For start-ups who were forecast for another stellar year of growth and investment, the pandemic has presented a unique set of challenges. When so much relies on confidence –from your investors, from new clients, confidence in yourself – this level of uncertainty can be daunting.
We spoke to Level 39 member, and CEO and co-founder of fintech startup Eligible, Rameez Zafar, to discuss how he has managed to establish trust and confidence with new contacts in a time of widespread disruption.
Prior to this pandemic, our entire growth strategy was reliant on face to face interactions. I would spend my weeks catching trains all around the UK, attending conferences, events, trade shows. We mostly deal with incumbent financial institutions that are very traditional in the way they do things. They are not accustomed to consuming or purchasing online – they like to do business face to face. We knew immediately that we needed to re-create this rapport, digitally.
Some tech founders will discuss the new opportunities that has arisen from the crisis – but Rameez warned that hard sales techniques will not win you many fans.
“Yes, businesses are being forced to digitalise rapidly which means there are opportunities for tech companies – but appearing overly opportunistic in a time of international crisis is very off-putting. Remember those who were peddling toilet paper at ten pounds a roll? Don’t be that person.”
Instead Rameez identified that new customers made during this period would only be gained by giving people valuable interactions in the right way. This was the way to build credibility and to stay visible.
“We in the tech sector really overestimate the digital capabilities of many businesses, but the reality is, the move to home working was a real headache for many. We noticed how many financial businesses were struggling to adapt and so we started to reach out with practical advice – to become a voice they knew and trusted. Using Zoom, Slack, and even Google Docs for remote working – these are things that were new to many people and we found creating useful online content and increasing our communication strategy created this trusted digital relationship for those seeking advice on how to digitalise, and opened the door to conversations. We are not going in hard with a sales deck – we are initiating positive, useful conversations with new people. It has been incredibly successful for us – and we have actually increased our growth in this period.”
Another topic in key focus for start-ups is investment. Rameez is optimistic about the future but foresees that investors will have a renewed emphasis on due diligence.
“This is a systemic crisis, which means that everything, everywhere is affected. There was a knee jerk reaction from the investor community to instantly put things on hold – which was understandable. I now think that we are slowly seeing confidence return but investors will now be paying closer attention to the management teams they invest in.
“Did teams move rapidly to make hard decision in March, or did they plod along with their head in the sand until the situation forced their hand? Being slow and sluggish in the face of a crisis is not a good look. If you can say to investors, ‘No, we did not grow in this period, but we took decisive steps early on to secure the future of our company’ then that will go a long way.”
For Rameez, the hard decisions are the most important, and this is the time to demonstrate an ability to take them and show the right leadership.
“One of my board members who has worked through many recessions, said to me back in March: ‘This is the thankless part of the job as the leader. This is the part of the job no one wants, and no one will ever thank you – but in hard times, hard decisions have to be made.’ It’s been my biggest lesson from the crisis – whatever the current situation is, you must move to embrace it, hone in on the current needs of clients, and make decisions accordingly, even if it is tough to do so. It doesn’t matter what you were doing back in February, or what your plans were then. We were given a blank slate and all you can do now is align to the new normal.”
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Canary Wharf Group plc
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