Updated: Oct 30
Building a business from scratch comes with challenges that only a few are willing to make: funding, scaling, and bootstrapping. Part of that challenge is being able to overcome unpredictable circumstances, like a global pandemic. Unpredictability exemplifies that challenge, but also brings with it a chance to thrive!
At Hoamsy, a web-technology startup that uses matching algorithms to help young professionals and students find people and places that fit, we leveraged the advantage of having millions of people spending more time at home as an opportunity to grow our business and make a difference during a crisis. Here are four ways we scaled our business during these uncertain times.
1) Find Talent During a Crisis
The pandemic led to job loss, remote school/work environments along with more time-at-hand for millions of people. You, as a business, can change your trajectory and create new work opportunities, simultaneously.
COVID-19 left many college students without summer internships, which cost them a great learning experience and resume-builder. As a startup, you can simultaneously help students seeking internships while expanding the size of your team. Oftentimes, the work needed to get done does not require a programmer with twenty years of experience or a marketing expert; you just need someone whose intrinsic motivation matches your company’s mission!
What tools did we use? AngelList is a great resource for startups looking for talent. Other recruiting platforms to consider are LinkedIn, Handshake, and ZipRecruiter. You might be surprised by the volume of applications that will pour in.
“At Hoamsy, when we first started looking for interns, we really did not expect to get many applications since we are a small startup,” said Richard O’ Brien, CEO and Co-Founder of Hoamsy. “It’s extremely shocking how much demand for experience there is. You just don’t think about it when you’re on the other side of the table for the first time.”
We were able to give our interns experience while leveraging their curiosity, which in turn helped Hoamsy grow.
“Having curious college students makes us question why we do things a certain way, instead of just doing what we are told is the key to our success,” said Neritti Lakshman, Marketing and Operations Lead at Hoamsy. “Their fresh perspective and new ideas have played a large role in solidifying our growth.”
People are looking for jobs and work experience and there is no better place to get a meaningful, hands-on experience than at a startup. You are helping new team members develop their skills, while also benefiting from having your business grow as well. Startups need to turn COVID-19’s negative effects on the job market into a positive through this mutually beneficial opportunity.
2) Leverage Online Marketing Opportunities
With the shift to remote work and online learning, people are extremely active online. Take advantage of this opportunity by building your online presence and leveraging social media. Talk about your brand and business on LinkedIn to interact with people from your industry. Highlight your product, culture, and uniqueness on Instagram/Facebook through organic campaigns.
For finding new users, we discovered that direct outreach was our most effective conversion tool; the platform that led us to this insight was Facebook Groups.
Use this time to grow, experiment, or adapt your online strategy. All eyeballs are online and startups need to take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity to increase engagement and brand recognition.
3) Restructure for Virtual Needs
If 2020 has one takeaway for startups, it is how vital it is to adapt to customer needs. Consumer demand has shifted and companies have followed suit, centering demands like contactless delivery, remote interactions, and buying online and picking up in-store.
As a startup, it can be easy to chase what you think a customer needs, while potentially overlooking what their need really is. Adapting your product or service during a crisis is hard, but it can also lead to finding a new niche. At Hoamsy, we adapted by doing qualitative research to see how we could best serve our target market. We found that people were moving and actively searching for sublets, so we dedicated our resources to providing a service to that target market.
Use this time to restructure your business; the need still exists, but the way you cater to that need just may need tweaking. Target users with unserved needs that your startup can provide a product and/or service for.
How do you pivot once you have ascertained who has an unserved need? Interact with prospective customers and understand that your product or service might change after getting one-on-one feedback from customers. There may even be a new group in need that your product can better serve. Including a broader customer base will help you build a product/service that is more engaging and useful to your customer base.
4) Make Sure Your Virtual Team Feels Connected
Once your startup has more team members, it is important to make sure everyone feels connected in a remote-work environment. We made sure to balance daily work check-ins with team bonding.
We ensured everyone on the team felt connected by having regularly scheduled calls, as well as check-ins throughout the day to clarify certain things. You have to make sure everyone is easily accessible through either workplace chats, like Slack, or by being able to hop on a quick call.
People are continuing to work and learn remotely, and it is vital to ensure it isn’t putting a strain on your employees. As a startup, we found it important to be intentional with our culture. At Hoamsy, we're matchmakers. We want to make roommate/logistical harmony a reality for our customers, so we reflect that in our company culture by balancing tactical meetings with good old-fashioned coffee talk.
We do this by maintaining a healthy balance of work calls with team bonding exercises; it builds on company culture and helps your team get to know each other better. On Hoamsy Fun Fridays, we go from an all-hands meeting road-mapping our product to a round of Among Us.
While you want everyone on the team to be productive, you also want your team to feel connected to each other on a personal level. This can be done by having fun virtual team gatherings. If team members make personal, non-work-related connections with each other, it inadvertently boosts team morale and work productivity. Just be sure to practice mindfulness when it comes to your coworkers’ personal time and potential Zoom fatigue.