How crisis can bring about the best in business

"In a crisis, beware of the danger- but recognise the opportunity," John F Kennedy. Highlighting the light in the dark, this is perhaps one of the most salient quotes for our times.

Business stories at the moment are mostly of the same flavour of doom and gloom- the UN has predicted an economic shrinkage second only to the great depression, Buzzfeed has been the first media giant to buckle under diminished advertising revenue and even unicorn start-up Deliveroo has publicly acknowledged its lockdown woes.

However, it shouldn’t be forgotten that the UK is still one of the most desirable places to found a business, thanks in part to one of the lowest corporate tax rates in the G20. Even after one month into lockdown, over £600m has been fundraised by British start-ups, showing there is light in this economic period.

The pandemic is being dubbed ‘a trial by fire’ for start-ups but are there any silver linings emerging from it? Outlined herein are some pandemic takeaways any successful entrepreneur must bear in mind for the future.

The power of internal reflection

As a business based at airports, the news of border closures leading up to the eventual lockdown had me asking a question echoed by every entrepreneur in the UK: “what’s going to happen to our business?” This quickly shifted to “what’s the opportunity?”

The pandemic forced us to look internally with an unparalleled rigour, looking inwards to establish whether the service we offered could stand up to the imminent headwinds. The complete re-think of the business we had spent years developing made us ask important questions about the viability and structure of our strategy which would never have been necessary under BAU conditions.

This reflection proved immensely useful- at Karshare we had existing infrastructure (in fact we were days away from a new launch) and knew there were two choices: use it or lose it. We knew our service was essential but the strategic reshuffle made us think wider, not smaller, and in 10 days we had developed a brand out of thin air- one that used our business infrastructure to mobilise key services in cities around the UK free of charge.

This application would not have occurred to us without this opportunity for inward reflection and, given the lessons we are learning right now, leaves our business in a stronger position than it was before. Every entrepreneur will understand that these reflections should be born out of choice, rather than forced necessity.

Connecting with communities

Most consumer facing businesses try to connect with the public in one fundamental way- their pockets. Whilst this may come under different guises, the pandemic has revealed which businesses merely carry a veneer of kindness and which have community built into their roots.

As the crisis set in, people’s empathy became electrified. The feeling of wanting to help had never been higher but a growing number of people were evidently frustrated by a lack of tangible ‘action’ they could do.

In what will likely come to define the lockdown period, local businesses and individuals came to the fore as those in the best position to channel this community goodwill. We were speaking to charities who had never been under so much pressure. One charity Karshare was in touch with, a foodbank, was getting their usual demand plus 20 new enquiries every day.

Listening to these stories was a profound experience and made us realise that for many charities and people – getting hold of a car was no longer a ‘nice to have’ – it was a simple must. Connecting with others in the community who had a car and were willing to donate it was a way to make this happen. We call this the “Match”, simply bringing two sides of the puzzle together.

In some cases, the generosity extended beyond the car and an excellent example is the Hounslow Soup Kitchen. The person who loaned their car to the volunteer at the charity listened to their story and was so inspired is now helping them source food.

This pandemic has allowed us to interact with the community that surrounds us and truly make a difference. Knowing these communities and making connections that will last far beyond the lockdown has been a privileged experience and is one that will define my entrepreneurial perspective in the years to come.

A test of personal mettle

Adapting and pivoting during a crisis comes more naturally to an entrepreneur as we are used to thinking on our feet. But for our teams this may be harder. This crisis has asked entrepreneurs to become true business leaders within their companies, providing an energy and stability to keep their business running as well as looking after those within it.

To build the brand of Karshare in ten days required a tremendous team effort - but it is important to recognize people cannot run indefinitely on adrenalin. It was crucial to allow the team proper breaks and ample time to switch off and re-energise.

How employers reacted to this situation and supported their staff when the going got tough, will define their brand and reputation for years to come.

An entrepreneur is only as successful as the quality of people they surround themselves with and those that stand up to this test will garner a thriving and growth culture that no amount of company spa days can buy.

Being patient with tech

Launching any piece of tech can be a challenge. The inevitable raft of bugs, holes and errors undiscovered in testing will rear their heads once you go public, reflective of the tightrope between speed to market and great customer experience walked by every start-up.

One advantage of the crisis is it has enabled the tech for our regular business, Car & Away, to be shipped and tested ‘in the dark’. It’s a developer’s dream to be able to test a product without the pressure of customers, and having more extended time to do this is invaluable. In addition, getting more “volunteers” to test these apps is a great advantage, given the number of car users available and willing to help whilst on furlough or based working from home in the near term.

In conclusion…

Entrepreneurs thrive on opportunity - it’s our whole way of life. This pandemic has been economically, socially and mentally tough for everyone and will more likely get worse before it gets better. Yet something entrepreneurs also live by is a constant hunger for learning- and managing through this process. Whether pivoting, accelerating, preserving or re-prioritising it is one of the best real-time lessons you could ever experience.