Tales & Trends of Startup Resilience

For this project, we had the privilege of interviewing 60+ seed-stage founders and VCs across the country to see how they’ve adapted to this post COVID-19 environment. Check out their startup stories.

We zoomed into their bedrooms, basements, kitchens, and home offices for honest dialogue about the strategies and tactics they employed to survive and grow during this time - hence the term, “COVID-pivot.” If you are discouraged and tired of reading doomsday reports, keep reading. This is not that kind of report.

We believe, in many cases, their COVID-pivots are more than temporary survival tactics, as they were in response to three to five years' worth of consumer/enterprise behavior compressed into 90 days. As our team looked into the future, we were encouraged by what we saw. In the short-run, COVID-19 has laid bare the deep inequalities that still plague our country, but the aftermath may give us a road to a more equitable and free society.

- Paige Robinson, Founder and CEO at Will Reed

COVID Pivot #1: Sales

Empathy wins deals.

"The IT security space is notorious for using a challenger sales approach to inform customers of long-term risks. We changed our whole sales playbook because we realized our customers were not just working from home, they were working from 'crisis centers,' often caring for aging parents, homeschooling their children, and worrying about their own job security. No one needs to be scared into buying anything right now."

Dave Cole, Co-Founder and CEO at Open Raven

Be about the customer’s customer.

Our platform enables residential landlords to manage their rentals from anywhere. With social distancing measures in place, overnight, landlords were forced to move all in-person interaction online. We helped landlords pivot to contactless rent, video maintenance, communication, and screenings, so that they could safely serve their customers virtually.

Ryan Barone, Founder, CEO and CTO at RentRedi

Add a 'trauma scale' to the qualifying process.

Even though ContractWrangler cuts corporate spend by bringing transparency to customers’ legal agreements, we still have to assess where our buyer sits on the 'trauma scale.' Prospects that are still in a state of trauma are not ready to buy.

Neil Peretz, Co-Founder and General Counsel at ContractWrangler

Relationship selling is not limited to the field.

As a digital banking service, we used to have a traditional field sales team. Now, we’ve been forced to have an inside-only sales model, and it’s working. Our sales approach is less fluffy with dinners and coffees and is even more centralized on listening and empathizing with customer pain.

Everett Cook, Founder and CEO at Rho

VC Takeaway:

"In this environment, you must be selling a painkiller, not a vitamin."

Mark Terbeek, Partner at Greycroft

COVID Pivot #2: Marketing

Content is the new advertising.

"At Almanac, we pride ourselves on being the largest open-source library of customizable business documents. When shelter-in-place orders were enacted, we compiled best practices for remote work, leaning on contributors from GitLab and DuoLingo to write the 'bible' on this topic. We increased product adoption by publishing fast, informative content that was consistent with our mission."

Adam Nathan, Co-Founder and CEO at Almanac

Leverage the power to assemble.

We’ve been able to bring together people in ways that were impossible pre-COVID. Our dream customers for our IoT Blockchain developer platform are from all over the world, and are now readily available and willing to join us in a video conference at a moment's notice.

Josef Zankowicz, Co-Founder and Advisor at NXM Labs

Don’t sell, inform.

As the leader of a social media technology platform, we’ve seen a shift in consumer behavior during COVID-19. People want access to information; they don’t want to be subjected to programmatic advertising campaigns.

Rolan Reichel, CEO at Custom Social

Conversations are moving faster than ever.

Given how quickly things are changing for consumer e-commerce and retail brands, we built a real-time dashboard of marketing trends and articles. This dashboard helped these brands make data-driven decisions about their images and videos in the COVID-19 environment.

Hiro Tien, Co-Founder and CEO at Viralspace.ai

VC Takeaway:

"It’s never been more crucial for technical founders to align their messaging around customer needs versus product features. Most companies do not need to abort their mission, but all companies must re-evaluate their messaging in the current environment."

T.M. Ravi, Founder and Managing Director at The Hive

COVID Pivot #3: Pricing

Customers expect to try before they buy.

"When COVID-19 first appeared in the United States, hospital phone systems were inundated with questions from patients. We used our AI chat technology to create a dynamic Q&A product that lived on hospital websites, providing real-time answers from the WHO and the CDC. We gave it away for free to new and existing customers, allowing healthcare systems to see what a product like ours could do, while also helping people in a time of crisis. The data insights from the Q&A feature are now driving additional paid offerings."

Israel Krush, Co-Founder and CEO at Hyro

Extend the renewal period.

The buyer [Human Resources] of our compensation software has always had to fight for budget, and with COVID-19 affecting many of their teams, we knew it wasn’t the right time to talk about contract renewals, so we extended their contract to let them focus on the work at hand.

Bethanye Blount, Founder and CEO at Compaas

Remove barriers to adoption.

The average enterprise has over 180 tools, yet we’ve found ourselves in a moment where companies are re-evaluating all aspects of their tech stack. Because we are a remote meeting platform, we doubled our number of free users to make sure Hugo is a part of that re-evaluation equation.

Darren Chait, Co-Founder and COO at Hugo

Repackage product tiers.

We repackaged the base product for our AI-powered CX platform to focus on the features that solved our customers’ greatest pain points in this season, and then made it more affordable, so we could increase market share.

Venky Krishnaswamy, Founder and CEO at Koopid

VC Takeaway:

"Customers need options more than ever right now. We’ve seen more portfolio companies offering creative long-term and short-term payment options."

Andy McLoughlin, Partner at Uncork Capital


July 20, 2020

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