COVID-19: New Opportunities and Threats

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COVID-19 Opportunities and Threats

Musa Kalenga‘s words will resonate with entrepreneurs who are looking to make the most of fresh opportunities brought on by the COVID-19 crisis while navigating its devastating impact.

Musa Kalenga Ladders and Trampolines COVID-19 Threats and opportunities
Musa Kalenga,
Bridge Labs

“Business opportunities have formed rapidly, those with presence of mind and mental resolve, have taken advantage of these opportunities,” says Kalenga who is a marketer, brand communication specialist, writer and entrepreneur.

Currently he is the founder and CEO of Bridge Labs and Chief Future Officer at House of Brave. He is also the author of the business strategy book, Ladders and Trampolines, which is based on his personal and professional experiences as a marketer for some of the biggest companies in the country.

This interview forms part of SME South Africa’s ‘Business Unusual’ Series’ featuring respected and influential voices in the local entrepreneurship ecosystem to reflect on new ways of doing businesses.

ALSO IN THE SERIES

Kalenga explains why you should be looking for opportunities everywhere in a post-COVID-19 world, the skills all entrepreneurs need, and how entrepreneurs can regain their appetite for risk and business.

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges facing entrepreneurs right now with regards to market access and business opportunities?

Market access always remains a challenge, but at this present moment there have been shifts in the market that have created new demands for services and products previously not supplied and similarly, have obliterated old demand for certain products and services.

The biggest challenge for an entrepreneur is to shift with the new market conditions in an ethical and profitable way.

Q: How should entrepreneurs be approaching launching a new business now versus pre-Covid-19?

It is prudent to “hold all previous assumptions lightly”. Launching a new business now must be executed with the full appreciation that human and economic conditions have been altered for good.

The Boardroom Innovation Report speaks of the shifts that have changed things forever and this spans human interaction right through to geopolitics. So, for anyone launching a new business now, consider all these factors. It’s also a unique opportunity to start more socially responsible businesses from the onset such that we can account for major issues like climate change into the business model from the word go.

Q: Where should entrepreneurs be looking for opportunities right now?

Everywhere – That is the short answer. For someone that is in sync with their market and environment, you may find opportunities in the strangest places. It does however help to consider your sector and your business as a first point of call. Do you believe your sector will experience sufficient recovery to create new opportunities? If so – hone in on what needs to be true for that to happen. Then double down interrogating those spaces. Sometimes opportunity may also come from a critical evaluation of your existing capabilities, strip them bare and see where else you can create spaces in different value chains.

Q: Are there any sectors/areas that entrepreneurs looking for opportunities should avoid?

That is difficult to say. However, the obvious and major ones are those that increase risk of contracting the virus. For example, there are obvious challenges that arise when you endeavour to build a business that relies on the mass assembly of humans in the same place.

Businesses that will only succeed if they are connected to the physical gathering of humans would be good to avoid. Unless you have cracked a way to scale this of course.

We are facing an extremely sharp turn in the road. All our effort must focus on turning our businesses and mindsets to survive.

Musa Kalenga, Bridge Labs

Q: How should entrepreneurs be leveraging technology to take advantage of opportunities that may present themselves? 

Technology can assist in most of your business operations and processes, the way to think about it is as people first, process second and then technology becomes powerful.

There are three core areas that you need to watch and monitor very carefully to thrive Post Covid19. Firstly Leadership – observe behaviour during the crisis.

Focus on the “missing middle” provides an ordinary opportunity for out of ordinary context. In these interactions, create ways to connect and monitor interaction with technology-based communication platforms.

Secondly, your process – you need to ensure a clear understanding of core business processes. It is important that you get buy-in from all the people impacted by the processes.

Make sure that you use process to liberate and not constrain. i.e. work from home. There are great process mapping tools online as well as free templates and resources to help you achieve this. And finally, the actual technology. There is a world of useful SaaS solutions for small businesses to apply to their business that enhance reporting, communication, projects monitoring and impact measurement.

Q: What other new skills do entrepreneurs need right now to take advantage of opportunities that came about as a result of COVID-19?

The use of data to make decisions is increasingly a critical skill and this can help any entrepreneur make sense of all the information that they are gathering. Collaboration is also an underrated skill that enables entrepreneurs to critically consider the power of the collective.

Q: For entrepreneurs with existing businesses which may be struggling, any turn around strategies for SMEs post Covid 19/lockdown?

Being able to realize new opportunities and shift the directional of your business can be a critical aspect of survival.

By definition, a pivot usually occurs when a company makes a fundamental change to their business after determining (usually through market research) that their product isn’t meeting the needs of their intended market. In this case, the pivot has been brought on by severe external circumstances. Assume two intersecting axes. On the vertical axis, you have levels of proficiency from high to low. On the horizontal axis we have relationships mapped from deep to shallow.  Proficiency is defined as a demonstrable level of skill and expertise. Relationships defined as commercial networks to create value. In the four resulting quadrants, you have a different scenario from which your organization is using as a launch point for a pivot.

  • As a “Startup”, you would typically have shallow relationships and low proficiency.
  • As a “High Value Legacy Organization”, you would typically have high proficiency and shallow relationships.
  • As a “Tenderpreneur” you would typically have deep relationships with exceptionally low proficiency.
  • And the most desirable place would be as a “High Impact Entrepreneur” who has High Levels of Proficiency as well as Deep Relationships.

The ability to map where your business is, may create the required starting point to initiate a Pivot. A pivot would either be a Ladder Pivot or a Trampoline Pivot. A ladder Pivot is incremental in nature and would be a step in the right direction. A Trampoline Pivot would be exponential in nature and would be a leap in the right (and different) direction. To read more about my book Ladders and Trampolines, you can purchase the book online

Q: Covid-19 has affected many entrepreneurs’ confidence and psyches. What are some of the ways that entrepreneurs can regain some of the lost confidence and appetite for risk?

Try something new. Even if it’s in your personal capacity and not directly related to your business.

Slowly build up your confidence and your mojo such that you regain confidence and an appetite to experiment once again. Life, in uncertain moments, sometimes requires us to look to nature for solutions. All animals were designed with ABSOLUTELY everything they need to survive. Take the chameleon for instance, the slowest, most sluggish animal that under normal circumstances would not be able to compete in a fast-paced world. If speed was the barometer, it would definitely not win, but what it would do is SURVIVE. The chameleon would survive by fundamentally changing its appearance to blend into any environment.

In these uncertain times, we are called to be more like chameleons (with a dash of speed). “A fork in the road is only dangerous if you forget to turn” and this captures our key challenges as small businesses. We are facing an extremely sharp turn in the road. All our effort must focus on turning our businesses and mindsets to survive.

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