Updated: Jun 1, 2021
We Speak Entrepreneur: What the Pandemic Uncertainty Means for Business Owners
Entrepreneurship in itself is the ability to solve the unpredictable, the unseen – to turn on a dime and leave three cents change. A dilemma is essentially a problem without an obvious solution. We solve those for a living each and every day. It’s normal to expect the unexpected. We are, by nature, solution oriented.
Those of us that have been self-employed for a while have certainly never seen the challenges that present themselves today with COVID-19. Most of us learned to manage our businesses by just doing it. Some of us honed our skills in training programs within a corporation. Still some have taken classes in school or were mentored before striking out to hang our own shingle. That said, it’s doubtful that any of us had training or formal classes in what to do in case of a pandemic! Think about it. How often had we used the word pandemic before January 2020?
Webster's dictionary posits, though some commentators insist, that dilemma be restricted to instances in which the alternatives to be chosen are equally unsatisfactory. Their concern is misplaced. The unsatisfactoriness of the options are usually a matter of how the author presents them. What is distressing or painful about a dilemma is having to make a choice one does not want to make. The use of such adjectives as terrible, painful, and irreconcilable suggests that a dilemma is losing some of its unpleasant force. Well, let’s take for a moment that COVID-19 is just that, a dilemma. What is the right solution? What is the right choice? Quarantine? Isolation? What is the obvious solution?
A May 28, 2020 article written by Gonzalo Schwarz in The Western Journal states the following:
For centuries, a sense of purpose has guided entrepreneurs as one of the main motivators in business.
As recent psychological research confirms, purpose and meaning are key drivers of entrepreneurship. Furthermore, that study also found that the more potential entrepreneurs believe in their ability to live a meaningful life, reporting statistically higher levels of “existential agency,” the more it motivates them to pursue their goals and view entrepreneurship as helpful for solving societal problems. The result of purpose-driven entrepreneurship is often the unleashing of creative and imaginative solutions to difficult problems — a dynamic embodied by business leaders around the world who are being put to the test by the coronavirus pandemic.
Gonzalo Schwarz’s example of entrepreneurs solving problems using creative solutions comes from Fred Smith, the founder and CEO of FedEx. In a recent Washington Post interview, Smith explains how the company has been dealing with the pandemic since early January, given that there are many FedEx employees in the city of Wuhan, China, epicenter of the COVID-19. FedEx and its employees have been vital in transporting literal tons of personal protective equipment all around the world in their effort to support front-line health care personnel during the pandemic.
However, the company, and Smith himself, has been purpose-driven from the get-go. As documented by business historian Gary Hoover, FedEx was built from the ground up based on a paper from Smith’s college years. In it, Smith identified a problem to solve and presented a clear purpose for building a business that could connect people and businesses all around the world and reduce the amount of time consumers and businesses spent waiting to receive freight.
Other purpose-driven entrepreneurs include Southwest Airlines Founder Herb Kelleher, who told his employees that without his airline’s low fares, people would miss important events in their lives that they need to experience. Similarly, an entrepreneur nicknamed “Kinko” founded a chain of copy shops that became worth more than $1 billion. While some saw the work as menial, “Kinko” saw it as a higher calling that enabled people to pursue goals with deep meaning. Without Kinko’s, people would not get the word out about their ice cream socials or be reunited with their lost dogs. More recently, Hamdi Ulukaya, the founder of Chobani, spurred a yogurt revolution in the United States while at the same time employing refugees escaping brutal regimes abroad. Likewise, more than 20 years ago and after seeing the opportunity to empower customers and enhance their experiences through the internet revolution, Jeff Bezos started Amazon. It is now worth $1 trillion. What does all this mean in our current crisis?
As Fred Smith’s example demonstrates, supply chains are kept running and the essential economy keeps moving forward despite the pandemic. Purpose-driven entrepreneurs understand that American families and vast sectors of the economy depend on supply chains. On top of the important roles our health care professionals are playing, essential businesses are on the front lines of this crisis as well. In the middle of the vast unemployment claims being filled, many businesses are hiring to meet the increased demand in their sectors.
Even so, purposeful entrepreneurs are keeping their team members and customers safe — essential businesses are disinfecting surfaces constantly and measuring the temperature of employees regularly. Other leaders have extended their sick-leave policies and added a coronavirus hotline for employees in need of assistance or information.
Because so many entrepreneurs are purpose-driven, the meaning they derive from their businesses also translates into meaning and purpose in serving others through private donations.
