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How to lead and succeed through disruption and downturn

Five founders share their tips

We spoke to four founders of Australian start-ups and scale-ups who have led their businesses through the chaos of 2020 and not only survived but thrived. We discovered the key to business success during the crisis and get their tips on how to lead through disruption and downturn.

Traditional ways of doing business have been thrown out the window this year and the world has had to adapt with speed to an ever-changing environment.

These founders and Tech Fast 50 Australia participants are proving that entrepreneurial smarts, having an appetite for risk, the ability to move with lightning speed, experience operating in flux and being tech enabled are what’s needed to survive and thrive in business in 2020 and beyond.

The key to business success in 2020: attitude, agility, tech

“People who are drawn to working in a scale-up have a predisposition for absorbing and mitigating risk. We’re used to disruption and operating in flux and in many ways, this is no different,” says Chris Marr, Co-founder and CCO of Sonder.

Julie Mathers, Founder and CEO of Flora & Fauna found she already had the skills and agility needed for the COVID-19 environment.  

“What we’ve been doing during COVID isn’t that unusual for us,” says Julie. “As an entrepreneur, you have to think differently and move and operate quickly. What’s great about having a small business is you can be really, really nimble. We’re used to having phone calls at all hours and talking to suppliers on the weekend.”

Another key to success during the COVID era is being tech enabled. Many businesses have had to fast forward their digital transformation and the required mindset shift of employees and leadership teams, but this has been less of a challenge for our founders and has helped drive their success and the success of others.

“We’ve always done this,” says CEO and Founder of Modibodi Kristy Chong. “It just wasn't that dramatic for us because tech is in everything we do.”

For William On, Founder and CEO of Shippit, having enabling technology has meant being able to support their customers’ growth as well as their own.

“We’re benefiting from the massive channel shift away from shopping in stores to buying online, says William. “But we've changed our focus to make sure our partners also grow. In Victoria where retail is shut down, online is the only silver lining and we’re an enabling technology, so our job is to help get them navigate through these unprecedented times.”

Tips for leading in disruption and downturn

Be decisive: “Changing times warrant decisiveness: put your cards on the table and place that metaphorical bet.” Chris Marr, Co-founder and CCO, Sonder

Know your goal: “Be clear on your North Star and make sure everyone in the team is clear on it and is on the same journey.” William On, Co-founder and joint CEO, Shippit

Trust yourself: “Go with your gut, do what you think is right and don't second guess yourself.” Julie Mathers, Founder and CEO, Flora & Fauna

Forge ahead: “If there’s a problem, you need to solve it, you need to pivot, you need to keep moving forward.” Kristy Chong, Founder and CEO, Modibodi