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Founder of InCharged, industry-leading event tech co., & LuxDisinfect, helping businesses safely reopen with medical-grade disinfection tech
In 2011, I quit my corporate job and moved back into my parents’ home so I could develop an innovative product: brandable cellphone charging stations for events. I worked several part-time jobs to personally finance company operations until we broke even, and within a few years, I had grown InCharged into a fixture within the event industry.
When the Covid-19 pandemic struck in early 2020, the event business came to a grinding halt: Hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue from booked events was no longer flowing in, and we were plunged into debt. With my employees’ jobs on the line — and with my own mortgage, a toddler to feed and another baby on the way — I did what any entrepreneur would do. Just as I did 10 years ago, I got to work. But this time, I had some hard-earned wisdom to lean on. Here’s how the lessons I learned from bootstrapping my business helped me pivot during the pandemic, and how they can help you too.
Take A Moment To Pause
It’s tough not to immediately react to a catastrophic event, but it’s important to try to remove emotion from the picture when making business decisions. When the pandemic hit, I took a few days to process what was happening in the world and to let my new business vision crystallize before taking any action. I knew I didn’t like having my business shuttered, so I reflected on what physical products the world needed at that exact moment, particularly in the event industry where my expertise lay. At that point, I realized that my company had the infrastructure and expertise to take hospital-grade sanitizing technology and make it available to a wider variety of businesses at a reasonable price.
Don’t Underestimate The Worth Of Added Value
Our cellphone charging stations had to be built from scratch, and it involved a lot of expensive custom parts. This time around, I realized that the pieces we needed for our new products were all readily available, but there just wasn’t anyone putting them together and selling them in an easy-to-use package. I identified the opportunity to modify expensive high-tech products typically only used in large institutions and market them for use in a wider variety of businesses both big and small. Our first light kiosk was comprised of 256-nanometer bulbs installed in a ceiling fixture that we had modified to stand on a tripod. This not only saved us money, but it also allowed us to bring a product to market rapidly.
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The lesson here is to look for opportunities to add value both for yourself and for your customers.
Think Quickly, But Move Carefully
While building InCharged, I learned that no matter how many surveys you send out or how much research you do, you may never know which products are going to resonate with customers until you launch. So while you often need to think fast to pivot your business, be careful when making any moves.
On several occasions, I had requests for specific products, so I would develop custom items and purchase large amounts only to have them sit in my warehouse because the market wasn’t there. This time, when customers make specific requests, I don’t rush to build something new — I see if I can source it first, and then if the demand is strong enough, I consider manufacturing it myself.
Find Other Businesses To Work With
When you’re trying to quickly launch a new brand, you may not be able to manage every single aspect of the business yourself. Instead of trying to put your hands on each process, find like-minded partners to work with.
When a customer asked for ultraviolet-C ceiling fixtures, it wasn’t something our company initially offered, and I didn’t have the resources to develop it from scratch, so I found another business specializing in light fixtures that could build them for me. The customer got the product they needed, and I was able to be the person who got it for them while also helping another business earn some revenue.
Understand That Trial And Error Aren’t Always Good Things
When you’re bootstrapping a business, you often end up handling a lot of tasks that may not be within your area of expertise. I am not an engineer, but when I was starting out, I built my own prototypes to save money. This led to a technology that was intended to charge a cellphone somehow exploding in my face.
I’ve learned many important skills in my 10 years of running a business, but engineering isn’t really one of them and there is no room for error with product development. So even when money is tight, aim to work with the right people to ensure that your products are safe and effective right from the get-go.
Since last spring, our business has exploded — in a good way, unlike my first product prototype. We paid our debt, have employed more than 20 additional people to help grow the company and are able to give back to our community by donating products to local businesses. Now that our business has successfully recovered, we’re working hard to help other businesses recover too.
When your business is facing failure due to circumstances outside of your control and you need to pivot quickly, it’s important to draw on your knowledge of the past, be flexible with your product offering and adapt to changing circumstances. Take a moment to reflect and plan, but then keep moving forward — and don’t stop until you get where you need to go.
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Author: Jessica Gonzalez, Forbes Councils Member
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