In an article published by CNBC Make It in August of 2020, Magic Johnson was quoted saying, ‘I would just lay low’, in response to what he advised startups to do amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
“If I was an entrepreneur and started [a business] today, I think I would just lay low and see where [the economy] is going to go,”
- Magic Johnson; Enterprises Chairman and CEO
I'm sure this isn't the first celebrity turned entrepreneur who is advising the latest generation of entrepreneurs to reconsider their 'new great idea' and instead, hold off on turning it into a business, at least until there's more certainty post-pandemic. Celebrities like Drew Barrymore seem to have a different train of thought to Magic Johnson; in fact, Drew Barrymore grew her lifestyle brand during the pandemic and started up a new venture.
I don't know about you, but as optimistic of a person I am, I'd dare say, we'll be moving into 'post-pandemic' anytime soon. And, even if the world recovers faster than expected, who's to say we won't be hit with another world crisis, be it health, financial, or both. With that said, I'd like to think that now is just as good a time as any to start a business. The only difference to starting now is that we can see more of the obstacles ahead whereas prior to the pandemic, we may have been more oblivious to them.
Before going on too much of a rant, let's take a step back. It's been almost one full year since the world became affected by the start of the pandemic. The road we've all traveled to get to where we are today has likely been challenging, for some more than others, but nonetheless, it's been a transformational experience. Through all the uncertainties, there were countless businesses who decided to take the shortcomings of the pandemic situation and turn those into opportunities, and today, we'd like to share some of those businesses with you. The newly created companies we interviewed, have either an unusual startup story, have developed a unique product or service as a result of the pandemic, or share valuable insights into pandemic struggles and how they've navigated them.
Let's get ready to dive in! 👇
Jordan Walker, Justin Mitchell, and Hunter Mckinley, joined forces to come out with the voice collaboration solution, they call Yac, which was originally built to be used within their remotely distributed team at So Friendly Designs (a remote design agency they've been running for the last 6 years). They noticed that the daily stand-ups So Friendly Designs were running were almost always inconvenient for at least 1 person, which is why they decided to find an asynchronous way to keep everyone in the loop. That's when the idea for Yac came about.
Although the first version of Yac was built more than a year ago, once the pandemic hit, they saw a greater need than ever to scale Yac and release it to more remote teams to help them improve the way they communicated asynchronously. In our chat with Jordan, he emphasized the power of spoken communication and how this was one of the reasons behind what fuelled the creation of Yac.
Yac positions itself as an audio-first messaging platform that helps eliminate unnecessary meetings with voice messages, searchable transcription, and async screen sharing. Having raised over $10 million in funding from Slack, GGV Capital, Betaworks Ventures, and Active Capital since they were founded roughly a year ago, Yac is backed by some big players who know what's worth investing in so needless to say, we can expect some exciting things coming up for Yac!
"Human interaction levels have drastically deteriorated in the last 12 months, and Few was built to not only allow users to develop their physical, mental and spiritual selves... but reconnect, with real people with a passion for what they do! We call them our Positive Practitioners. "
Although the idea for Few came during the summer of 2019, it wasn't until that same November that Jamie began working more on creating something from it. When the pandemic hit, it was clear that the need for Few was more present than ever. As feelings of isolation kicked in for many, the need for human connection grew. I'm pretty sure we all can agree that the pandemic has placed stress on multiple aspects of our lives in one way or another. It's no denying that the pandemic has taken a toll on our mind and body.
With Few, along with addressing the three pillars of health: physical, mental, and spiritual fitness for their users, they are also focused on elevating small wellness and fitness businesses that have been hit hard during the pandemic. The idea is to make these businesses more accessible to users. By helping the small businesses, they're helping the masses.
Having been live for just over 3 months, Few already has around 1000 users and is ready to take on investors. Although their product and positioning is spot on, what's most attractive, and likely why users are flocking to their platform, isn't because of simply what they offer in terms of health and wellness experiences. Apart from addressing the 3 pillars of health emphasizes in their product, Few aims to educate users on the importance of nourishing the full self. Creating awareness and bringing people into their conscious realm. This idea of making people more aware when they are doing something, and more mindful of it, is an important part of Few's mission. Inspiring and educating their users to embody every action is key for them. Although you can only find Few in a select number of locations across Europe, their plans to expand will likely mean you'll have access to an activity near you very soon.
