Leading a startup during a pandemic: five lessons from five founders
We sat down (virtually) with some inspiring founders for our new startups podcast. Find out what they had to say about customer experience, empathy and hope for the future.
Last updated July 14, 2021
You might say that this is one of the worst possible times to be growing a business, but that’s not necessarily the case.
On our new Sit Down Startup podcast, we talked to founders about how a customer-focused approach can help you thrive even as the world transforms before your eyes. They shared their pandemic lessons and thoughts on customer experience, empathy and hope as we look to the future.
Read on for a few pandemic business lessons from some inspiring founders..
Listen to the Sit Down Startup podcast
From one home office to another, Zendesk leaders chat with founders, CEOs and makers on their startup journey. You can subscribe to the Sit Down Startup podcast via Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.
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Lead with your heart
James Gutierrez is the founder and CEO of Aura, a startup that provides credit-building loans to people who are underbanked or credit invisible, meaning that they don’t have any recognised credit history.
Not having a credit score excludes people from important benefits, such as renting certain flats, getting lower rates on car insurance or being approved for mortgage loans, Gutierrez explained.
‘Aura is about fairness, and leading with our heart and compassion, and bringing people into the system,’ Gutierrez said on the podcast.
‘We always say that our community may not have formal collateral, but they have moral collateral.’
James Gutierrez, Founder and CEO, Aura
Driven by their compassion, they knew that they needed to help their customers who are facing job losses because of the pandemic. After talking directly to customers, they created a ‘pay what you can’ programme that allows borrowers to reduce their monthly payment amount or even miss a payment if they need to.
This was an easy decision, Gutierrez said, because Aura truly believes in its customers.
‘We always say that our community may not have formal collateral, but they have moral collateral. They really want to pay back [their loans],’ he said.
Listen to the full conversation to find out how they plan to keep growing.
Build a community for your customers
Derek Anderson is the co-founder and CEO of Startup Grind, a global community for educating and connecting entrepreneurs.
Before the pandemic, Startup Grind regularly hosted in-person events, where entrepreneurs could learn and connect with each other. Obviously, these events came to a screeching halt when COVID-19 set in.
But it hasn’t been entirely bad, Anderson said on the podcast. They’ve seen their virtual events this year draw nearly 10x as many attendees as their in-person events last year, expanding their reach beyond anything they could have imagined.
‘At no time in the history of humankind have people been more lonely than they are today.’
Derek Anderson, Co-founder and CEO, Startup Grind
Especially now, people are longing for a sense of community and human connection.
‘At no time in the history of humankind have people been more lonely than they are today,’ Anderson said on the podcast. ‘Building a community is a way to bring similar-valued people together under a common thread of interest or beliefs, or shared passion or business pursuits.’
These communities can be good for business too. Listen to this episode to learn more.
Invest in your customer support team
Elisa Reggiardo is the Chief Brand Officer of Tymeshift, a workforce-management solution that helps customer support teams share information, making life easier for agents and improving team performance.
Reggiardo has spent her entire career in support-related roles, so she is in a unique position to make the case for prioritising customer support.
‘I like to say that support agents are worth their weight in gold,’ Reggiardo said on the podcast. ‘None of [our work] would happen if they weren’t there for our customers.’
In the midst of a pandemic, when many support teams have had to pivot to remote work, having a workforce-management tool can help keep your support running smoothly – for both agents and customers.
‘I like to say that support agents are worth their weight in gold.’
Elisa Reggiardo, Chief Brand Officer, Tymeshift
‘It doesn’t sound super fun.’ Reggiardo said on the podcast, ‘But actually, it is so important for CX teams to have a tool that allows them to have the right person in the right place doing the right thing.’
Listen to the rest of the conversation to see how you can help your support team thrive by providing transparent information.
Know when to change your road map
Anthony Kelly is the co-founder and Chief Customer Officer at Glofox. They create gym-management software for fitness entrepreneurs and enterprises.
Because of the pandemic, many gyms have pivoted to online classes. But according to Kelly, they have had to rely on cumbersome solutions, such as emailing class links manually to customers.
Glofox saw an urgent need among their customer base, so they paused everything on their product road map and started building an integrated live-streaming and on-demand video solution into their software.
‘You have to be able to adapt and build products and services for customers that they need right now.’
Anthony Kelly, Co-founder and Chief Customer Officer, Glofox
‘One of the key lessons from the pandemic, Kelly explained on the podcast, is that ‘You have to be able to adapt and build products and services for customers that they need right now, not what they needed a couple of years ago.’
The effort paid off, and they were able to draw more new businesses and migrations as a result of their new streaming capabilities.
‘My personal philosophy is that when the customer wins, we all win.’ Kelly said.
Immerse yourself in the customer experience
Guillaume Moubeche is the co-founder and CEO of Lemist, an email outreach platform that helps businesses and sales teams be noticed.
Business leaders have been wondering whether it’s appropriate to make a sales pitch during the pandemic, when many businesses are stressed and strapped for resources.
One of the key things that Moubeche has learned from managing a business during a global pandemic, though, is that now is an important time to get in touch with both prospects and current customers.
‘In times of crisis, people are going to face new challenges, so actually, they’re going to need help,’ he explained. ‘Selling is about helping people.’
But he emphasised that salespeople should be empathetic and really try to understand the requirements of the person they are contacting.
‘In times of crisis, people are going to face new challenges, so actually, they’re going to need help.’
Guillaume Moubeche, Co-founder and CEO, Lemlist
One way to do that, according to Moubeche, is to spend time resolving customer support tickets. He spends about half an hour a week on tickets, and these conversations fuel everything from sales to product development.
‘I really enjoy talking to everyone,’ he said. ‘You get insights about your product and how to make it something people really want and really need.’
Tune in to this episode for more tips to help make your customer communications count.
Customer experience is everyone’s job
A common theme that emerged from our conversations on the Sit Down Startup podcast is that, whether you’re managing a business during pandemic times or not, customers are everything. Talk to your customers often, listen deeply and with empathy, and then do everything you can to try to help them – even if it means abandoning your entire product road map for a while.
Customer experience is everyone’s job, but it’s not always an easy one. The right tools and training can help with that. With our Zendesk for Startups program, you can get access to free software, tailored resources and a growing network of startups with which you can connect as you tackle CX challenges together.
Apply here for the Zendesk for Startups program.
Startups CX Benchmark Report
Want to learn more about what fast-growing startups are doing with CX? We looked at more than 4,400 startups participating in the Zendesk Benchmark and found a clear link between better customer experiences and faster growth.
Startups CX Benchmark Report
Want to learn more about what fast-growing startups are doing with CX? We looked at more than 4,400 startups participating in the Zendesk Benchmark and found a clear link between better customer experiences and faster growth.Get the report