5 tips on surviving the crisis, from Europe’s startups

We have never lived through a pandemic of this size in our lifetimes, so it’s particularly difficult to know how to take action. We can’t ask our predecessors, nor can we ask Google. We truly are out on a limb here. The only way to move forward is to put our heads together and share what we see is working – and not working – in real-time.

For this reason, after a few weeks of quarantine have passed, we’ve been asking startups across Europe just how they are managing to stay afloat, and what practical, hands-on tips they can offer others. We’re not talking about generalised remote working tips here – that trend was covered aptly a few weeks ago, and we’re all up-to-date. Instead, we wanted to share practical day-to-day survival strategies that could be applied to any sector, so that startups can benefit without all having to go through the same test-fail-repeat process.

So without further ado, here are some tips from your fellow European startups. 

Time to seriously innovate

Rally your team to keep pushing and innovating. It’s not the time to just continue with daily monotonous tasks, and freeze up. It’s time to think outside the box and come up with new ideas, even if they don’t follow your existing business plan. Get the ball rolling with an internal hackathon one afternoon, with all team members participating and working in teams.

“Tough times can make you freeze up or rally as a team. Your team will fight with you if you give them a reason and a direction, now more than ever! So don’t talk about brushing your teeth and putting on pants for the video conference – this is the time to do groundbreaking things!” – Alexis Priftis, CEO and co-founder of Instabox.

“Make sure you, your team and your business do not freeze during times of crisis. It seems almost redundant for me to express the need to keep improving your product, but the fact is that some companies slow down R&D, because they rather ‘sit’ on their money. You have to keep sowing if you want to reap anything and harvest in the future, even though the harvest might be disappointing.” – Yeelen Knegtering, CEO of Klippa.

Think about what your customer needs now

The previous point flows nicely into this one. In what direction can you innovate? One way is to think about what your customer needs now. Offering free services and bonuses on top of your existing products is a solid marketing trick, but can this crisis take you in the direction of completely new products or services? We’ve already seen fintechs like Starling Bank bring out new customer-centric products, like the Connected Card. What can you create?

“Crises are times when technology accelerates due to necessity and not only convenience, so it’s a good time to explore new technologies that help deliver more value to the customer while increasing your startup’s robustness.” – Rolands Mesters, co-founder and CEO of Nordigen.

“Ongoing communication and engagement with your customers is key no matter what but especially in the current climate. Let your customers know what you’re doing to help meet their needs and how you can best be of service to them regardless of your inability to support them in person.” – Erik Gatenholm, CEO and co-founder of CELLINK.

Set up a coronavirus task force

It’s likely that your team is sharing global news updates on a daily basis to try to predict what will happen in the outside world, but have you officially dedicated time as a team to brainstorm and predict the different outcomes for your business? If your team is large enough, you could put certain members in charge of running through different scenarios for your business, reporting back with a weekly update as the circumstances change.

“Knowledge is power, so we designated a Taskforce to analyze every possible scenario, because constantly reframing the understanding of what’s happening is essential to learn and adapt in this unpredictable environment.” Federico Mattia Dolci, CEO and Co-founder of BOOM.

Cut working days before people

There’s a wealth of government schemes out there offering special pandemic-level support for startups, as well as calls for public funding, and support from existing investors. However, if it comes to it, you might be looking at reducing the size of your team. Many startups are opting instead to work fewer days, and therefore shave off salary costs, so that when the crisis is over they don’t have to spend more resources re-hiring to build the team back up.

“We’re a small team, so to avoid making any layoffs, we’ve all agreed to drop to 4 day weeks – this saves 20% of salary costs and avoids us losing anyone, since we’ve worked so hard to assemble this team. As founders, we’re cutting salaries 50% and redirecting our usual business development efforts into managing finances and motivating the team during this period. We can still work on improving the product itself and we need to redirect our usual business development effort into useful groundwork for the future.” – Jacob Wedderburn Day, CEO of Stasher.

Resolve kinks to improve efficiency

What kinks have you noticed in your company’s processes, policies or procedures, that you never seem to get round to resolving? Ask your team to see if there is something they’ve never addressed directly. A lot of startups that spoke to us are blocking out spaces in their day to finally get these tasks or issues resolved. Doing so may make working more efficient, which will be useful if you end up reducing working hours.

“Make time for things which are otherwise pushed aside or delayed like for instance developing the right level of policies and procedures; reviewing the archiving systems; improve user stories and epics, review organisational practices, etc.” – Bart Vanhaeren, co-founder of InvestSuite.

Conclusion: A united front

One thing that’s become clear over the last few weeks, and especially when gathering research for this article, is that the startup community in Europe is really pulling together and supporting each other at this time. From virtual hackathons that are innovating for the crisis, to our flooded inbox with advice from you to share – thank you for collaborating! If you have any survival tips to pass on, or know of any cool innovations that have popped up through hackathons, send them over to charlotte@eu-startups.com so we can spread the news.