Launching in the pandemic – seven crucial lessons I’ve learnt
As we make our 50th hire, it’s incredible to think that at least half of the faces in our (virtual) all-company meetings we wouldn’t have had access to pre-pandemic.
We launched Walr in October 2020. We make software for research. The idea is to make market researchers’ lives easier by giving them a single, digital platform on which to create their research, display research findings and share on with others.
I’m not grateful for the circumstances we started up in by any stretch of the imagination – the pandemic has taken its terrible toll across the world, and has touched families in ways we couldn’t have previously imagined. But I can’t deny that we’re one of a set of post-pandemic companies that wouldn’t have existed in this shape just over two years ago – and we’ll develop in a way I couldn’t have predicted.
Back in March 2020, with lockdown looming, I was facing the reality that my healthy snacks start-up at the time couldn’t survive in a world where people didn’t congregate in offices. Yes, it was a passion project, but it was also one that I’d planned to turn into something I could scale quickly, and I’d poured my time and resources into it for six months before.
I had to make a 180 degree shift, and, if I’m honest, when I turned my back on that project, I faced into a sector that I instantly felt more drawn to. Walr is a res-tech (research technology) business and our team have all worked in market research for the majority of their careers. What I didn’t predict is how this new business would be shaped by the outside world, teaching me so much along the way. Having worked in a range of fast-growing corporate companies for so long and sat in board-level positions alongside industry veterans, I realised my view of the business world had been shaped by them from a young age.
Here are seven things I’ve re-learnt during the pandemic that will change my approach for years to come.
1. There’s no one blueprint for business
Even though I’m in my late 20s, I’ve learnt most about business from people much older than me. That’s heavily influenced the way I felt we needed to start and grow. The rule book’s gone out of the window now and that’s refreshing. My past was a good grounding but it’s not something I’m a slave to now.
2. I’d been blind to talent all over the world
Previously, including Norway – we acquired Norwegian firm Quenchtec having never met any of the key people in person for so much as a handshake. Also markets I was more familiar with, like the US, for our chief of staff and NED. More than half of our staff are now sitting outside the UK and most we haven’t met face-to-face.
3. We didn’t need to raise any capital to get going
Not a penny, which was eye-opening. We had and still have limited overheads as we’ve not rented offices and we haven’t travelled to see clients. We just needed the right people working together in the right way, wherever they were based.
4. Flexibility isn’t just a buzzword to engage millennials
We’ve all needed flexibility as much as our employees. There are no eye rolls when colleagues need to go to the doctors or do some unplanned childcare. We really mean it when we say we’re flexible to prospective staff and we’ve benefited from it ourselves.
5. How we could run everything from our homes
Again, I’m ashamed to admit that pre-pandemic-me saw working from home pretty differently. There was definitely a divide between those who regularly worked from home and those who never did. Now it’s the norm and I’ve seen rather a lot of my home over the last 18 months.
6. Travel was primarily wasted time
With our laptop-first culture we’ve been able to scale faster, cover more areas across the global – every time zone – Sydney to Seattle. Face-to-face is great, but not an essential.
7. How values need to emerge, not be forced on people
I’d love to say that I spent a lot of time crafting the business plan and baking in values before starting. But to be honest, in the midst of the pandemic, I actually just spent a lot of time creating a viable business. However, having a values-driven business is important to me and Walr’s values came into sharp focus as Emily, our chief of staff, came on board. These came out of the way we were working rather than a desire to do business in a certain way, and now they will guide the way we operate as we grow and scale.
Overall, the best lesson I’ve learnt is to “bloom where you are”. And, if that’s in a garden office in Horsham, so be it.