[This is an excerpt from Giovanna Mingarelli’s keynote address during the Women in Cloud #CloudInnovateHERxDigital Pitch Challenge on May 1, 2020]

Today, due to COVID-19, we are faced with a situation like never before where society’s basic structure has been dismantled. As an entrepreneur and a business leader, this was not something I had expected to face, but here we are. 

I am a Canadian business owner living in the United States and an advisor to Women in Cloud. I love Women in Cloud, its an incredible organisation which focuses on building better, safer and more inclusive communities. We need to be physically isolated but socially connected and organisations like Women in Cloud allow us to do just that.

We have all been experiencing COVID-19 in many different ways. If we look at current data from Export Development Canada: more than 3 Million people have been affected, 75 percent of the airline industry is shut down, 50 percent of GDP in the US and Western Europe including Canada is in free fall, in the first quarter of the year. These statistics are unprecedented and also globally representative.

And yet, organisations like Women in  Cloud are striving to bring us together and conduct virtual events like the #CloudInnovateHERxDigital Pitch Challenge, to help build new businesses. We’re now faced with the incredible opportunity to build bridges between yesterday and tomorrow, where things are going to change drastically.  

Many are now starting to talk about COVID-19 recovery, including: the Organization for Economic Cooperation Development (OECD), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, to name a few, who expect recovery to start mid-2020 somewhere around June.  This is positive, considering countries are also lifting lockdown orders in a few areas. 

However, our businesses stand affected. Business hours have decreased, many of them have shut down and mass unemployment is looming over us. Suffice to say that we and our businesses have been collectively impacted.

Most business planning for the year has become redundant. Two of the things that has happened as a result of this, especially in the technology sector is:

  1. There is a need for aggressive innovation and 
  2. Supply chains that are essentially broken down, need to be rebuilt or pivoted. 

Let me tell you my story. I started off the year strong with multiple launch events at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos. We hosted a launch event for the international youth empowerment organization, Global Dignity’s new Dignity in the Workplace initiative. This is an organization which I have Chaired in Canada for the last eight years and for which I’m on the board of directors globally.

Co-Founder of the Maverick Collective, Kate Roberts, and I also made an announcement for Women in Cloud’s $1 Billion Public Policy Economic Access Campaign called: The 21 days of Economic Access, which would move on to be shared 600,000 times on social media, despite it being launched in the first week of COVID-19 shutdown. I was feeling great and my company was looking at very healthy revenue for the first quarter. 

Shortly after, in mid-February, COVID-19 was the talk of the town. Business started to look and feel very shifty. And within a week the contracts that we had been relying on for the first quarter started to freeze.

Suddenly, everybody around me had the same thought: what is going on?

This was true for other business owners, entrepreneurs, charities, non-profits etc., where collectively we were experiencing similar issues but there was no clear direction or understanding of what to do. Within a couple of weeks, 100 percent of our contracts froze and everyone around us was affected.

Here are some of the key trends I observed in the business sector, to this effect:

  • Contract freezing
  • Investment stalling
  • Cash flow uncertainty 

These trends were experienced by most in my networks. A variety of US and Canadian relief loans were announced by our respective governments, but we know that sometimes government programs can take time to kick-in effect. Of course, they require that we qualify and get approved. In the meantime, people had businesses to run and when cash freezes, that can paralyze operations. 

In the midst of it, the most important thing to do was to not panic. Everyone else was experiencing similar conditions to us, including our contractors and vendors, suppliers.

We were able to successfully navigate through the difficult social business uncertainty by: 

  • Giving people the benefit of the doubt (i.e. not “locking in” on outstanding debts, giving flexibility to overdue invoices, etc.)
  • Supporting and taking care of others (checking in on employees, vendors contractors – asking, how can I help you?)
  • Continuing to give, even when it was very hard to do 

The second important step was to aggressively pivot the business sales pipeline. We pivoted to temporarily only focusing on our executive and corporate branding offering. We focused our sales efforts on what our clients and their networks were able and open to purchasing in the moment.  

As a business, it was important to hold off on lofty goals and to focus on the core services that would bring in cash to sustain business operations. 

Since our pivot, we are now looking at double the projected revenue than we had previously for our first quarter! 

Ultimately, with the outbreak of the pandemic, we went from all of our contracts freezing, to building a new sales pipeline, aggressively seeking new contracts and successfully navigating a very difficult time. 

As we continue to navigate through COVID-19 and all of its socio-economic implications, I recommend focusing on the following: 

  1. Take care of everyone around you
  2. Give people the benefit of the doubt
  3. Be focused, and pivot if needed, to bring in cash 
  4. Sell what you can – as best as you can
  5. If you need to, apply for emergency loans and secure the cash for what is essential to keep operations going

I believe the most sane and noble thing we can do to survive this pandemic is to help each other. This is my most practical advice. Moving forward, I would encourage everyone to stay positive, be strategic and to join the Women in Cloud community.

About Giovanna Mingarelli:

Giovanna Mingarelli is the Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of M&C Consulting, Inc. and MC2 Inc., both founded in Ottawa, Canada. Her reach extends from Arviat, Nunavut in Northern Canada to the White House in Washington D.C. and beyond to the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meetings in Davos, Switzerland and Dalian, China. She is Advisor to Women in Cloud and on the Board of Directors of the youth empowerment organization, Global Dignity. She lives in between Seattle, Washington and Ottawa, Ontario. Visit: www.giovannamingarelli.com for more.