Photo by Dimitri Karastelev on Unsplash

FOUNDER ADVICE

Entrepreneurship in Times of COVID

(With Apologies to Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

What follows is a letter Quona Capital partner Ganesh Rengaswamy sent to founders we work with across Asia last week.

Dear Founders,

We have been following the spread of COVID over last few weeks. I hope all of you are stress-testing video conferencing like never before and avoiding travel as much as possible for the next few weeks. Some of the most balanced and thoughtful communications I have seen in the last several weeks are the Singapore health minister’s update on February 29 and the WHO-China Joint mission report.

The world collectively hopes the virus is stemmed soon. But the best entrepreneurs plan to manage risk, and the risk of COVID slowing the world down warrants a plan (in some countries, the additional risk of a general economic slowdown could pose a double whammy). A difficult global economic situation is easier to assess in hindsight — but much harder to have the foresight to predict if it’s likely to end up as a slowdown or downturn or shutdown.

Let’s hope longterm economic damage will be limited, and many short-term issues are potentially caused by overreactions and fear. But it’s good to be cautious while keeping a calm mind. From March through at least May 2020, we recommend you pay attention to the following so that your business is calibrated to manage through any slowdown/downturn or economic shutdown:

  1. Be lean and maximize your business runway
  • Depending on the stage of your business, ensuring business stability, positive unit economics, or operational profitability should be key milestones — what makes sense for whom depends on the stage of business.
  • Cash runway is king. Please have a plan B to extend your runway by a couple of quarters if need be. Decide if it needs to be activated or not by mid-Q2 2020.
  • Develop an aggressive plan to reduce your dependence on external fundraising in 2020 and the first half of 2021. Decide over the next 8-10 weeks if it needs to be activated.

2. Revisit business levers for minimal business impact.

  • Re-assess business dependency on marketing spend or buying revenue through digital/direct/agency spend. If Plan B needs to be activated, have a plan to dial down marketing while maintaining business stability
  • Assess the business’ dependence on consumption or retail or the Chinese supply chain. These trends will be slower to recover and activation of Plan B might have to be quicker
  • Stay on top of capital expenditures; question the necessity of every step jump capex outlay for 2020 at this point
  • Prioritize business stabilization and then plan for growth

3. For lending businesses:

  • Debt will be challenging and we have to get creative; double down on off-book, co-lending or other creative partnerships to extend your runway
  • Prioritize liquidity over cost of funds (within reason, of course)
  • Be more careful of what you originate since the origination quality is tested in tough times and the impact could hit us (HARD) down the line
  • Watch asset quality hawkishly to identify any weaknesses at the earliest possible time

4. Be on the lookout for opportunities in adversity.

  • There is no time like this to make step jump improvements in business inefficiencies
  • This is also the best time for innovations and product/channel experimentations
  • Maintain a constant dialogue with your employees to gauge and keep up morale. Help employees recognize the fact that the best businesses are usually the persistent survivors of downturns

5. Let us know how we can help!

Best,

Team Quona

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Quona Capital

Quona Capital

Quona Capital is a venture firm specializing in financial technology for inclusion in emerging markets. Learn more at quona.com.