How many times have you heard that the current pandemic crisis is also an opportunity? People are repeating the old John F. Kennedy quote about the Chinese word that meant both danger and opportunity. I have now seen dozens of business plans for mobile apps to get COVID-19 under control, a new tool to work remotely, enabling e-healthcare and many other similar ones. They are probably important things, but if you want to build a longer-term sustainable business during a crisis, you must go beyond the ‘obvious’.
It is important to have a concrete need, when you want to build a new product or business but, in reality, it is not so simple. When you read that people want to buy a lot of toilet paper and cans of tuna during a crisis, it can be a good business to go to sell them immediately – if you happen to have them. But it doesn’t mean that you should start building a long-term toilet paper and tuna business from scratch. Furthermore, it may also be a brand and credibility risk to jump on a bandwagon and chase a short-term trend linked to COVID-19, unless you actually have a valuable contribution that isn’t a repurposed afterthought. But an innovation could be, how to make the logistics for these and other products better, or how to guarantee the availability of basic items in all situations or help people to manage their needs better so that they don’t panic.
When the Internet became mainstream in the late 1990’s, many people wanted to start a dotcom business. When 3G came, many parties started developing mobile Internet services. When Apple opened the App Store, people started to make mobile apps. And when blockchain became well-known with bitcoin, people wanted to be bitcoin investors and build blockchain services.
But how many were actually successful? Very few it seems, but at the same time, those were important turning points for many new products and businesses. It is also highlighted that the winners are not necessarily those who go digging for gold in a new area, but who facilitate something new for these areas and people. Think of what Levi Strauss, Wells Fargo and Domingo Ghirardelli did during the California gold rush.
This is a very difficult time for many businesses and entrepreneurs. We will see in the future how high a price we will have paid for the effect of lockdowns in the economy and businesses, as well as indirectly in the lives of people, their health and long-term wellbeing. This is also the time to plan new things and start to implement them, but you must go beyond the daily demand to build something sustainable.
This lockdown period has changed the behavior of people. People have learned to work remotely, order online, use e-health services, study online, handle online meetings, sign and confirm things digitally, agree on a mortgage and home buying digitally, host social after-work sessions and many other things. And there are a lot of much less obvious changes in the market and behavior of people. When you now want to build a longer-term successful business, focus on the projected changes in the market and people, not today’s short-term demands.
It is important to remember that it‘s not just about building new services you believe will have demand in the future. But it might be that you can facilitate a platform, enable development or offer some fundamental components for those services. For example, consumer business is always hard to predict, let alone who is able to make a version that is a big success. But if you can build a component that all those new consumer services like to use, it might be a better bet. It is said, you should first focus to be #1 in your own potential market, no matter how small that market may be, if you have any hope of becoming #1 globally.
Doing things digitally online is now the first layer of most new services. What could be the next step? Data is becoming more important and now governments also want to track your location and health data. This probably raises more fundamental questions about data management and ownership models, when the crisis is over. Or if office work is now done more remotely and with online tools, could we at the same time automate them more? Or if we teach people online, can we also have AI solutions to handle more personal teaching, when a teacher cannot handle all one-to-one questions. Or if people start to make more virtual communities, how to handle trust and ‘hidden-hierarchies’ that exist in all important communities and clubs. Just to highlight some potential trends.
This is a difficult time for many people. Planning and building something new is important not only to create for a future lifestyle or business but also for mental stimulation. It is fundamental to focus on hope and the future. In many businesses and professions, it is also mandatory to focus on new things, if the old models have collapsed. But please, go beyond the obvious. If you see dozens or thousands of other people trying to promote a new idea or business, forget it. Take your time, and try to see and analyze, what is fundamentally behind those obvious phenomena and what value you can create for the long term.