Part 4 of the coronavirus guides is less of a guide, rather we felt it important to get the views of the Decksender community in the trenches. So this week we interview Richard Harris of okappy and Cedric Torossian of Pollenise.
Each represents the two sides of our start-up community, Richard as founder of his workforce management platform and Cedric as serial investor, entrepreneur and start-up adviser.
Our discussion, although separate, followed a similar flow. With each having a clear focus on the job at hand during lockdown and equally taking some time to embrace the change that in both cases is certainly not all bad.
What it’s like to be a start-up right now.
Like a lot of tech businesses Richard hasn’t really seen too much disruption to the day to day. Clients may have slowed but the move to remote working hasn’t impacted his team too much. As a start-up business their infrastructure is somewhat aligned towards a remote working style anyway and with the addition of regular Zoom catch-ups the changes haven’t caused a major impact. What they have seen however is a slow in customer acquisition but nothing that has hugely affected the business. Vitally they haven’t slashed their sales & marketing and this has helped to sustain a flow of new business albeit at lesser levels.
This is a really important lesson, it’s so tempting to slash marketing and sales budgets but it’s totally counterintuitive to sustaining a business for the future.
Luckily the lack of support from the Government shouldn’t cause too much of an impact for okappy. It’s a common story we hear from start-ups, how do I furlough staff when my workforce is so small? How do i access a grant for businesses that pay rates, we don’t? The only option left is the loan scheme and as Richard says he doesn’t hold out too much hope for this.
I sense an air of frustration here and it’s a story Decksender hears a lot. The focus of government’s efforts simply aren’t towards the start-up community. Hopefully that will change but until it does we need to get smart.
The upside for Richard has been far more opportunities to connect with family and refocus on what’s really important. It’s also given the okappy team a chance to complete on some of the tasks that often fall down the priority list.
The future however is a little more uncertain. With plans for a series A this year Richard is undecided as to whether this will go ahead as planned. His team have no plans to change direction as fundamentally their sector is one that’s unlikely to be hugely affected, if anything they may well see some benefits to come out of this, but their next round plans have been put on hold.
I generally get a sense from Richard that things aren’t as bad as the mainstream media would like to portray. They may be lucky in that their business model and sector are somewhat protected but a wider economic downturn affects everyone. Richard’s view point is refreshingly pragmatic though, addressing the problems they’re faced with as they arise and adapting to thrive for the future.
Views from the investor side
I started my conversation with Cedric looking to find out more about the mentality of investors right now but our interview quickly moved to something i think is more important. Namely how our culture will shift and where the future focus will lie for the investment community.
It would be fair to say Cedric is hedging his bets about the future that’s ahead of us. In his words the next six months is likely to see a bit of back to normal and a bit of behaviour change. He’s sceptical about a major cultural shift but he makes some great points on the kind of sentiment that will likely stay with us beyond coronavirus.
For too long we have separated the planet and the people, this needs to change and lockdown is helping us to realise this. His outlook suggests a trend more towards businesses based around value and margin as opposed to cheap and disposable and it makes sense. Look at the environment, the air has never been cleaner. Look also at the steps we’ve had to take to make it happen. One could argue lockdown has been a test for the tough decisions we’ll need to make soon if we want to, at least in part, stop global warming. I think if nothing else we’re beginning to understand the real value of things and be less focused on consuming the disposable junk today that becomes tomorrow’s landfill.
Sentiment is a powerful thing, as Cedric points out the hangover is likely to also include a move towards products focussed on staying at home. It’s something echoed by the Government, one of the major fears of lifting lockdown is that people won’t actually come out and prefer to stay in the place they feel safest. This creates opportunities for start-ups to tap into, the danger is that it’s too short lived to launch anything meaningful.
What is certain and something we both agree on is that investors will not be put off start-ups, especially those who aren’t in overly affected sectors and especially those with stellar ideas and businesses plans to match. After all at very early stage people are investing in people and ideas not on P&L forecasts.
On a closing note Cedric’s biggest piece of advice, get out and talk to people. Metaphorically of course but now has never been a better time to connect with investors and forge relationships.
Background on Cedric and Richard.
Cedric Torossian is a UK based serial entrepreneur, fundraiser and startup advisor specialised in the digital economy, ESG (Environment, Social, Governance), innovation, data analysis and strategy. Broad range of experience in growing startups from founder, non-exec board member, advisor and mentor building on 15+ years experience as an analyst for Wall Street investors working on investment strategies and performance projections of top listed energy, retail, consumer and media companies. With over 20 years working in London he has gained an extensive knowledge of the UK investment world from angels, family offices, VCs to private equity and hedge funds. More about Pollenise here www.pollenise.com
Okappy is a B2B workforce management platform which applies social and market-networking technology to a real business need. The need to communicate and collaborate when working with employees often at different locations, multiple subcontractors and multiple customers. Okappy gives business owners complete control of every job, every step of the way.
More about okappy here https://www.okappy.com