What 2020 Taught Me as an Entrepreneur?

While entrepreneurship is not something for the faint-hearted, I am sure all will agree that 2020 has been a year that humbled everyone, across the board. The year full of hard lessons compelled us to re-evaluate our priorities, re-calibrate how we define business priorities, and restructure how work is done. It forced us to look at how our teams collaborate and how we utilize our time. The world, it seemed at many points, was upside down. Or was it downside up?

For me, this year was a year of learning… learning that perhaps would have eluded me had life carried on as usual, in its frantic pace. So, if 2020 were to be a teacher, here would be the lessons I learned from her.

1) From crisis comes clarity: As the crisis loomed over us and became a tangible reality, the fog of uncertainty descended casting its grey shadow. None of us had experienced or gone through a crisis of this magnitude. Never before had the world come to a grinding halt as it had now. We were in the midst of the crisis of a century! As we went deep into the throes of a lockdown looking for a light at the end of a dark tunnel, we realized that this was a time of contemplation. It was a time of reflection. It was ‘the’ time to review and re-imagine each and every aspect of life and business. Surprisingly, it was the crisis that brought about a kind of clarity never experienced before.

It was this clarity that helped us identify and differentiate the urgent from the important. It helped us relearn how to look at situations and opportunities and in that taught us to focus on what really mattered.

It was this crisis-induced clarity that helped us identify what bets were worth taking and which ones should be dropped. It helped us re-calibrate our short-term goals and with it align our long-term vision with a strategy to enable it. For us, crisis brought clarity, and with this clarity came wisdom and ultimately joy.

2) The role of the 3 T’s (Trust, Teamwork, and Transparency): Trust, teamwork, and transparency are essential to make any relationship successful. These 3 T’s have been our guiding principles and helped us navigate the pandemic-induced challenges with confidence.

The lockdown pushed us into a completely distributed, remote working model. The scale was not something that we, or perhaps, any organization, had ever enabled before within such a short time duration. Business Continuity Planning had to go through an incredible stress test, especially as the entire workforce was working from home. For us, our actions had to clearly focus on building and driving these 3 T’s to ensure that the business, and most importantly, our employees were not impacted.

We realized that to make this situation work for us and ensure heightened productivity, our entire workforce had to be highly engaged. Along with helping and aiding our workforce to stay productive and enabled at work, we also undertook several initiatives to help our team members as well as our fellow citizens. The crisis was an opportunity not only to look after our fellow mates and ensure their well-being but also take our social responsibility more seriously than ever before.

Along with this, we made sure we established clear communication pathways and protocols to build the bedrock of trust. This helped us map and set expectations correctly and ensured high team morale. The clarity in communication also helped us build trust with our customers while ensuring that their expectations were correctly managed.

In fact, we had two major implementations smack in the middle of the lockdown in the first quarter.We did not let the COVID crisis impact the annual appraisals. Those were conducted as per the plan and we also rolled out salary hikes and promotions. Most importantly, we ensured that there were no layoffs.

Our actions drove trust, teamwork, and transparency and helped us come out unscathed at the other end.

3) Self-doubt is a fuel: It is only when we come face to face with our fears that we discover that in fear lies the opportunity to grow. For entrepreneurs, this fact extends a step further – scaling a business becomes directly proportional to scaling oneself.

However, being authentic to oneself and acknowledging the presence of fear or inadequacy can be daunting. It is hard being completely honest to oneself because ultimately, you know your truth, isn’t it?

Without meandering down the philosophical path, I’ll say that scaling a business, especially in a time such as this, meant going through moments of oft-debilitating self-doubt and inadequacy. However, like every problem, this too has a solution. For me, it was recognizing that self-doubt and inadequacy could be used as fuel to become more thorough with work, become more creative in seeking solutions, and be more determined to see things through. It is often self-doubt that ultimately helps us to try harder to be better.

Self-doubt, instead of being a hindrance, can be the fuel to power individuals and teams. All we need is a slight change in perspective and completely and wholeheartedly adopt a growth mindset.

4) Every crisis is an opportunity in disguise: We have learned of this statement back in school, but it was only in 2020 that we all could truly live this statement.The creativity displayed by small and medium business owners to discover new ways and methods to deliver services has been nothing short of awe-inspiring. The service industry, for example, has revamped itself completely and has come up with new avenues to offer no-contact services and expand into new markets.

Be it trimming extraneous costs, ineffective or inefficient processes, or other non-financial costs, this year also provided the much-needed opportunity to pause, reflect, and identify all those inefficiencies that creep into the organizational structure, especially as it grows and matures.

Most importantly, the crisis also gave the opportunity to increase strategic depth within organizations. Given that a crisis never really gives due notice and can be a surprise visitor, we now know that robust back-up plans are important, irrespective of the size of the organization. As such, creating fail-safe back-up plans for all key individuals and teams to handle any emergency have to be organizational imperatives going forward. Planning for an emergency is not an option anymore. It is essential.

5) Those who go digital, flourish : Perhaps the most important lesson that the pandemic taught businesses was the need to digitalize. The importance of digital technologies to enable work, teams, and drive business agility to be more responsive to challenging business situations.

For us, it demanded aligning our sales and marketing department with this new normal and introducing new processes to enable them at work. Additionally, we also scaled our online channels to reach a wider audience and focused on providing our customers with an integrated digital experience.

Our digital presence also helped us become more accessible and to listen better. To level this marketing play-field, we partnered with specialized marketing players who helped us scale up deftly and aided us to implement innovative techniques, and drove creative messaging. We are now able to engage with our audience seamlessly and confidently.

For 2021, the writing on the wall is clear – Establishing a good digital presence today is imperative to drive business tomorrow.

Ready for 2021

The sudden appearance of the pandemic threw everyone off-balance. Those who adapted survived. Those who didn’t, well…didn’t. Several organizations pivoted their business, especially to identify new opportunities, collaborate, and serve customers in a world dictated by social-distancing and no contact.

While we look forward to 2021, we cannot ignore the fact that 2020 has, in fact, altered everything that we recognized as normal. The path ahead is not easy, but it is one that holds within itself the opportunity to not only do more and grow more but do it differently as well.

This brings me to the words of the venerable Haruki Murakami…words that hold true in this time:

“Once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in.”

2020 might not have been a great year. But it has been a noteworthy year…a year that teaches us to take heed of what has transpired and establishes that to evolve is essential to stay relevant.

Ashish Katkar

Ashish is Managing Director @ Verinite. His passion is to build a next generation technology company focused on BFSI industry in emerging economies. An ardent Arsenal, Amitabh, Kishore Kumar and Sachin Tendulkar fan.