I just reached out to the CEOs I work with with on this topic and figured I should also do a quick post to speak to the CEOs who follow Kellblog as well.
The primary purpose of this post is to remind busy startup CEOs that an important part of your job is to be out ahead of things. Usually that means customer needs, market trends, and competitors. I’d argue it also includes potential epidemics, such as the one threatened by COVID-19.
Nobody wants to work for a CEO who’s panicking. But nobody wants to work for a CEO without a plan, either. You owe it to your employees, customers, and (yes) shareholders to start thinking about the impact of the Coronavirus on your business. That starts with your first action item: having a conversation about it at your next weekly e-staff meeting, if you’ve not done so already.
My thinking is based largely on this Scientific American article about what individuals should do to prepare for an eventual outbreak. On the theory that most startup employees are relatively young and healthy, the reality appears to be that the lives you save may not be your own — but instead those of the sick, elderly, weak, or otherwise vulnerable around you .
The driving principle behind the article is the best thing people can do to slow the spread of a virus is to stay away from each other for a few weeks. That’s not easy for a business to do, but at least in software we rarely rely on physical supply chains so we have one less major factor to consider in our planning.
So, with that warm up, let’s jump into a list of things you should consider:
- Researching how other companies are responding to help inform your own response. Call a few of the CEOs or Chief People Officers in your portfolio peer group. Or go online and read documents like Coinbase’s four-tier response framework .
- Sending an all-hands note letting people know you’re on top of this, perhaps with some links to practical, authoritative information.
- Issuing a friendly reminder on the basics of preventative personal hygiene such as hand-washing, face-touching, etc. Basic as they are, they appear the number one tool in the fight.
- Letting people know that elbow bumps are becoming the new handshake, though this is surprisingly not without controversy .
- Sending a strong message telling people not be a hero and stay home when they’re sick. Startups are full of people who give it their all, so it’s not uncommon for folks who are not feeling well to come into the office for that big presentation or meeting .
- Placing restrictions on travel, including not only guidelines for travel to affected areas but also guidelines for what you should do if you have recently traveled to one .
- Taking the pressure off live attendance. Tell employees they don’t have to come into the office if they don’t want to or don’t need to. Heck, you might even see a spike in productivity as a result.
- Changing the format of regular, periodic meetings. Most startups have some form of quarterly business review (QBR), typically a live two- or three-day meeting. Now is a great time not only to try it as a videoconference but to re-invent it while you’re at it  .
- Encouraging customers and prospects to do videoconferences, particularly if they are uncomfortable with a live meeting. While salespeople love live meetings (and so do I), a videoconference is far superior to no meeting at all. We need to keep deals moving through the pipeline, so if someone suggests delaying a few weeks, I’d counter with a videoconference every time. For both the customer’s business and our own, the show must go on.
- And, while some folks will probably trash me for saying this, if you have a natural, non-contrived marketing angle that can keep your business moving, don’t be afraid to gently say it . Examples: (1) it’s more important now than ever to have real-time supply chain information, (2) in times like these business analytics have never been more important, (3) we all have an obligation to our employees, customers, and shareholders to keep business moving ahead.
Let me end by providing links to some other excellent thoughts on this and related subjects:
- Elad Gil’s comprehensive blog post on the exact same topic, but with more background and history. He also provides plenty of great links to sources.
- Ray Wang’s blog on how to handle events in such times.
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 Thus, there’s an argument that it’s not only your duty as CEO, but your civic duty, to think about this.
 Which I personally think is a bit heavy but nevertheless quite useful to read.
 See here for a contrarian viewpoint on elbow bumps.
 Yes, it appears that infected people who are asymptomatic can also communicate the virus so this may not solve as much as we hope, but it’s certainly a start.
 Coinbase’s framework dives pretty deep here.
 There’s a reason Zoom stock was up 6% yesterday in a market down 5%.
 On the theory that you should almost certainly get a better result if you re-invent the agenda based on the format, rather than simply video-conferencing the existing meeting and format. Something about paving cow paths comes to mind.
 And how you say it makes all the difference. I can think of genuine, sincere, intelligent ways to do so and I can think of absolutely stone-handed ways of doing so as well. If you’re considering this, bounce the idea off lots people within your company and with your family and friends for a sniff test.