How are businesses pivoting in the pandemic? Here are 3 inspirational examples

Posted on April 6, 2020.

I hope this finds you and your loved ones safe and healthy. A month ago I was sitting in a restaurant in London with a group of friends enjoying dinner, catching up on what we’ve been up to and taking turns holding one friend’s new baby. It was a ton of fun and we were happy to be there. The food was good. The mood was good. We were excited about all the things we had planned for the coming months.

the crew at dinner in London just 1 month ago

Here’s the photo we took as we left the restaurant that evening.

Fast forward one month and I don’t have to tell you how the world has changed. You know and you’ve been affected. We all have. We all are figuring out how to juggle working from home, schooling from home and the general stress of quarantine and global uncertainty. In our family, I have to admit, that while having two teenagers isn’t always the easiest, I am grateful for my kids’ relatively high levels of independence and commitment to maintaining their school and social interactions. It’s provided me the additional bandwidth I need to figure out how to navigate this new world for our family and for my clients.

As with any crisis, there is resiliency and from that come opportunities to learn. I’ve been searching for interesting and inspirational stories of companies retooling, refactoring and reinventing their business models to stay relevant, valuable and frankly, in business these days. I wanted to share three examples with you that I’ve found so far.

Example 1: The travel industry

One of the hardest hit sectors, companies that offer tours, attractions and experiences are figuring out what to offer when people can’t travel. In a recent post in Skift, several businesses were highlighted for their interesting pivots. For example a service called Withlocals, where normally you would spend time with a local experiencing something, well, local, has pivoted to online classes like pasta-making in the hopes that these free livestreams will lead to private bookings of classes. What I’ve been impressed with in this sector is the application of the “test and learn” approach. Another company that offers cultural walking tours in many cities, Context Travel, offered $35 online seminars as a test using Eventbrite to sell tickets. The test was successful and a broader rollout is planned.

Lesson learned: There are many ways to deliver the core value you provide. How can you focus on your expertise and experience and use the tools we have available at the moment to delight your customers?

Example 2: The conference business

We can’t meet in person so this effectively kills the conference business, right? Not so fast. While seemingly every conference is now online, porting a lengthy one or multi day in-person conference to online is not an easy proposition and can be a sub-optimal user experience. Enter Mind The Product. The London-based (but globally present) team at MTP puts on a series of large in-person events around the world. Instead of porting this format online directly. for their recent APAC-focused event, the team broke the keynote sessions into a multi-day series of lectures that were shared free of charge. The goal was to use these online sessions to drive leads to their training business which can be delivered effectively online and continues to be needed.

Lesson learned: You may not be able to charge for your core product. How, then, can you use it to create interest in products and services you can charge for?

Example 3: Education

Schools are closed for the rest of the year in most of the world. Many instructors have never taught “online” before. While they may be familiar with the basic tools and some regularly use learning management systems, converting an entire curriculum online in a matter of days is a monumental task.

There are a ton of variables in the success of schools going online recently including privilege, access to technology and tools, the age of the students and many others. I wanted to acknowledge these as they are not easy to overcome.

I also wanted to highlight what I’ve seen the teachers at our school do. We’re in week 3 of “virtual school.” Week 1 was tough — a couple of intro videos, homework assignments and instructions to upload the assignments via any tool the teacher and students had access to: WhatsApp, Google Classroom, text message, etc. Each week, the school asks for feedback from the parents and the students (our school goes from pre-Kindergarten to high school). Each week new tools are introduced. Old tools are removed. Curriculums are adjusted. Students are engaged differently. We’ve got a long way to go but I’ve been amazed by the build/measure/learn attitude of our educators.

Lesson learned: Your first efforts to pivot to a distributed world will be clunky. They might even suck. It doesn’t matter as long as you’re learning from these efforts and most importantly checking with your audience to understand where you can improve. If you’re learning, you’re moving forward.

There’s a tremendous amount of collaboration and innovation happening in the world right now. The challenges are massive and have never been experienced at this scale before. Your skills, talents, expertise and experience are even more valuable now than before. I hope that the examples above inspire you to experiment with ways to continue to do that.

I want to help you as well. What are you struggling with? Have you figured out a quarantine hack for what you do? Ask me. Tell me. I’ll share and amplify.

Please stay safe, healthy and at home.