The economic crisis brought on by COVID-19 is unlike anything the startup sector and broader business community experienced before.
While governments and central banks worldwide attempt to come to grips with the macro challenges, we want to talk to people on the frontline of business to see how they’re faring and share their advice on how they tackled the challenges they face. We’re sharing the stories of founders and executives as From The Frontline.
Today we hear from Tim Dickinson, GM of Platform at Assembly Payments. Established in 2013 and based in Melbourne, the Westpac-backed payment platform is one of Australia’s fastest growing fintech startups. While the company has trimmed its sails to cope, so far it’s doing well and Dickinson and his team have focused their efforts on supporting those who’ve suffered far more from the impacts of coronavirus, including the partners of team members who’ve lost their jobs.
As Dickinson says, there are always opportunities – just sometimes they’re not the ones you expected.
If you have questions you want to ask of founders, or want to share your own story, please drop Startup Daily editor Simon Thomsen an email at startupdaily[at]pinstripemedia.com.au
And a big thanks to Tim and the others who are sharing their experiences with us.
What’s happened to Assembly Payments?
Since we are a B2B payments provider we see the impact on our client volumes straight away and this has varied depending on the industry. If that volume goes up or down for them it reverberates through to ourselves. We have seen some of our clients maintain their revenue stream and some have improved it for now, while others have really suffered. Clients in the B2C space have naturally felt the shock of this COVID-related economic slow down first.
While we are hopeful that the stimulus package will deter further downturn, we’re preparing just in case the economic shock hits us later on, as it travels down the supply chain.
How have you tackled the downturn?
We haven’t had to make any drastic changes at this stage, all of our staff started working from home in early March and we’re already well set up for this. We have seen a drop in our sales pipeline, timeframes for projects have slipped and we’ve put a freeze on planned spending for the year. But so far, we’re keeping all of our people on the books and managing that as our first priority.
How are you communicating with WFH staff and maintaining culture?
To maintain productivity everyone’s team meetings have migrated virtually so everyone can still check in with one another. We have staff across several geographies so this is not an entirely new experience but this situation has pushed us to discover new tools. We have for instance found tools to facilitate online workshops using virtual sticky notes boards.
We’re also making sure we keep casual team meetups in the calendar with Friday virtual drinks and we have a virtual water-cooler-channel which people actively comment in.
One hiccup has been internet speed, and connections dropping out for a few people. Outside of that luckily technology gives us the ability to easily work remotely and still have access to all the virtual tools that we need to carry out our jobs and stay connected.
Have you started planning for the next 6 months? What is some of the best advice you’ve had?
We have researched the available government assistance programs available and are looking to apply for what is applicable as support becomes available. As a result of these packages, we’re redoing our 2020 and 2021 planning activities now, something we hadn’t expected to do so that’s been a disruption, but a worthwhile one.
How are you doing on being paid on outstanding invoices?
We have had a few customers run into some financial difficulty, we’re working with them on ways we can help. We’re also preparing some preventative strategies should we need them to help more of our customers get through this. If we could offer any advice, for those fortunate enough to be able to weather the storm a bit, call your customers and let them know there are options available. Many of them may well be feeling stressed and any breathing room could go a long way to long-term customer growth. A customer next year is better than a bill paid today.
How have you approached sharing the issues you face with your partner/family?
Personally, I was due to move overseas with work in April. My family has been with me on the entire journey and are across the challenges facing us, the company and the world more broadly. I think communication in all aspects of challenges like this are what keeps people on the same page and pushing for the same things; family included.
How can a spouse/partner support someone working for a startup under this stress?
This is a tough one. We’ve got families who live in small apartments, all the kids home from school and limited places locally to go and get some fresh air. At the same time, we’ve got people in the Philippines and the US whose lives are, and likely will continue to be, more adversely affected than those of us in Australia.
Many partners of Assembly’s staff have either lost their jobs or are also working from home, and are now taking on the additional workload of managing children home from school. I think businesses should allow their staff some breathing room to manage their lives while we all go through this. I don’t have any advice for spouses other than trying to remember that we’re all in this together, and if people need help, ask. In these times our humanity is put to the test and often shows its best.
What’s your advice for not giving up hope?
My philosophy on life, which I stole from an elderly gentleman who called the radio one day, is that in life you need something to do, someone to love, and something to look forward to. The rest usually works itself out.
If you find that your basic needs have been diminished, or aren’t being met, fix that first. Get your baseline back, and then change whatever you need to get by. There are opportunities there in times like this, maybe not the opportunities you expect.
We’re all in this together, check-in on people you’re worried about, call your parents, grandparents, kids and your friends.
Keep talking to people and don’t let yourself be alone through this – there are 7.5 billion other people affected by this too.