Entrepreneurs like Bill Gates see the greater good as encompassing a much larger stakeholder group, which is why he has donated to seven different efforts to develop a vaccine.
Other entrepreneurs like Patrick Collison, Chris Sacca and Elon Musk are providing funds for Fast Grants, a project led by economist Tyler Cowen that is providing funding for scientists at academic institutions working on coronavirus-related projects in less than 48 hours. The project has already disbursed more than $22 million in grants within two months.
The most innovative, forward-thinking entrepreneurs can be purpose-driven without even recognizing it — purpose is simply in their DNA.
There will be plenty of lessons learned from the pandemic. Hopefully, we’ll be better prepared when the next public health crisis comes around.
But when we do meet that next challenge, purpose-driven entrepreneurs will be the resilient, adaptable and stakeholder-centered leaders we can trust to get us through it.
Schwarz' Op-Ed is on point. He laid out some of the best examples in modern entrepreneur leadership success to-date. Solving problems is what entrepreneurs thirst for. Many of us have found opportunities to provide services that we never thought we would be able or willing to provide. Suddenly, our customers and clients have realized that certain products that were, at one time, nearly free are now 20 times the cost. For example, masks were once seven cents apiece. Now, sourcing safety products from China suddenly seems to be in everybody’s interest. The sudden death of people within close proximity drove home the reality. People now pay $7 for KN95 surgical masks. The shock of death without the chance to intercede with medicine or medical expertise meant that families would have no chance to respond, nearly at all.
The following unattributed social media post describes the experience of attaching a loved one to a ventilator. This post describes the horror.
Here you go folks... for those people who don’t understand what it means to be on a ventilator but want to take the chance of going out without a mask...
For starters, it's NOT an oxygen mask put over the mouth while the patient is comfortably lying down and reading magazines. Ventilation for COVID-19 is a painful intubation that goes down your throat and stays there until you live or you die.
It is done under anesthesia for 2 to 3 weeks without moving, often upside down, with a tube inserted from the mouth up to the trachea and allows you to breathe to the rhythm of the lung machine. The patient can't talk or eat, or do anything naturally - the machine keeps you alive.
The discomfort and pain they feel from this means medical experts have to administer sedatives and painkillers to ensure tube tolerance for as long as the machine is needed. It's like being in an artificial coma. After 20 days from this treatment, a young patient loses 40% muscle mass, and gets mouth or vocal cords trauma, as well as possible pulmonary or heart complications.
It is for this reason that old or already weak people can't withstand the treatment and die. Many of us are in this boat ... so stay safe unless you want to take the chance of ending up here. This is NOT the flu.
Add a tube into your stomach, either through your nose or skin for liquid food, a sticky bag around your butt to collect the diarrhea, a Foley catheter to collect urine, an IV for fluids and meds, an A-line f to monitor your BP that is completely dependent upon finely calculated med doses, teams of nurses, CRNA’s and MA’s to reposition your limbs every two hours and lying on a mat that circulates ice cold fluid to help bring down your 104 degree temp.
-Anyone want to try all that out? Stay home and wear a mask when you go out! Stay safe and well!-
What this article doesn’t say, is that the patient can hear everything that is said so if the staff carelessly talks about death, the patient panics. If the sedatives are lessened, the patient panics because he can't breathe or talk or, in his case, move. When they begin to lower the pain medications, the patient screams in his head but can't make a sound. When they take out the tubes it's extremely uncomfortable. A trachea may replace the respirator, the patient still can't talk or eat without a tube.
Your child, your spouse, your parent, suffers from COVID-19 alone in the hospital. The victims are not limited to strangers. When you choose to crowd, unmasked, into newly opened stores for some irrelevant purchase, ask yourself if it's worth a lifetime of knowing your child suffered, maybe died, alone.
Now we string two words together that heretofore made no sense.... Social. Distancing. Imagine that. Exactly what does that mean? Now, we need not breathe each other’s air. Now, we are not allowed to stand within six feet of each other in the grocery store and the sale of duct tape has gone way up. Acrylic shields are suddenly a must in the so many ways and face shields don't look so stupid anymore. In fact, they look smart.
Entrepreneurs will make new products out of products that we never thought of before. Our creative minds will fill voids overnight. We will find solutions to the dilemmas we face. Authorities will require us to be compliant with so many new regulations. Ah! There's that word new “regulations” – rules and requirements. We will respond. We will create the products. Our new normal will include new norms that don't look so funny anymore. Imagine? Face shields on babies.
- Darryl King
Entrepreneur at the Intersection of Business and Politics