need is a screen recorder and some great video chat software. Mac allows you to screen record by pressing Command + Shift + 5. Windows 10 also has a built-in screen recorder that you can use. Aside from that, you need a platform to virtually meet on and you're ready to go!
- Google Hangouts allows for up to 10 participants per video chat
- Zoom allows for up to 100 participants, but the length of a meeting varies per plan. They’ve also provided their tools for schools for free to help during this situation.
- Facebook Messenger allows for up to 50 participants in a video chat
- Skype allows for up to 50 participants in a video chat
For interview-style blogs or digital magazines, there are a lot of solutions. Find the option that allows you to trial the experience first to see if you enjoy using the product or software. A popular and highly rated digital magazine software that turns your PDFs into HTML5 is Flipsnack. With access to great free tools like Canva you don’t need to be a talented graphic designer to get your ideas out and create a digital content piece.
Reach out to potential guests with your idea and why they would be someone you want to feature. Meet them online to conduct your interview or recording. Whether you’re gathering insights, meeting people in your industry, or bridging potential connections to investors, these virtual meetings will help you connect with and meet new people. While these options may not be the least time consuming, it offers an opportunity for a (money-making!) side hustle and truly provides value to the people you want to connect with.
Find events that have moved to an online format
While many events have been cancelled or postponed, some organizers have decided to move the format to virtual events. Large scale events, like Collision Conference, are selling tickets to Collision From Home, their new format amidst COVID-19. CoinDesk’s Consensus 2020 will now be an entirely virtual experience. Microsoft’s Build will be entirely online and Forbes, with their team at Forbes8, are launching a free digital event called Business Resiliency. Some co-working spaces are offering virtual co-working and many businesses have switched to the Webinar format for their content. LinkedIn has people sharing their virtual connecting opportunities everyday, so search through relevant hashtags to find what you need.
If you registered for an event, see if they’ve moved online and how you can get involved. Perhaps your company was looking to sponsor an event that has gone digital and sponsorship opportunities could be more affordable. Tickets may have become less expensive or even free. There may be more speaking slots for a digital event versus an in-person one. Don’t give up on events and assume they’re all canceled.
There is still money available to startups
The market is down, and that can be both good and bad for startups. Some VCs warn that funding could be impacted for the next two quarters. Your target angel, VCs, and firms will still be looking to invest at some point, yet may be reluctant or pausing their actions for now. This doesn’t mean that every potential investor feels this way and there are still other ways to access financial support during this time.
Hockeystick has listed active funders in Canada. Whether you’re looking for an equity investment, a loan, or government funding, they have provided all programs that are currently funding startups. They know that startups need funding now more than ever and will continue to update the list as they receive more information on who is actively investing.
It is often easiest for startup founders to meet investors through warm introductions, and many VCs recommend or prefer it, too. If you’re a startup founder, browse a firm’s portfolio and see if you can bridge any connection from your network to that VC firm. Other founders you’re connected with should be happy to provide an introduction, especially understanding themselves how important funding is during this time. If you do not have a network that can provide support, then using the networking tips above can be a big help to provide those much-needed warm introductions. If you know us and see we’re connected to someone you want to meet, always ask!
Companies providing funding
Some large companies have put together grants to help businesses cope with COVID-19's impact on their companies. Facebook is providing $100M in cash grants and ad credits for up to 30,000 eligible businesses through their Small Business Grants Program. Amazon is providing $5M via their Neighbourhood Small Business Relief Fund to support their Seattle home. Shopify is supporting their store owners through Shopify Capital with a $200 million investment in small business support.
Recently, the Canadian government released an economic response plan for Canadians and businesses during COVID-19. They are offering support around keeping your employees, tax filings, accessing credit, and more during this time. All their plans are implemented between now and May, so continue to check on the plans you need and qualify for. Your city and province may be offering their own help, as well.
Times may feel uncertain and launching a startup can be challenging enough without the added pressure. Know that you’re not alone and everyone, whether running a small business, part of a large company, or operating a non-profit, are all worrying about the same things. Stay up-to-date on the help that your provincial and the Canadian government will offer to the self-employed during this time and keep pushing forward. You’ve got a great product and self-isolation doesn’t change that! With few excuses to distract you from creating something great, now is the time to focus on your startup. We can’t wait to release the beta of Metaranx’s AI builder to our users! If you’re interested in being part of that, we encourage you to sign up for our beta waitlist. Stay safe, healthy, and happy everyone!