In 2019, I ran a successful global business providing customer experience technology solutions to the hospitality industry. It never occurred to me that in a little over two years, my company would be in the contact center business. I recently read the work of New York Times bestselling author Nasim Nicholas Taleb, who coined the term “antifragile” to describe businesses that grow stronger under pressure. So let me tell you what changes I’ve made over the past two years of challenges and the strategies that have helped my company survive and thrive.
When the pandemic hit, my business needed to scale down quickly to survive. As our revenue fell by more than 60% almost overnight, our team shrunk. In the middle of the pandemic, I entered a new strategic partnership that took me from a path serving the edge of the organization (the hotel front desk) to the heart of the business (the contact center). More than a year after the transition, my team has grown again by 30%, and revenue from new products is up 500% year-over-year in 2021.
Today, businesses are tightening their wallets in response to a recession. But if I’ve learned anything from the pandemic, it’s that a specific set of strategies is needed to survive in uncertain times. Here are three lessons I’ve learned about resilience as I adapt to today’s rapidly changing economic environment:
Lesson 1: You can’t have agility without an open mind
Looking back at the uncertainty during the pandemic and assessing why we have succeeded when others have failed highlights the importance of company culture during a crisis. At my company, we hire and value team members with low self-awareness, leave their luggage at the door, and whoever comes up with the great idea owns it. The key attribute I’m looking for is an open spirit.
I remember in early 2020, when my team and I were evaluating a major shift in our company’s offerings, consultants told us to stay the course and stay focused on the hospitality industry even as it collapsed. If I take this advice, I’m pretty sure I won’t survive the tough years of the hospitality industry in the next few years. The curious nature of my team led me to spot a new (and daunting) opportunity in an adjacent vertical that looked ripe for disruption.
Lesson 2: Going to Hail Mary
As leaders, it’s hard to admit when we don’t have all the answers. During the pandemic, I was tossing around with some ideas for a while, just to see if I could hold on. Some product ideas failed, but luckily one got stuck. This experience taught me that you can’t be afraid to try something different. In an uncertain environment, you need to find team members and business partners who are equally fearless, or as our company puts it, “brave.”
Once I saw that we had early traction, I needed to make a tough decision. Am I going all out to make this new product a success, or am I a hedge against hopes of an eventual recovery in the hospitality industry? The idea of placing all our bets on an unsexy contact center industry dominated by local technology, entrenched traditional players, and distant proxies seems daunting. My decision data is also very limited as the momentum, while strong, is still in the early stages.
The decisive factor that drove me to go all-in on my new business strategy was the strength of my partnership with a large tech company. Their belief in our product, their willingness to help sell the product globally, and early wins led me to believe that “Viva Mary” was an educated risk.
Lesson 3: Beyond short-term thinking
In an emergency, the pressure to make an immediate decision is high. The benefits of the current cloud computing environment are that it is relatively easy to start a new project and has the flexibility to scale up and down according to business needs. It allows you to think long-term while being able to act for short-term gain.
When you’re in a crisis, it’s easy to look for a quick way out or a short-term one-time hit. In those moments, I wonder if I made the right decision to reject short-term profits for long-term gains. In retrospect, my call to put long-term strategy first has propelled us forward, while some of the quick wins I’ve signed have disproportionately distracted the company from its goals.
With war raging in Europe, inflation and soaring energy prices, and the pandemic still causing chronic staff shortages, the key question executives must now ask themselves is how do they create a business that thrives under pressure?On my journey, open-mindedness, long live Mary, and long-term thinking have given us antifragile We need a thriving business.