When the world’s largest event, the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo got canceled, you should have taken the hint that “business as usual” is just not going to cut it right now. Our businesses have all had to sidestep, endure, reinvent or even dissolve during this unforeseen, pandemic-riddled year. Unfortunately, the pandemic is not over, nor is the end in plain sight.
Amazingly, the world has seemed to somehow carry on with incredible resilience. The stock market has rebounded, people actually elect to dine out in heated outdoor hamster balls (at least in the cold New England winter where I am from), and grandma is suddenly a video conferencing guru. If you had ambitions of starting a business when the pandemic first hit, you would have been labeled quite foolish. Now, one year in, the narrative has changed completely.
There is a major difference between the tactics of sustaining an existing business and starting a brand-new venture during this COVID-19 crisis. The former has involved implementing emergency protocols, unexpected pivoting, unavoidable adapting and the general acceptance of ambiguity where absolute certainty used to hold court. In my own business of 10+ years, I can say for certain that I have had to make all of the above adjustments. However, pursuing a brand-new venture right now is playing with a whole new deck of cards.
We now have access to the “pandemic business blueprint,” complete with established do’s and don’ts as well as scores of new sociological and anthropological data. Over the past year, we have witnessed businesses who have thrived by adding the necessary virtual and digital amenities that these isolating times demand. We have also observed a strange bend in human behavior: people are now house-bound and no longer dependent on brick and mortars for school and work. We have rediscovered and enhanced our home life as the nucleus of all societal activity. The clean-slated new business venturer has all this data accessible from the get-go, and there are countless paths to success that can be extracted from this year-long case study.
There is never a perfect time to start a business, so why not today?
One thing to note about the entrepreneurial calling is that there never seems to be a perfectly planned moment to start a business. The reality of this path is more accurately depicted by many unplanned circumstances that yield unique opportunities. These opportunities need to be promptly seized and fulfilled to ultimately take the first steps towards launching the startup. The pandemic is no different. There are now unique, unprecedented opportunities that are available and begging to be harvested by brave visionaries who can see past today’s obvious obstacles. The mindset of these adventurers must shift from “starting a business in spite of the pandemic” to instead, “starting a business as a result of the pandemic.” If you had been planning a startup for years and are just now deciding to pull the trigger, I would be cautious. Chances are, you had not factored in (or even dreamed of) all of today’s current limitations. However, if your dreams of starting a business were inspired and fueled as a direct result of the pandemic, things would now be getting interesting.
A long-time friend of mine—and serial entrepreneur—Joe Kwan is in the midst of such an opportunistic venture with Patron of the Find, his new boutique that sells rare global artisan goods. Pre-COVID, Joe held many marketing positions and started numerous retail businesses in both fashion and furniture sales. He understands the startup process from conception to renting warehouse and retail spaces, and ultimately managing inventory. Recently, Joe seized a unique chance to open his store in the absolute most prime of locations—Boston’s coveted Newbury Street.
“Landlords were struggling to fill retail spaces during COVID, and few people wanted to take a chance on expensive, long-term triple-net rentals.” Kwan recalls. “Instead of paying for the premium $15,000/month, I was instead able to negotiate my short-term lease as a percentage of gross sales. This was a significantly smaller risk for my startup with maximum opportunity to hit the ground running.”
Kwan also explained, “Landlords generally prefer to have their spaces activated to entice visitors as well as garner interest in future prospective renters, rather than let their shops ever sit empty for extended periods of time.”
Kwan’s business is also reflective of the current times, inspired not only by his passion, but also societal trends that he has been carefully observing. “Lots of people are now working remotely and creating spaces in their homes that are motivating and inspiring. This trend to invest in home décor and to seek out artisan items, especially those with unique stories, has increased tremendously.”
While Joe has always possessed a passion for design, travel and treasure-hunting, it was the pandemic that revealed the perfect two-fold opportunity to ultimately launch Patron of the Find. His artisan products were in high demand, and he was able to afford a boutique in the heart of Boston’s most famous shopping district —with minimal risk.
The final push
Entrepreneurs, and especially new business venturers need to ask themselves what this pandemic has revealed about society’s current needs. Then ask, what supportive measures are people now willing to offer new businesses that they weren’t before? Most importantly, how can I build a foundation for my business that will not only withstand these difficult times, but help my business flourish even more when things get back to normal? Answering these questions will undoubtedly unearth the potential successes that can be achieved in a time so muddled with uncertainty. If you can build a business that diligently faces these uncertainties head-on and extract the unique opportunities that they have bred, you may just have the key to a very unconventional yet well-timed success story.
What are some of your pandemic entrepreneurial stories? Share with us in the comments!
This article originally published on GREY Journal.