How to Future-Proof Your Business: Lessons From 4 Local Tech Leaders

May 19, 2020

Some products were unknowingly built for quarantine.

The video conference platform Zoom saw a 191 percent increase in daily unique users from February 28 to March 28, according to data by Okta. Before COVID-19, Zoom was used mainly in the office. Today, employees rely on it for remote work purposes, students and educators use it for online learning, and family and friends connect while practicing safe social distancing.

The Zoom boom wasn’t just a result of increased user engagement. Without a pre-implemented business strategy, the company wouldn’t be able to seize opportunities such as offering Zoom to universities for free, providing needed customer support and upgrading security measures.

Even for companies whose products aren’t as perfectly positioned for a pandemic as Zoom’s, pre-implemented business strategies can pay off. 

Leaders across New York discuss their plans for product pivots, remote work models, communication procedures with teams and customers, and responsible fiscal spending. 

 

Rahul Khosla
Founder and CEO

Even without a pandemic like COVID-19, Khosla said Heady will always be a fiscally-conservative company. After receiving a credit line from a bank that focuses on startups, the team only uses the credit frugally and pays it back on time and in full.

 

Prior to COVID-19, what was a key strategy or plan you put in place to future-proof your business, and why? 

Our strategy at Heady has always been fiscal conservatism, and we’re seeing it pay off during COVID-19. Specifically, our plans involved developing a long-term relationship with a banker and focusing on sustainable growth.

As a startup, it can be difficult to get a credit line. After being turned down by several national banks, Heady got an introduction to Signature Bank, a bank that focuses on startups. Over the next few years, we only used credit frugally when we were sure we could pay it back on time and in full.

Our philosophy was the opposite of what some startup advisors argued, which was that growing companies should borrow in order to obtain market share. Now, overextended businesses are rueing that advice! As lines of credit shrink throughout the economy, we’re happy to have taken this step to future-proof Heady.

 

How is that strategy paying off for you now? 

Thanks to our good credit and close relationship with financial institutions, Heady is well equipped to weather this pandemic. 

When shelter-in-place orders began last month, we called our banker. He doubled our line of credit, with minimal paperwork and at a reasonable interest rate. Meanwhile, American Express offered us an exclusive line of credit for businesses with a history of paying in full and carrying no balance.

Whether or not we use these lines of credit, they give us flexibility. So far, we’re proud to have kept on all our employees.

 

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from this experience, and how do you hope to apply it to your business moving forward?

So far, Heady hasn’t taken on any outside investment, in part because we have valued final say on important company decisions. I’m not opposed to fundraising, but building a company without has definitely imparted lessons. The most important one is the value of profitability.

COVID-19 is a perfect illustration of why profitability is important. Startups that scaled in the hopes of capturing the biggest market share are now highly leveraged and falling flat. In a crisis situation, it’s even more difficult for them to find investors, much less ones that align with their vision and culture.

 

Matt Cimaglia
Co-Founder and CEO

Prior to COVID-19, the workforce at Third Summit was already fully remote. Cimaglia said they hired remote employees in order to offer their clients a wider range of talent and lower costs due to reduced overhead. While other companies have adjusted to working from home, Third Summit has experienced little disruption when it comes to customer communication. 

 

Prior to COVID-19, what was a key strategy or plan you put in place to future-proof your business, and why?

From design to rollout, our flagship product, Alteon, was completely created by a remote workforce. Hiring the best talent, regardless of their location, has been part of my business strategy for the past six years. While leaders have long considered working from home the last resort, I’ve witnessed companies succeed by distinctly leveraging their remote workforce as a sales point, allowing them to pitch at lower costs because of reduced overhead and offer more robust solutions to their clients.

 

How is that strategy paying off for you now? 

Most people understand the commonly touted benefits of a remote workforce: lower overhead, higher employee morale and a greater talent pool to assemble your team. But one of the lesser-appreciated strengths, which I learned firsthand many years ago, is risk mitigation. While the global COVID-19 catastrophe has devastated many companies, we’re extremely fortunate that our internal workflow has remained more or less the same as it was before. We have people spread across the world, so we’re used to hopping on virtual calls, collaborating on Google Docs and strategizing via shareable spreadsheets. 
 

Flexibility and creativity are essential to running a successful company.

 

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from this experience, and how do you hope to apply it to your business moving forward?

