The world may be exhausted, but 2020 is truly an unprecedented time, especially for entrepreneurs. I’ve been an entrepreneur for more than 20 years and have to say, I have never been so happy to not be running a business. The majority of my friends are in leadership positions, and the stories I hear daily are tragic. But with adversity comes opportunity. There may be some (crazy) folks out there thinking: How can I take advantage of this dumpster fire? If you are spending your nights thinking about joining the ranks of Google, Netflix, and Warby Parker—all launched during economic recessions—allow me to provide some simple advice that could help you along your journey.
1. Break every startup rule
The rules don’t matter right now. When to raise money, if you need a co-founder, what an MVP consists of, how much runway you should calculate for—throw it all out the window. Succeeding in wildly disruptive times requires wildly disruptive techniques. Ditch all of the classic thinking and do whatever it takes to get a leg up. For any aspiring entrepreneur, this is a time of "kill or be killed."
2. Go it alone
I’ve started businesses alone, and I’ve started with partners— both with varying success. In normal times, I would always recommend exploring both paths to determine if there are significant upsides or downsides to either. Now, however, is a time to depend on the only person you can fully trust—yourself. It can be scary to go at it alone—I can attest—but as tumultuous as everyone’s lives are right now, depending on another person to be able to be perfectly aligned with you is a recipe for disaster. This is one of those times to find a business that doesn’t require a cofounder (for instance, if you’re not a techie, this isn’t a time for a hardcore tech play for you) and find a way where you can depend on yourself to succeed.
3. But also ask for help
No one has ever been successful without asking for help. It may feel unnatural to call in favors while everyone is struggling, but you have to suck up that pride, tell your ego to buzz off, and cash in whatever goodwill you’ve built up to create a competitive advantage. As long as you are credible, professional, and always do your best to pay it back— the folks you ask will be more than happy to help.
4. Use global markets as your crystal ball
The United States has really screwed up our pandemic response, unfortunately. It will take our economy and startups longer to bounce back than other areas of the world. You would be smart to analyze which industries abroad are coming back online first, which startups are the first to shine through the post-COVID-world, and where/when money is flowing from investors to new ideas. Some of the greatest companies in history have been formed this way, and there is no shame for taking cues from others. Think of it as a temporary crystal ball.
5. Stop thinking, 'What if?'
I’ve heard a number of entrepreneurs lamenting about missed opportunities during the pandemic. Why didn’t I start a business reselling PPE in March! Why didn’t I buy Tesla calls! Why didn’t I start a local delivery business when I knew the local economies were going to crash? Rid yourself of that thinking immediately, as it’s a trap. Entrepreneurs have to look forward exclusively. Direct your mind’s energy toward 2021 and 2022. How will the new world look? How will we humans think, act, buy, and choose differently? What will we need that we didn’t need before? (or vice versa). That is what will lead you to your next great idea.
It is easy to write an article like this and give advice. It is harder to follow it and stay strong. I can’t think of too many things more difficult than being forced to start a business right now and survive on it.
Over my twenty years as an entrepreneur, I spent about 75% of that time failing, 20% on the wire, and 5% crushing it. I am one of the lucky ones. I translated that 5% into wealth, which allows me to “skip” this period and not dive in the startup pool, but I’m empathetic to my fellow entrepreneurs still in the fight.
With that, the last piece of advice is to fail fast. Entrepreneurs thrive on our gut. If you start to go down the path on a new idea, and your gut is telling you it’s a loser, kill it off as quickly as you possibly can, and move on to the next one. This is what I would do right now.
Fail fast, work hard, ask for help, and depend on yourself.
John Roa is an entrepreneur, humanitarian, investor, and host of the iHeartRadio podcast The John Roa Show. His no-holds-barred memoir, A Practical Way To Get Rich...And Die Trying, about his meteoric rise and fall as a tech startup founder will be published by Viking on September 8th.