How Chinese Startups Combat Challenges During the Pandemic

As things slowly return to normal in China, I am learning more about how Chinese startups adjust to uncertainties during the pandemic. I believe startups in other countries can learn from their peers in China to combat new challenges.

Key lessons:

  1. Stabilize internally before you stabilize externally

-Cultivate team culture

-Material incentives and empathetic support

2. Focus on existing clients and partners

3. Cashflow is key for startups

Stabilize internally before you stabilize externally

  1. Cultivate team culture

For founders, having the team work remotely allows them to identify whether or not their employees remain productive. Everyone must accept the fact that it is nearly impossible to be as efficient working at home as in the office. Being around the entire family all day creates many unavoidable distractions, while being alone for extended period also harms focus. A better way to measure an employee’s work is to prioritize and to evaluate outcomes instead of working hours. Early-stage founders also need to actively communicate with each team member. While working remotely, the founder is in the center to connect all dots within the team.

2. Material incentives and empathetic support

An empathetic approach to employee engagement may sound fairly simple as a concept, but ensuring it’s executed effectively requires a major shift away from the more traditional methods that most organizations have adopted.

I found three key stages of developing an employee-centric approach— exploration, generation and realization. The three stages are outlined below:

Exploration Stage
- Learn more about employees, other key stakeholder groups in the organisation and the context of problem
- Synthesize learnings gleaned from discovery and from listening to various points-of-view

Generation Stage
-Conduct iterative ideation to push past stereotypes to get to breakthrough ideas
-Build prototypes to learn, providing a foundation for making ideas better
-Test ideas and prototypes with actual users, or in this case employees

Realization Stage
-Implement the chosen solution and maintain a focus on continuous improvement

Focus on existing clients and partners

Check in personally with your customers and ask how they are holding up. See if there is anything you can do to support their business, and find a way to show how much you value them. This can include useable tips for other businesses also struggling through the impact of COVID-19, or just an update on what’s been useful for your business and an offer to share any strategies.

Stay connected with clients and partners. This can be an electronic or print newsletter, or a short email or call checking in. No need to be too promotional or push hard for a sale; aim to be clear, genuine and concise. Thank them for their continued support. Give an example of strategies you’ve seen working for other businesses. Share what is giving you inspiration during these challenging times. Share anything you or others are doing to support the community or individuals in need.

Cashflow is key for startups

The coronavirus outbreak will exacerbate any internal cash flow problems. We’ve all heard stories about companies struggling to survive without revenue coming in.

I am worried seeing many startups make overly aggressive expansions after successful fundraising. After burning out investors’ money, founders have to burn their own money in the face of uncertainties. I recommend taking a close look for wasteful spending. Founders are likely to be surprised by how much waste there is, whether it’s for recruitment, office leasing, or buying IT products. The harder decisions are about investments, but a crisis makes it necessary to bite the bullet.