"We wouldn't have formed in the way we did, without the pandemic; it was like a paradigm shift"
Kalmstrong is now solving the problems of interpersonal connections for remote workers by bringing together training and technology to help remote workers bond, but as you'll read on, the business that Kalmstrong is today wasn't the same as it was in the beginning. Michael shared with us that after a lot of soul searching and pivoting they decided to start up Kalmstrong as a service-based business and develop a product around it as they went along. Some would have called this risky in the sense that they were diving into a business startup without having an actual product or service to sell; however, the way they decided to build was far from risky when you look deeper. Michael and his team knew many of the struggles they had ahead of them due to the pandemic, which is why they built their growth strategy based on this knowledge. Their focus was to spend time understanding their customers' problems first and testing out various offerings to find out what their ideal customers needed the most.
"In March, as the world was going crazy, I was lucky enough to find myself surrounded by a group of incredibly talented people who recognized that; paradoxically the world is becoming increasingly 'connected' and simultaneously isolated. We wanted to use the same tools that big tech companies use to encourage mindless addiction for the benefit of advertisers (cyberpsychology) - to make people feel more present and connected. In the words we used back then - we wanted to 'make mindfulness mainstream".
Like other startups who go through the trial and error phase of creation, Michael's team worked through getting their message across clearly, and as Michael shared, figuring out, 'what are we going to do and what's the basis of this company'. Many people would have thrown in the cards, but as a true entrepreneur, Michael knew that they were sitting on a great idea, all they had to do was create the right solution for the problem they were aiming to solve.
There's a perceived knowledge around how you should do a tech startup. Michael mentioned how normally, you'd work out what the fundamental assumptions for the business are, and what's the fastest way you can test them. If those tests are negative, then you stop and try something else.
Michael admits that the process of testing assumptions hasn't been one they've yet mastered, but what they've become really good at is identifying the problem in the world they want to solve and what their shared values are around it. Together, this has given them a very solid basis for understanding that the practical way to solve the problem is not as important right now as the problem itself and the reason they want to solve it.
Fast forward some months - Kalmstrong is now purely focused on remote work, and solving problems around the issues companies face when it comes to serendipity and synchronicity within remote work. Although as Michael describes, they're still very much in the embryonic stage. To consult remote companies, they use their 8 element model as a framework to help work out the best solutions for the problems these companies face. Kalmstrong has run various online events with great success, and as of late, a training session for a well known UK charity, the Prince's Trust.
With the onset of the pandemic came a need for greater connection and unity amongst teams. Alexandra Schrecengost, who previously worked within the wine and hospitality industry, along with having spent many years running digital communications teams for brands like Wilson Daniels, pulled together her experiences and with her passion for wine, founded Virtual With Us.
''I wanted to do something that was impactful and something that was building a different type of culture''
Together with her team, they deliver online curated virtual experiences for their corporate clients who are looking for unique ways to promote engagement, creativity, and collaboration within their teams. The experiences Virtual With Us provides not only help companies improve their team building, but contribute to increasing morale and strengthening their diversity and inclusion communities. Alex's company caters to businesses of all shapes and sizes and has noticed that sales organizations, in particular, are benefiting greatly from their events, many commenting on how they've found Virtual With Us events to be a fantastic way to help them grown and maintain their contacts.
What sets Virtual With Us apart from other online experience providers has a lot to do with the background and experience of Alex and her team combined, but also, the company's attention to detail in all aspects of each and every event they host. Companies like Virtual With Us are transforming the online corporate events space!
Syncify's social podcasting app is all about reducing isolation and loneliness by bringing together Spotify users to create connections around what they listen to. With Sam Harris' professional background and knowledge in evolutionary psychology, he's no stranger to understanding social behaviors. Together with the team at Syncify, they've created a product that allows users to listen live with friends, share playlists, and chat about the content they're consuming. So, rather than being in your own world of audio, Syncify allows you to share experiences and connect with others.
"Lockdown meant living and working together, which definitely had its ups and downs. But at the heart of Syncify is the intention/need for us to all stay together and share experiences; if we can do it like this in real life we can make it possible in the digital world."
