Ask anyone in Melbourne, where they spent 111 days in a second major lockdown to get Covid-19 under control, about 2020 and they’ll give you a mixed reaction, including startup advisor and investor Chris Ridd.
On the upside, he’s a Richmond Tigers supporter.
As part of our summer series looking back on an extraordinary year and the one ahead, we asked Ridd about the good, the bad and what he learnt this year, his summer plans and for suggestions on what to read when he gets a chance to catch his breath.
Here’s what he said.
Out of 10 (for totally awesome) what mark would you give 2020 and why?
4/10. Some would say 0 out of 10, but I give it 4 points based on 1) Validating working from home as a viable business/staffing model; 2) Reconnecting with family through lockdown; 3) AFL footy season going ahead and Tigers winning back-to-back flags; 4) Slowing down and spending time on hobbies like playing guitar.
What were your personal highlights?
Spending lots of quality time with my kids, particularly my 2 boys (19 and 20) who are normally not around on weekends but in lock down had no choice but to be with us.
Also learning to play the didgeridoo
And the lowlights?
Not being able to get down the coast during the Melbourne lockdown and feeling like a criminal when I pushed near the 5km radius lockdown limit on my bike.
What was the hardest thing you had to do in 2020?
When Covid hit we weren’t sure how the economy was going to respond with predictions of a sustained downturn and market demand across the board dropped away sharply.
Some of the tech companies I am involved with had to take some tough measures to preserve cash and the human impact of such moves is always the most difficult part.
And what brought you the greatest joy?
Realising that the downturn, certainly in the case of technology, was short-lived. In fact all the tech companies I am involved with have experienced tailwinds due to the acceleration of technology adoption.
Therefore finding jobs for some of those people we had to temporarily stand down was gratifying for all involved.
What did you learn from the year and in hindsight, is there anything you’d do differently?
I learned a lot about the tough side of running a tech business. When things are booming it is great fun, but when the pandemic hit we had some difficult decisions to make.
It was a big test for me along with the founders that I support. But to be honest, there is not much I would have done differently.
What company do you most admire for its achievements in 2020 and why?
You probably expect me to point to some booming tech business, but in fact it is the humble General Store at Wye River that I most admire.
I couldn’t get there much through lockdown and they did it really tough and had to make big adjustments in order to get through.
Each time I was able to get there, and they do make an amazing coffee, they were super positive and I was always met with a smile despite the tough circumstances.
How do you view the current technology climate in Australia?
Very positive. COVID-19 has forced businesses to rethink how they work and adopt technology. We are 5 years ahead of where we would otherwise have been without the pandemic and as I said earlier, many tech companies are now experiencing significant tailwinds.
What tech companies/startup will you be watching in 2021, both locally and internationally?
Locally, I would say myprosperity based on its digital platform that enables advisers to digitally connect with their clients, and livepreso who are enabling remote, data driven selling at scale.
MedAdvisor as well from the perspective of helping with medication adherence and will likely play a role in overseeing vaccine adherence with COVID-19 in 2021.
Ed-tech is also a growing space – particularly as schools had to contend with remote and online learning this year – Compass has done really well to build a platform that’s helping schools handle the administrative burden of these changes.
What are you expecting to see in tech in 2021?
It’s hard to see tech slowing down. Again, the pandemic has shone a spotlight on the technology space and that is reflected in the sharemarket, albeit with some pretty crazy valuations.
What are you hoping will happen in 2021?
I’m hoping the world gets through Covid quickly and that the madness settles down a bit. That is… America reminds itself that is, in fact, a democracy, the Chinese government becomes more of a global team player and world leaders start to get really serious about climate change.
What are your goals for the year ahead?
Continue to build value in the businesses that I am involved in and help them succeed. We got through a tough 2020 and the good news is that all of them will finish the year stronger than when they started which is great.
What’s keeping you awake at night, business-wise?
There is not one thing. I work across a portfolio of companies which is great in terms of the variety it provides, but when you have challenges across multiple businesses there is no let down.
Each business has its own set of challenges from people, strategy, tech debt, capital raisings and go-to-market challenges.
Yep, I pretty much cop it all. But despite all that, I have to say I enjoy the challenge and sleep pretty well.
Are you taking time off over Christmas and if so, how do you plan to spend it?
We will be down on the Mornington Peninsula this year for two weeks, which is a change from our usual destination at Wye River on the surf coast.
Where’s your favourite place to head to relax?
Wye River. Surfing, mountain biking and long walks.
What are you most looking forward to for Christmas?
Putting my feet up, playing frisbee in the park with my son, ocean swims and spending time with family and friends.
Your favourite summer holidays tradition?
Each year I get my band and extended musician buddies together at my place, the week before Christmas, and we set up on my deck, have a few beers and play stacks of rock n roll really loud. That’s happening this weekend and I can’t wait.
Suggest 3 books to read over summer
The Hard thing about Hard things by Ben Horowitz: If you think you had a tough year in business, read this book and you will relate. Ben’s stories of extreme pressure and cash brinkmanship make it a compelling read for any entrepreneur
Scrum. The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland: OK, so this is a geeky one but it takes Agile as a software development methodology and describes how to apply it in running a business. Very interesting and many useful tips and tools to apply.
Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Albert Liebermann and Hector Garcia: Just started this one so can’t comment but it was recommended. Given the shit year we have had I thought it would be good to reflect on the things in life that give purpose and meaning and so will get into this one whilst relaxing down at the beach.