Flexibility and creativity are essential to running a successful company. Because of how quickly the world changed, we developed at least three distinct go-to-market strategies between January and April, some of which hinged on appearances at conferences and film festivals that were eventually canceled. While we hope to return to those shelved strategies in a year or two, what mattered more than a well-developed plan was our ability to pivot. We were able to generate strong new ideas through creativity and collaboration. Ultimately, that flexibility is what will guide us as we continue to grow. 

 

Rich Sarkis
Co-Founder and CEO

As COVID-19 began to pose a serious threat, Sarkis knew it was time to pivot the company to a work-from-home model. Prior, they had implemented what remote resources they would need should a situation arise, including teleconferencing software, virtual help desks and added email security. Even after Reonomy returns to the office, they will continue to bolster their remote work toolkit should they need to pivot home again. 

 

Prior to COVID-19, what was a key strategy or plan you put in place to future-proof your business, and why?

Pre-COVID-19, we committed some serious time and effort into bolstering our remote work capabilities for the future. While we value the face-to-face interactions and organic conversations spurred in an office environment, we went into the planning process with a deep appreciation for the flexibility that many of our employees expect and sometimes require. 

Our strategy involved putting into place the infrastructure to support a remote workforce, which included the configuration of a teleconferencing software used to bridge the gap between our conference rooms and remote employees, a virtual help desk to field and service any IT-related issues, and added security to our email provider.
 

I’m convinced that bolstering our company’s toolkit for remote work will help to future-proof our business.

 

How is that strategy paying off for you now?

As COVID-19 began to pose a greater threat to our workforce’s safety, we made the decision to transition fully to remote work and were faced with the challenge of keeping up the team’s momentum amidst a global crisis. At that point, we held our breath, recognizing that our company’s productivity for the foreseeable future would rely on a plan configured for our employees’ flexibility, rather than in response to a global pandemic. 

We entered into those first few weeks with a full calendar of product releases, ambitious new business and retention goals, and a roster of new hires awaiting onboarding. Many of the associated meetings and onboardings had never been fully conducted from remote environments and involved some excellent cross-functional collaboration to support these essential functions. Without that foresight to enable our team for remote work, I’m not sure we would have been able to execute as seamlessly as we did. 

 

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from this experience, and how do you hope to apply it to your business moving forward?

There is no question that there will continue to be unknowns as we navigate COVID-19 and anticipate any other challenges that may impact our business. In this case, we were fortunate that a plan aimed at improving our employees’ experiences also supports our current needs. 

From this experience, I’m convinced that bolstering our company’s toolkit for remote work will help to future-proof our business. We’ll take a different lens to the challenge, extending beyond employee experience with greater prioritization around security, our ability to serve a broader customer base and competitive edge. 

 

Digital dating platform OkCupid has seen a spike in user engagement due to stay-at-home orders. Using data analytics, Charytan saw that users were still using the OkCupid platform for relationship purposes but for a new short-term outcome i.e virtual dates. The team then added new matchmaking questions for users that prompted their opinions on COVID-19 and social distancing. 

 

Prior to COVID-19, what was a key strategy or plan you put in place to future-proof your business, and why?  

We’re always thinking about creating the best possible experience for our millions of daters around the world. At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, we quickly found that over 90 percent of our global respondents were interested in continuing to date from home. As social distancing measures were put into place, we began adding new OkCupid questions related to coronavirus weekly, and we’ve already received over 1.5 million responses. This helped us understand how daters were continuing to date, what virtual dates they were enjoying, and how they are going to keep matching and connecting with people during this time. More importantly, it helped us match people on what matters to them, from what they’re binge-watching at home to their ideal virtual date. 
 

We’re always thinking about creating the best possible experience for our millions of daters around the world.

 

How is that strategy paying off for you now? 

We’re seeing activity and engagement skyrocket on OkCupid since the beginning of March. As a region started implementing social distancing policies, engagement among daters on OkCupid in that area surged. As more and more people started working from home, we saw more likes, more messages and more conversations. And people are doing more than just matching, messaging and liking on our platform — they’re actually going on dates (from home). There was a 473 percent increase in OkCupid daters saying they’ve been on a virtual date in April compared to March. 

 

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from this experience, and how do you hope to apply it to your business moving forward? 

OkCupid has always been the place for people who are willing to put more into dating and looking for meaningful relationships. When signing up for OkCupid you have to answer at least 15 in-app questions before we even show you to other people. 

We’ve learned a lot about current dating culture as we’ve seen our daters’ behaviors changing over time. People on OkCupid are slowing down and being more mindful than ever before about who they are connecting with and how. The OkCupid experience encourages this behavior already, but it’s always encouraging to see people turning to our platform for connections during this time. 

 

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