founder uncertainty hero image

Dear Founder, How Do You Deal With Uncertainty?

Managing an early-stage startup is often fraught with unknowns, even during economic stability. Today, founders must maintain control and drive growth while experiencing volatile stock markets, soaring inflation and interest rates, and the possibility of a global recession. In addition, geopolitical risks have supplanted concerns relating to the pandemic.

Given these unsettling times, how should you plan your company's next move? How do you determine which strategies will produce the best results?

In this article, we explore three practical ways of dealing with uncertainty by looking at how a major international company, Singapore Airlines, successfully responded to the pandemic crisis.

Establish robust customer service

Without customers, your business dies. This absolute certainty should focus attention on investing in a first-class customer experience. As your startup grows in scale, the expectations of customers and the volume of their requests will also increase. You will switch from responding to requests to taking preventative action to address problems before they even arise.

It is essential to provide customers with excellent customer service and respond to their inquiries as soon as possible. However, prompt customer support alone is not enough. Customers expect businesses to respond to their queries as the world is more connected. 84% of customers believe that a company’s experience is just as crucial as its goods and services. At the same time, two-thirds of consumers claim they would be willing to pay more for a superior customer experience.  

Customer service automation is one way to meet this expectation. Artificial intelligence and machine learning-based automated customer service tools are great for enhancing the efficiency of your customer service team. 

Excellent customer service is the best way to keep customers coming back to your business. Singapore is a company that has built its international brand reputation by offering genuine quality and being customer-centric. When Covid-19 put overseas travel on hold, the airline developed innovative customer experiences to generate income and maintain a positive relationship with consumers. It turned one of its grounded A-380 Airbus aircraft into a restaurant and offered its highly rated inflight cuisine to Singapore customers via a doorstep delivery service to recreate the onboard experience.

Singapore Airlines’ inflight retail division KrisShop also pivoted quickly in the face of the crisis. To stand out from its e-commerce competitors, it quickly expanded its range of brands and products, adding lifestyle experiences like workshops for floral design and spa treatment to its catalogue. 

The results were immediate. Within 30 minutes of taking reservations, the A380 pop-up restaurant was booked out entirely. Extra sessions had to be added, and these were rapidly snapped up by devoted patrons.

.  .  .

Strategise Your Company Finances

Peace of mind is invaluable. A well-organised financial plan can boost your confidence while giving you a clearer picture of allocating resources. It also demonstrates your startup’s commitment to responsible spending and its capacity to pay debts. 

To keep your startup on track to financial health as it grows, you should have a financial strategy that helps you assess whether your ideas are viable. It is also an important tool when asking investors to consider your business. Your financial plan shows how your company manages expenses and generates revenue. It also reveals the state of your company and the number of sales and investors it needs to reach significant financial milestones.

Covid-19 devastated the travel industry, forcing airlines to adapt their financial plans and look for alternative funding when revenues tumbled.

Just four months after the pandemic outbreak in 2020, Singapore Airlines was burning cash at a rate of more than S$300 million per month. This prompted the company to be more agile and resilient in its business approach, turning to shareholders and the market for funding.

Since there was no demand for travel during the lockdown, the airline decided to convert passenger planes to cargo jets. This helped the company to better sort out its balance sheets.

To reduce layoffs and manage labour costs, the airline chose to retrain its employees and redeploy them in the government and healthcare industries. More than 20% of the employees took unpaid leaves of varying lengths, and about 1,700 ground staff, pilots, and cabin crew applied for volunteer positions and paid employment.

.  .  .

Manage the Well-being of Your Team

Nurturing the employee experience should be equally important to your customer experience strategy. One lesson we learned during the last couple of years is that it is okay not to be okay. A new crisis involving mental health has emerged as society attempts to recover from the pandemic. According to a scientific brief released by the World Health Organization, anxiety and depression rates increased by 25% in the first year of the pandemic. 

More needs to be done to support mental health globally. As a result, mental health technology has developed in response to this need, utilising digital tools like smartphones and tablets to assist individuals in obtaining the support they need.

Being honest about your mental health struggles as a startup leader creates a space where staff members can open up to you about their issues. Since startups typically operate in remote environments, it may be more challenging to identify the warning signs of distress. 

Founders should also cultivate a culture of connection through check-ins. Make an effort to invite your team members for lunch or coffee and learn about their workplace grievances.

.  .  .

Navigating uncertainty with confidence

A massive organisation like Singapore Airlines might have different challenges than a startup fresh on the block. Still, it showed that a large enterprise could successfully pivot during uncertain times to benefit its customers, bottom line and employees. A smaller business should be able to behave in a more agile way still. 

Following these general guidelines may not ensure your startup’s success. However, they provide a valuable framework for consideration. It’s simple to say that you should learn to feel comfortable with uncertainty. But in fact, this is a challenging task, especially when operating in a startup environment, as it frequently lacks the safety and security we naturally crave. The goal is to make it easier for you, as a founder, to consider the bigger picture while attending to your business’s immediate needs.

Fresh insights delivered to your inbox.

I would like to receive news and updates from GGV.