As 2020 taught us, adversity can be a great teacher. However, to our finest entrepreneurs, today’s lessons will be tomorrow’s victories.
As the sun begins to set on 2020, we oversaw a roundtable of five of Australia’s leading entrepreneurs, discussing reflections on the year unlike any other, lessons learned, and possibilities for 2021 – operating under the assumption that there’s nowhere to go but up.
2020 visions and the COVID-19 difference
For the entrepreneurs in attendance, no two experiences of 2020 were alike. The events of this year had different impacts, based on their different approaches, businesses and circumstances.
Adrian Ramsay, of Adrian Ramsay Design House, said his 2020 vision was to focus on the niche of designing custom homes for acreage properties. “This has played out well with the urban flight created by COVID-19, as people moved away from cities and to the country,” he said.
For Calvin Janse van Vuuren, co-founder of VanDeRō, COVID allowed him and his colleagues the chance to reflect on what they could potentially do to make a positive and lasting contribution. “This is how VanDeRō’s ‘1 jar = 1 meal’ concept was born,” he said. “For every jar sold, a meal is provided by OzHarvest to people in need.”
As for Lee Featherby, the founder and CEO of PowerfulPoints, he saw the year as one of expansion. “We moved into a much bigger office, started the development of a new CRM and all were fired up, but before I knew it, I was working from home, wondering if the business would survive. Thanks to our China office, we’re doing better than ever, but we will just put 2020 down as a holding year. “We have learnt to adapt our business model to a new way of thinking.”
Lachlan Grant, CEO of Vital Addition was originally hoping for a year of breakout growth, launching a couple of new business lines and services. Not surprisingly, COVID put this on hold. “We were much more risk-averse to investing in growing the business,” he said. “Instead we focused on cost-control and pushing our networks to keep our core business strong, which it has stayed – thankfully.”
A far more personal reflection was borne out of Romney Stanton’s experience. The general manager of theatre skills workshop, Darlo Drama, said that her wedding plans were thrown in the air by COVID. “My now-husband, Glen, and I had a small wedding of 70 guests planned for April. Instead, we decided to press on with just nine people plus 70 guests via Zoom!”
“It wasn’t the day we had planned,” she said, “But it ended up being even more special and intimate than we could have imagined.
“We figure if we can survive COVID (and the wettest day, in April 2020), then our love can survive anything!”
Self-care and mental health tips
Solid advice about looking after your mental health and wellbeing are often sought-after, and our founders had more than a few gems to share from their 2020 experiences.
For Romney, the key is to be kind to yourself. “Do little things in your day that you love, that nurture and support you,” she says. “Take time out; stop, take in your surroundings, breathe and be still.”
Lachlan recommends keeping a routine. “I broke through a barrier of sorts once lockdowns were lifted, returning to the office as soon as possible. Throughout I’ve focused on staying calm and giving everyone on my team some grace as it’s a stressful time for us all,” he said.
Checking in and helping those around you is of paramount importance to Adrian Ramsay, who says we should “reach out to see if they need something you can give. Make sure their jobs are secure and that the business is managed well, plus offer increased transparency and strong leadership.”
As for Calvin, perspective is the key. “So many people and so many countries are so much worse off. If one focuses on those blessings with constant gratitude, the road opens, and opportunities present themselves that we would otherwise have missed.”
Work-life balance amid lockdowns and working from home
The roundtable’s experience of nationwide lockdowns was much like everyone else’s: varied, depending on their location and personal experience.
For Adrian, it wasn’t the drama that he feels it could have been. “I have a very supportive wife, and my kids attend a Montessori school so they are used to a high level of self-responsibility,” he says. “Although I watched clients go through the full range of emotions in dealing with their families and work life.”
The COVID experience, while harsh and stressful for most, reaped some rewards from others. VanDeRō’s Calvin is a prime example: “We would never have progressed this fast, this far and with this much clarity of purpose if we did not have the time on our hands to focus and make the right decisions.”
Lachlan said that the Sydney lockdown was very challenging to differentiate work from home life, and it took its toll. “Towards the end of it, I was very mentally drained. I got into the office as soon as I could, which certainly helped.”
To the festive season … and beyond
With borders now almost fully opening up around Australia, and Christmas travel plans can be made a reality – at least on the domestic front.
Vital Addition’s Lachlan is full-steam ahead on this front, with a summertime agenda including “…getting married, getting out of Sydney and spending (as much as possible) time on the beach or in the pub in Yamba on the NSW far north coast.”
Similarly, Adrian feels blessed to live within minutes of what he calls ‘amazing’ beaches, surf, and hinterland. “I’m really looking forward to taking time out with the kids and exploring some more of our great local spots.”
The border closures have impacted the potential of VanDeRō’s product in a positive way, leading Calvin to ponder, “The silent time we would like to take advantage of to unpack the journey next year towards making sound decisions.”
But just as the domestic borders are opening up again, international ones remain firmly closed, causing headaches for companies like Lee Featherby’s, whose staff are from diverse backgrounds, but cannot get home …yet.
“I’m having a problem getting staff to take a break because they really can’t go anywhere,” Lee says. “We have a number of ex-pats, and they can’t go home, so they are reluctant to take leave.”
2021 business goals
All of these entrepreneurs have a similar mindset: that 2020 is, at best, a launchpad for bigger and better things.
For Lee, it’s very much front-and-centre in his business’ focus. “We are resetting for next year in the belief that an effective vaccine will be available in the next quarter, with roll-out over the ensuing six months,” he said. “We feel that the psychological lift from a vaccine will be huge and that the economies of the world will bounce back quite strongly. So, we plan to transfer the 2020 goals to 2021.”
Ever the optimist, Adrian has a similar outlook for the year ahead. “We have some fantastic new clients that we will be designing for, which will be lots of fun,” he says. “Our focus is on working with great people and bringing their dreams to life.”
Calvin’s plan for VanDeRō is to continue to push as hard as they possibly can to increase the business’ reach as a philanthropic enterprise. “We’ll need to continue to find opportunities to spread the love, reach and impact of the business.”
As for The Big Smoke, we’ll continue to introduce you to Australia’s newest and most promising entrepreneurs who emerge in 2021, as we keep our eye on the world of start-ups and burgeoning SMEs.