For this From The Frontline, which looks at how startups are dealing with the coronavirus era, we’ve talked to Kate Cornick, CEO of Victoria’s startup agency, LaunchVic, and four startup founders about their success despite the challenges the face.
The quartet are:
- Matthew Boyd, founder and CEO of Vollie, on online marketplace that connects skilled people to non-profits and charities for skills-based online volunteering
- Chris Borzillo, director & co-founder at ClearCalcs, an online drawing platform founded in 2016 for engineers and architects that can automatically calculate the amount of materials required to build a home.
- Associate Professor Sarah Everitt, Director and co-founder of MediStays, an accommodation website for medical travelers; and
- Erin Lord, Director, Business Development at Aeromedical Solutions, a brokering service that provides both case management and cost containment services to facilitate the return journey for a patient following an injury or illness interstate or overseas.
If you have questions for founders or have a story to tell please email us at startupdaily[at]pinstripemedia.com.au.
As someone with a helicopter view of the sector, Kate Cornick said the challenge for many startups was significant, but coronavirus as also created opportunity, with an increased need for some startup products.
“COVID-19 has had a deep impact across the economy, and the unavoidable truth is startups will fail during this period,” she said.
“However in my recent conversations with founders, ecosystem infrastructure providers and investors there has been a steely determination to get through this along with some silver linings.”
The four startups mentioned above, addressing very different needs, are among those who’ve benefited. Here’s what they’ve seen.
What happened to your startup when coronavirus hit?
Matt, Vollie: The increase in engagement hit fairly soon after “Stage 1” of COVID-19, and we saw sign-ups and applications from volunteers grow by 300%. In addition to this, charity and non-profit enquiries grew 500%, and we have been averaging 2-3 large corporate and university inbound enquiries each day.
Chris, ClearCalcs: Since January, we’ve seen over 350% growth in product usage and trials, so it’s been really exciting seeing all of the charts shoot up, especially with US clients.
Sarah, MediStays: We were totally inundated by enquiries from frontline health workers needing to self-isolate away from their families and from patients in hospital who needed to be discharged to free up beds but were not yet ready to return home.
Erin, Aeromedical Solutions: As the situation developed, it became obvious that we were in a unique position to help. We were getting calls from people stranded in Peru, India and right across the globe.
Did you expect it would be good for business and why?
Sarah, MediStays: Like most organisations, we knew COVID-19 would impact MediStays with the reduction in core referrals. However, we had a number of new services in our pipeline, and we were perfectly placed to pivot and rapidly launch.
For example, in the past, we have supported communal NFP lodgings like the Ronald McDonald Houses and Cancer Council Lodges with overflow accommodation when they are fully booked. With coronavirus, we took on the role of supporting patients and families with self-isolating private accommodation as they were unable to stay in share-stay environments.
Chris, ClearCalcs: We weren’t sure what to expect. Our tools are very conducive to remote work so we were hopeful that more engineers would find us. So far, it seems that a lot of engineers are using the opportunity to find new ways of working, and we’re excited to be one of the ways to help.
How did you cope with the influx of sales and scale the business?
Sarah, MediStays: Incredible timing, we had only just launched our new website in February. This was a significant investment enabling us to integrate property rates and availability into the MediStays website, replacing many manual processes. If it weren’t for the tech, this situation would have been extremely challenging.
Matt, Vollie: The technology system we have in place can manage a lot of the user traffic, and so all we will need to do over the coming months is hire Account Managers to work with our corporate and university enterprise clients.
Erin, Aeromedical Solutions: Each case can be quite intense and complex, with a lot of logistical decisions and several moving parts. We introduced new technology to keep our patient information safe and secure and outsourced all our financial reporting to focus on the interactions between patients, aeromedical providers and family members.
Any pitfalls and lessons along the way?
Matt, Vollie: Hundreds – how much time do you have?! Key lessons for Volliehave been to really understand what our charities need assistance with, and what outcomes our enterprise clients want from our software. If we can nail both of these requirements, then the business is well placed. God bless our skilled volunteers (our Vollies), they have always been supportive of our business and selflessly wanted to share their talents and time to make the world a better place.
Sarah, MediStays: MediStays was founded on strong social values and our passion for making a positive difference. Amongst the chaos and challenges coronavirus brings, pausing to reflect on our ‘why’ and the positive impact MediStays has on patients and carers has been so important.
What has this taught you about running your startup?
Erin, Aeromedical Solutions: Relationships and networks are everything.
Be prepared to reach out and ask people for help, and we are constantly surprised that individual connections, local government and state government are really barracking for startups and can be tremendously helpful.
Chris, ClearCalcs: Financial forecasting is very hard, and whilst we’ve always done scenario modelling for rainy days, we’ve never taken a recession or economic shock into account, which in hindsight is a great learning moving forward.
What are you hoping to see over the next six to 12 months?
Matt, Vollie: Our new system, Vollie 2.0, goes live in the next few weeks, and I want to see this system embraced by our existing users and blow the socks off of the corporate and university sector, as a solution to helping them drive more social impact and track their contribution. I want Vollie 2.0 to revolutionise the way charities articulate their needs, and I feel confident it will.
Chris, ClearCalcs: We expect the construction industry to remain fairly resilient, as it’s already proving to be, which should keep our clients busy. At the same time, undoubtedly, firms will be looking for ways to reduce costs and lower overheads which we see as an extremely positive macro trend for our business given our focus on automation and time-saving.
What advice would you give to other founders about coping with success?
Chris, ClearCalcs: Ironically, success doesn’t always feel successful. Building a startup is like climbing a mountain. It’s great to crest the peak, but you’re still scrabbling for handholds and craning your neck looking at the next peak.
It’s good to take a moment now and then to look behind and reflect how far you’ve come and what you’ve achieved, rather than defining each day by what’s left to do.
Sarah, MediStays: We have a huge vision for MediStays, so at this early stage it is difficult to define these experiences as ‘success’. Hopefully, we can share our success story in the years to come.
Erin, Aeromedical Solutions: Keep investing in your business to grow your offering and your place in the market.
Find more ways to increase your value to your customers and keep reviewing the problem that you’re solving and how you’re solving it.
Matt, Vollie: It will take you a long time to reach the vision you have in your head, so you have to be in it for the right reasons.
Passion is underrated and will keep you going late at night and on the weekends.
Prepare for the mental and physical torture of building a startup with limited resources – it will break you 100 times over, but you get up and go again…day after day month after month. There’s a very good reason this game isn’t for everyone!