Turbulent times have arrived: A storm comprised of pandemic hysteria, inflation and recession fears, supply chain issues, spiralling housing costs, widespread layoffs—the list goes on.
By 2025, half the workforce is expected to consist of Gen Z and Millennials, most of whom have never dealt with such cumulative chaos. To navigate such a volatile market, we asked three BC-based entrepreneurs about the advice they’d give to an earlier iteration of themselves.
Vancouver-based online car marketplace Canada Drives recently raised $40 million to continue its national expansion. Cody Green, Co-CEO of Canada Drives, believes that business owners must focus on customers during tough periods.
“During turbulent times, focus on what will be important to your customers and deliver value to them–they will ultimately determine your company’s success,” he offers. “Your job is to learn what the changing economic conditions mean for your customers and for your business.”
The CEO of Victoria-based digital agency Redbrick, which acquired Delivra earlier this year, agrees.
“This isn’t the time to start investing in risky activities,” Salt Spring Island-born Tobyn Sowden says. “Instead, focus on delivering maximum value to your customers and partners.”
And even though that may feel like cutting deals, don’t. Your bottom line still matters.
“Don’t be afraid to raise your prices,” Sowden says. “If you don’t raise prices during inflationary pressures, you will see significant margin contraction and put your business at risk—and ultimately those that you employ.”
We have seen several thousand Canadians lose their work recently: Ottawa’s Shopify, Toronto’s Clearco, Vancouver’s Article and Unbounce. The freshly rebranded Hootsuite took a particularly large hit, trimming 30% of staff. Smaller firms like Dooly have also been squeezed.
The point is, a business starts as legal fiction, but once it has a workforce, we’re talking about large numbers of people’s livelihoods.
And speaking of people—don’t forget about them! Sowden suggests going so far as to “over-communicate” to employees during high-stress stretches.
“Make sure to keep your team in the loop and up to speed with what you’re doing to combat headwinds to show them that you’re present and actively working to protect the business and their jobs,” he says.
Jeremy Shaki, founder and CEO of Vancouver programming academy Lighthouse Labs, believes it is important to instil key values such as adaptability into your employees—or, in the case of Lighthouse, its coding camp students.
“Lighthouse Labs has been set up well for times like these, as adaptability has always been a first principle focus of the company,” he explained, adding that it is “something we regularly teach our students.”
Shaki says adaptability is “the most critical pillar to lean on during uncertain moments” and a superior alternative to relying on luck—which is “never my favourite game plan,” he jokes.
Being adaptive is easier when your team is equipped for the task. Hire and train the people who align with the principles and values of the business. These are the ones who will stay onboard with you through choppy waters.
“Surround yourself with a great team you can lean on and pull from their collective experience,” Green says.
It’s important to stay together and function as a team rather than turn inward when pressures crank up. And instead of building up anxiety by dwelling on possible negative outcomes, Sowden urges entrepreneurs to “focus on what is going well.”
From hiring well to training properly and finally making the right calls under duress: Experience is the ultimate teacher, but its price may be too high to pay, and the lesson too slow. Shaki believes knowledge is crucial to determining these correct decisions. Preparation in advance might spare some pains down the road.
“Read a hell of a lot more around business successes and failures during economically volatile times,” he says.
When the Covid-19 Pandemic hit, Shaki remembers reading long-form articles on companies that had been successful in tough times and what had made them successful through those periods. He came out with tremendous insight.
“Some of the lessons in those articles were so opposite to the advice being given during great and prosperous times that it felt like a blind spot had suddenly revealed itself,” he explains.
“Be diligent and curious,” he says.