While much of the tech world has come through Covid-19 relatively unscathed, some tech-focused industries have definitely felt the effects of the pandemic. As an AI and NLP software vendor with clients in myriad industries — including those with a focus on restaurants, airlines and hospitality — we were certainly affected, especially early on.
However, with necessity being the mother of invention, we have adapted to this “new normal” and have emerged stronger than ever. Here are the lessons we’ve learned along the way.
- Talent Is More Important In A Pandemic
A heavy-handed, top-down management style is bad enough in the best of times. During Covid, it’s both impossible and deadly to your business. I’ve always believed in hiring smart people and letting them do their jobs — something that the pandemic has shown to be a smart approach. Our team readily adjusted to their new Zoom-based workday and has continued to develop and release software without missing a beat. Our success has everything to do with the talent of our team and our ability to work together.
- In Software, Automation Matters
As a small software company, we’re always balancing the need to move quickly with the need to do it right. We’ve been around for well over a decade now and have learned that quick and dirty software development leads to buggy software with lots of “technical debt” that you will have to pay for in the future, so we try and minimize this element as much as possible.
This isn’t to say it doesn’t happen. Economics dictates that sometimes you’ll cut a corner here or there, and that’s OK. What the pandemic taught us is that our mundane automated software management chores are vital for a remote workforce of developers: nightly builds, nightly regression testing, automated containerized builds all help you catch that occasionally cut corner and over time help you repay any technical debt you’ve accumulated.
- Real Businesses Make Money
I’ve always felt companies should focus on profits rather than revenue growth. Today’s ubiquitous VC-funded tech businesses are built on the idea that growth is all that matters, which is fine so long as investors will continue to fund you through a rough patch.
Unfortunately, a lot of growth-first companies haven’t made it through this extended rough patch — especially the ones losing money or growing more slowly than those sky-high VC expectations (as this startup failure post-mortem analysis shows). Focusing on profits and cash flow isn’t as sexy as chasing dramatic revenue growth, but it lets you tighten your belt and navigate the rough patches without outside help.
- Don’t Pull Back Too Far
At the pandemic’s onset, we cut our spending while we took stock of our markets, customers and the world in general. But it was apparent by May 2020 that things were going to keep ticking along, albeit more slowly and carefully. We re-opened our wallets and started investing in marketing and sales again so that we could remain present and visible. The pandemic wasn’t a time to gamble, but it wasn’t a time to hibernate either. Staying hunkered down in cost-cutting mode would have sent a distress signal that would have been dangerous to the business.
- Share The Risk And Share The Reward
Quality employees are good at more than just their jobs: They also see what’s happening in the world. If they trust you and share your vision, they’ll be willing to sacrifice for the good of the company and their own long-term benefit.
When we implemented some furloughs early in the pandemic, the employees in question took it in stride since they trusted the decision was in the interests of the company. As a reward for their time and sacrifice, we back-paid them when they returned the next month, then modified the company’s bonus plan to include a larger percentage of our EBITDA. This wasn’t an altruistic act. The employees had earned it by pushing to deliver a great product during tough circumstances. It’s hard to overstate how important this is. If you’re greedy and self-centered in a global catastrophe, you may well destroy your company.
- Contracts Were Made To Be Broken
Although I don’t recommend throwing out contracts wholesale, an ongoing pandemic situation requires you to be flexible and understanding. For us, this meant working closely with many of our customers with a heavy concentration in hospitality to reduce or even eliminate fees while they weathered the worst of the storm. Business relationships built on trust endure and grow over time, so it pays to help your customers out when they truly need it.
These were some of the most important lessons we’ve learned from the Covid-19 pandemic. If they resonate with you, or if you have any other nuggets of wisdom to share, please feel free to share.
Originally published on Forbes Technology Council.
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