Being a founder in the post-COVID world is going to require a different perspective of the world.
For my entire career, I have always been someone who really values in-person relationships. Despite the fact that I’ve spent years in tech, and even my current venture is designed to help make people’s accounting and finance jobs easier, I don’t subscribe to the ideology that our entire lives should be made digital. I would much rather meet up with someone for lunch than hop on a Zoom call. I enjoy grabbing drinks and talking with friends or business associates face-to-face. I don’t mind making the commute to stop by someone else’s office. This is how I’ve built my career, but it’s also where I find most of my fulfillment in my career.
When COVID hit earlier this year, all of these social norms got flipped upside down. Our company headquarters is in Texas, and one of the things most people do here is give each other a big handshake when they see each other. All of a sudden, now we’re not supposed to do that — and it makes for a bit of awkwardness, a bit of laughter, but primarily a shared acknowledgment that nobody knows the “right thing” to do.
We’re all just trying to figure out what the future looks like, together.
As a result, I have found nearly every business leader and founder I know feeling like they need to be more empathetic than ever. Their teams can’t interact the way they used to. Companies can’t operate the ways they’ve operated in years past. Company culture, processes, procedures have all been upended — forcing everyone from the CEO down to the most entry-level employees to find ways to readjust.
Even just observing these changes in myself and within my own company, I believe the future of entrepreneurship is going to be a very different landscape than the ten or twenty years prior.
As a founder, these are five of the principles that will guide the vast majority of your decisions.
1. Founders of the future will be heavily driven by core values.
Every trend in business is pointing to a future of transparency.
We see it in the products consumers want to purchase — whether they be health products, food and beverages, clothing, even technology. People want to know that what they’re buying is good for the environment, good for their bodies, and a positive reflection on their beliefs. Which means founders who want to build impactful, lasting companies can’t just talk the talk.
The company’s actions have to reflect their core values.
Since the beginning of this year, we have run into situation after situation where we’ve had to really lean on our core values as a business. When we felt like we were rushing our product into the market, our core values reminded our leadership team that quality is what mattered — and we chose to delay our launch. And when we had an all-staff meeting a few months ago and decided we wanted to raise another small round, our core values reminded us that it was important we tell the entire team and be transparent with them about the company’s cash situation.
The more you can return back to what truly matters, the easier it will be to see the right path forward for you and your team.
2. Founders of the future will need to strike a balance between leveraging new technologies in a world starving for true human connection.
The innovation that is going to come out of the coronavirus crisis is going to be incredible.
We are going to continue to see technology evolve and strengthen within the fabric of our society. We’re already seeing it happen with companies like Zoom, which went from a helpful video conferencing solution to a worldwide phenomenon used by everyone from enterprise companies to elementary schools. As technology provides more and more solutions to these new problems we’re now faced with in the world, it’s going to cause societal changes in the ways we communicate with each other, share information, work, play, build relationships, advance our careers, and beyond.
That said, I also believe we are social creatures. We’re not going to want to interact with computers all the time. And so it’s going to be interesting to see the ways we choose to navigate these new technological solutions at our fingertips with our human desires for connection, in-person relationships, and so on.
3. Founders of the future will have different priorities when it comes to company expenses.
Before COVID, we used to forecast at least $10,000 per month in travel expenses.
Right now, we’re forecasting $0.
On the one hand, this has been a huge savings from a line item standpoint. But on the other hand, it forces a new way of doing business. For most companies, travel is directly correlated to sales, marketing, business development, partnerships — things that drive the company’s growth and revenue. By removing travel for the time being, it can save the company money in the short term, but it can also cost the company money in the long term.
It’s worth acknowledging that this pandemic is going to change the way we do business for years to come — arguably for the next decade. And so a big part of that is going to mean founders rethinking their priorities, where they choose to spend money, and how they go about accelerating growth in a world with different rules, social norms, and appetite for risk.
4. Founders of the future will lead with a heightened sense of empathy and bias awareness.
We are living in a terrific time, in the sense that there’s never been more discussion around important matters like closing the gender pay gap, empowering minorities, encouraging diversity in the workplace, etc.
That said, we are also living in a sensitive time. Employees and leaders alike have different expectations today than ever before — in terms of what it means to have a team that is diverse enough, or productive enough, or capable of receiving harsh criticism or allowing for enough flexibility without putting a strain on the company.
The mindset that everyone is equal, and that opportunities should be fair and balanced, is becoming more and more prevalent in business — and rightfully so. Which means founders of the future can’t try to hold on to the way things “used to be,” and must instead embrace what could be in a world where people feel empowered to be their most authentic selves.
5. Founders of the future will hopefully be more prepared for the unknown.
When COVID hit, our company was fortunate to be able to go virtual without any kind of delay.
But I am not naive to the fact that we were lucky, and that in a different scenario, or a different sort of global crisis, we might have had a much harder time adjusting.
2020 is the year of testing a company’s ability to react. When things don’t go as planned, how do you manage through it? Logistically, technologically, socially, emotionally? This entire year has been one big event after another, and the year isn’t even over yet. Which means, as we are all learning in different ways, that the answer isn’t to just wait for COVID to vanish and for things to “go back to the way they were.” It’s about learning how to prepare for the unexpected, and look for ways to move forward even if you are faced with unforeseen circumstances.
As a longtime founder, and a big believer in the ways entrepreneurship can help the world, I am looking forward to the role founders will play in our future.