The team that makes up Syncify is truly international; apart from their UK Team which managed to live and work together in Cornwall (pictured left), they also have members of their team in the Netherlands, Philippines, and Nigeria. Even with the best team, creating a startup is no walk in the park, let alone during a pandemic. Navigating the right way to communicate among the team, figuring out the laws around hiring remotely, and knowing how to properly manage their time have been a few of the things that the pandemic has put pressure on.
"You're overworking and then realizing that you're actually underperforming because you're overworking, these things are all very confusing and hard to really know yourself until in hindsight it's all very obvious, but at the time, there's chaos going on."
"We believe that the best products often come from the most simple solution to a big problem. Our world is full of big problems in need of simple, safe, and effective solutions."
With a background in product development, Benton has been working with BTG Products, a Thinktank like R&D style company, commercializing technology that's developed within the Texas A&M University System. At BTG products they've been in and out of product development around preventing microbial growth in various industries; primarily working in oil and gas.
Through a few product iterations, testing different applications around how they could put their antimicrobial technology out into the world, it was 5 years ago that they came across ways they could protect touch surfaces from microbes.
"We went down that path a little bit, but basically, no one really cared, we didn't think we'd be able to sell it, we thought we put a bunch of work into it and would need to pivot to something else"
Once February 2020 rolled around, Benton and his team realized that it would be a good time to move their project forward and use it to help people stay safe as the pandemic began expanding.
The new product line they launched soon after, became its own company which they called Copper Clean, a self-sanitizing surface line. Essentially, the product was a simple antimicrobial copper surface that you could apply to high-touch areas around your facility to protect them from microbial growth. Copper Clean is taking the market by storm, and their solution to retrofit existing surfaces with copper technology is being adopted by companies across all types of industries.
The corporate health & wellbeing platform Aanya Wellness evolved from a previous concept and business that dates back to 2016. Having started out providing beauty tips, Pulkit and his team shifted towards making the decision to move into wellness in October of 2018, a lot has evolved since they came up with their original business startup idea.
It wasn't until November 2019 that they officially incorporate their discovery platform for wellness tourism, now known as Aanya Wellness, which as you can imagine, once Covid-19 hit, was a bit difficult of a sell. Regardless of the struggles ahead, Pulkit and his team, starting pivoting in March and soon after, began offering online sessions focused on maintaining a high level of health and wellbeing for those working from home.
The company Pulkit founded to address the wellness needs of remote workers in India was officially incorporated in 2019 with the name Aanya wellness. The real shifts for Aanya Wellness happened in March of 2020 when the pandemic hit India. The company experienced a big downturn, as most businesses did, and after 3 months of soul searching and trying to identify their pivot point, they finally found their niche in corporate wellness.
I'm sure we could all agree, the pandemic has taken a toll on us all both personally and professionally as a new global uncertainty grew and people began working from home. One of the main areas of life that were sacrificed for many during the pandemic was wellness. Pulkit Garg and his team at Aanya Wellness decided to offer the wellness support that companies were missing at the start of the pandemic.
During the covid-19 situation, the company adapted to the needs of businesses seeking assistance and started offering corporate programs, wellness packages for employees, week-long yoga packages, and more. AAnya Wellness isn't only a place for wellness enthusiasts but also a central space to enable the masses to achieve holistic well-being.
Last but not least, we couldn't write an article about startups founded during the pandemic without including our story as well 😉.
There's been an obvious shift to remote and distributed work over the last year, but as much as everyone has grown and learned how to better manage in this environment, teams are still struggling to work like they're in the same room.
Whether you're full or half remote, distributed teams communicate differently; teams need a whole new set of habits and practices to maintain productivity, cohesiveness, transparency, and a whole lot more. As companies across the world shifted to remote work, our reliance on digital tools exploded, but most teams were not prepared. The lack of connection and visibility that came along with the shifts, were unexpected for most businesses. Many simply looked for ways to replicate the practices that worked in the office in a remote environment. This was the catalyst for David Smyth and Stuart Hunter to start building Complish. After a year working with Complish, a new shift in the future of work was happening, which empowered us to transition into a new environment, the hybrid working world, and thus, build a new app that would better cater to hybrid teams.