The dotcom crash happened almost exactly 20 years ago today. I felt the same shiver then as I did this week. The company I was with, Conducent, saw revenues decline by 70%, followed by a 75% drop from the Nasdaq. $8 trillion of wealth was destroyed, and digital media couldn’t even be given away because doubleclick ad delivery contracts were so high that the media wasn’t worth the ad serving.
Tough decisions had to be made, and startups experienced immense challenges. But from that, we all gained a lot of resilience and found ways forward. So while I felt that old shiver, I also know there’s hope.
I don’t have all the answers on how to weather this crisis, but I do want to offer up 10 subtle but important considerations for business leaders who are going through this kind of struggle for the first time.
1. Cash is king. You will always need more of it than you realize. There are many ways to cut costs, and most things you think you need, you don’t. Maximize cash all the ways you can. Most are painful — even one-ply toilet paper. Don’t wait; do them.
2. Your reputation is longer than this crisis. Act with integrity and honesty. Many of the things you may need to do with your product, team, investors, customers, etc. are hard. Do them with kindness and honesty. People remember how you act. Your reputation is your future.
3. Focus on what matters. In times of optimism and plenty of cash, it’s easy to have exciting adventurous projects and products. It’s time to shelve them and pick what matters and myopically focus on it. You can dream later.
4. Move to quality. Customers will flock to quality and value in your area. If you are not the quality value offering, you’re in trouble. Find your new quality value product market fit and offer it.
5. Get grit. The last five market years have been defined by the importance of good sleep, radical work-life balance, and no email after hours. I survived and thrived each crisis by being gritty and working hard, longer, faster and smarter than I ever imagined. Everyone defines success in their own way, but I strongly recommend finding your grit and executing aggressively in hard times.
6. Respect each other. Leaders, please respect your team. Employees, please respect your leader. Hard times are super stressful, and leaders and teams can become anxious and stressed out. They may make dumb decisions, not appreciate you enough, and even lose it. Take a breath and practice as much common understanding as you can.
7. Negotiate. We are all in this together, so in an effort to cut costs realistically, talk to your vendors about discounts, rationalizing payment schedules and trade.
8. Speak plainly. Cut the industry jargon. This industry babble isn’t tolerable in the best of times, but in hard times it is painful. Everyone listens closer than ever before in hard times, so speak clearly and honestly to everyone inside and outside your company. It will be appreciated.
9. Talk to someone. Whether you’re an employee or an entrepreneur, you need someone to talk to in hard times to relieve stress and gain perspective and support. It is critical; find the right person.
10. Never give up. The last one who doesn’t give up wins. Focus on everything you can do to be successful, and never give up until it’s not your choice. Whether you win or lose, you’ll feel better knowing you did everything you could.
With the various crises I’ve experienced over the last 20 years, I was almost waiting for the next one to rear up. I’m hopeful that this one will be somewhat moderate and brief. But in the event this takes longer than we expect, it’ll be important to keep practicing these mantras.
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