PoweredLocal co-founder Michael Jankie: Our startup experience means we can weather the COVID-19 storm

Michael Jankie PoweredLocal

Michael Jankie is the co-founder and CEO of PoweredLocal. Source: supplied.

The longer-lasting effect of this virus is that it will disable and kill businesses that were able to get by in times of plenty. The good news is our startup experience means we have been conditioned to navigate through this. Whatever that may look like.

I run a startup, PoweredLocal, which provides guest Wi-Fi Software-as-a-Service to places that people go to. Cafes, play centres, theme parks, cultural centres, nail salons, gyms — you get the picture. 

We diversified our business to be global; we operate in 20-plus languages and over 40 countries, and we are a cheap line-item with an outsized return. Up until the start of March, we thought we had a robust strategy, that we had diversified our customer base with no clients that were too big, or geographically influenced, or of individual industry risk.

But we were not broad enough in our risk mitigation.

We service the public when they are out of their home or office, when they are travelling and when they are on holidays. It turns out we share the same target market that COVID-19 thrives in.

A muddy, level, playing field

On that first Monday, March 16, things were looking okay. We just thought we would have a tough time selling to new customers for the next month. 

The following day, we started to get emails from customers who are slashing every small expense they could find, as they closed doors and prepared for their revenues to drop to $0. 

Over the last six weeks this has continued on a daily basis. Our account management team have been busy managing customers that wanted to stop paying, but increase their use. 

We help our partners build the best database of contact records for their customers, and the one thing they have all been doing more than ever has been contacting their customers.

I look after the product and I know what we have is robust and magical. I thought we had a diverse market, but our customers shut down quickly and took up the exact advantages of using SaaS — which is the ability to pause SaaS.

My co-founder Gary and I work well together; we have known each other since the age of three and he looks after sales while I look after product. He’s an optimist, I’m a conservative planner. Yin and yang type of thing.

We absolutely thrive in this environment. 

And so while the playing field is mud, it has also been levelled. We conserve spend, put in time over money to prove results, and aim for the lowest cost of acquisition rather than broadest.

Our investors probably don’t love this method, in normal times. But these are not normal times.

We are no longer having to compete with others that are cashed-up with debt or equity, and who would comfortably spend 10 times what we would even deem necessary to compete and dominate.

Our staff levels are lower and more autonomous than traditional businesses or other startups. We use code and automation to run the bulk of our work. We hack marketing to avoid spend on ads or a fat payroll. While we have a local team of six in Melbourne, we have always been a global team with members all around the world; suddenly deciding to go work from home over a weekend was a non-issue as the majority of our global team already do that. 

Our competitors are the absolute opposite. They compete with us on staffing levels, account management, face-to-face, pre-sales, post-sales, success managers, accounts receivable and many more heads on their books. They have always marketed the number of heads they have.

They’re all in trouble.

Ready for an uptick

Our team is used to thinking and planning for days and weeks ahead, and for the first time, we’ve started thinking months and years ahead. What has become clear to us is that not all our customers will survive this, but some of them are going to come back bigger and stronger.

In hospitality and retail, we already see those that are planning and preparing to re-open. Our first hospitality customer to cancel has now engaged with us on a significantly larger deal as they prepare to re-open. It’s now far more obvious that those who were quick to shut-down are going to take the most advantage when they re-open. They’re calculated and planned. 

The smart operators are already using digital to measure responses to certain messaging, to understand what their customers will want to do, react to, and what will be drivers to come back in. 

Some tips (because we know the stats) on what messaging and directives are working:

  • Contactless ordering;
  • Integrated guest Wi-Fi;
  • Contactless payments;
  • Deals and bonds; and
  • #supportlocal.

Messages from businesses about basic details, such as cleanliness, hygiene, health of staff and temperature checking and working to a much, much lower degree. These are now all assumed, so sending out an email with these comments highest on the list now seems desperate.

On the deals front, customers are reacting more to deals now than ever, and they are tuned into #supportlocal. As a brand they can get behind, they want to hear about how they are going to have a great experience, rather than hearing about staff wearing gloves and masks. 

What we see having a remarkable uptake are win-win scenarios. Just because a business is closed for visitors, does not mean they’re not open for business. The idea of a buy-now, visit-later gift card or bond is working really well. 

So we’ve enacted plans to be ready to rocket when each territory starts its uptick. When things look like they have hit the worst they could imaginably be, we can now see the clear skies are around the next corner.

Some recommendations of what you can do right now 

Take note of who on your team is in this with you — they are the future leaders of your company.

Don’t spend too much time looking at your overheads. Instead, focus on what you can do to be ready to ink deals, charge credit cards, and collect the cash as soon as any territory starts its uplift.

And docus on productivity — use tools such as Zoom, Slack, time-doctor, Standuply and many more.

These will help you come out the other side with a rocket trajectory.

Our worldwide partnerships have exploded, and we’ve done more deals with partners and resellers than we’ve ever done.

From this, we know there are businesses thriving in regional centres. We know India and China are good target markets for us today as they start to come out the other side. We know some industries, like our customers in cannabis, are being overrun with demand, so we have been doubling down on outreach to them.

Finally, we know we create remarkable relationships between our customers and their patrons, and we have unique skills to be able to help them turn that into profits right now. 

We’re offering free services to our customers to help them craft messaging and make money through this, and we are offering free advice to anyone that asks — they don’t have to be a customer of ours.

If we all succeed, we also flatten the curve of business devastation. So find what you can do to support others too. Karma really works.

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