As COVID-19 is immensely impacting the planet, we need to accept that this is not just a health crisis anymore. It is more of a crisis of economic and psychological subsequences touching all the people in all countries. But at the same time, it is a time of reshaping either small businesses or the global macro-economic system. As any crisis we have faced before coronavirus, it is not just about the vulnerability, but the opportunity to get rid of useless products and features no one is using, and improve the performance.
As Hackquarters, our mission is supporting promising startups to succeed, connecting them with innovative corporate companies. This is getting extremely important now when opportunities push for more technologically adapted incorporates. Acceleration, driven by productivity, is also important especially when the physical or offline labor is unavailable.
1. Hackquarters Programs & Events Are Online Now
It was a little bit scary first to switch all of our operations on the online and digital rails. But it is possible. Yes, it is real and it is working. We have started with ongoing programs, and Sustainability Growth Program powered by HSBC is one of them. 5 social startups have been on-boarded since February.
So, we started with the online training sessions and mentorships, which became even more active and effective online than offline. Instead of a max 1 offline mentorship session, startups started to get 2 or even 3 online sessions from the mentors. Of course, when nothing stops you in a physical way, why not benefit from smart people who propose their help? We identify the need in special mentors according to the condition of the startups during our KPI tracking sessions. After these sessions, the program coordinator first matches you with and then introduces you to specific mentors.
There is no difference in offline and online training, despite the fact that people are more eager to ask questions while online. Most of the training sessions were followed by a Q&A session after which startups request mentorship from the trainer. Of course, identifying current needs and responding to them is very crucial from the management point of view. You have to adjust your ongoing programs according to the needs and circumstances, understand the status and problems of the startups deep inside and voila! One example based on a ‘true story’ is Evren Gulyasar, one of our trainers and mentors. After the training session on Transforming Sales and Communication Strategy during COVID-19, Evren supported E-cording (startup in the Batch 1 of the Sustainable Growth Program) to handle partnership with Intel and Dell for the social campaign during pandemia.
2. Hackquarters Team Working Remotely
The team is the biggest asset of every successful company. The first week of quarantine was the most frustrating. Some of us were resting after the crazy work life; however, others started to feel depressed. Most of us tried to understand when quarantine will come to end, and what the statistics of the infected people are. It didn’t take too long to understand that the crisis might take longer than 1 week. So, the show must go on!
Though we had weekly meetings before, for a better coordination, we decided to catch up every day at noon while working remotely. First, it’s easy to follow on daily tasks adopting agile standup practice. Second, you can feel the pulse of the team which makes it easy to support and motivate guys immediately. People even started to communicate more. Besides the daily video calls, we started to have weekly follow-ups with separate teams for better planning. Goals achieved, people are motivated, team communicated, job’s done.
As socializing and communicating with friends is the hardest part of quarantine (at least for me:), traditional lunches together were the most missed among our team. Having good wine, artisan bread with olive oil and balsamic became a sweet memory for all of us for the last 2 weeks. So, we decided to make face-2-face video calls with all the team members and gave them a chance to share everything openly. We are all coming from different backgrounds, so our problems during the crisis might vary as well. Some of us might live alone and need motivation, while others need financial guarantees. But what I really noticed was despite the quarantine and worldwide pandemic, we are still united by the common mission of growing Hackquarters: we love talking to each other, and working together.
3. Engaging Community
Hackquarters does not just consist of startups and the team, but thousands of people who are touching the eco-system and supporting the startup business. During the last 4 years, Hackquarters has touched hundreds of corporate companies all over the region, working with half of them. One project means working and coordinating with dozens of people within the teams and agencies. Most of the clients and stakeholders become trusted mentors after the programs. This is extremely important when it comes to specific sectors of the economy like insurance, the legal sector, healthcare etc. In some cases, this support, mentorship, and partnership became irreplaceable. I want to thank all the people I love!
At the moment, our programs can propose 200+ active mentors from 30 countries. Coming together for the night e-coffee is a new normal for our international crew of rockstar mentors from Singapore to Canada, from Russia to Pakistan. Most of them are still supporting startups and SMEs online. As I’ve mentioned, the number of mentorship sessions per week has increased. We even do not hesitate to go on with online mentorship wargames which are critical sessions when 5 or 6 mentors are bombing startups. They are criticizing, but at the same time brainstorming for more results. Q&A Video Panels with few mentors on specific topics are the new format which is extremely beneficial as well.
What the founders are doing and what would they need during the pandemic, you might ask. Some of the startups see the coronavirus as an opportunity and are seeking for new sales channels, pivoting business models. Others need good mentor advice more than ever before. The number of requests and introduction coming from startups and corporates increased. Corporate companies need startups to act immediately to reach new customers and support the current clients, while startups are asking for introductions over email with the current partners. Of course, during these hard times for all of us, you start to think twice about the value you can bring to people while giving advice.
4. What About Content?
As content is a king, all companies and startups are trying to create something unique to match your value proposition. This is natural. Now it’s time to re-position; sometimes proposing something new, sometimes analyzing what is the most precious value you own.
Content we present through the online programs is very unique; training materials are structured, and precisely selected trainers are very dedicated. All online sessions are designed for a specific batch or program only, avoiding chaos. Invitations and registration are the major part of the game, while leads generated and collected during the online sessions are the key treasure. We are trying to follow up all the contacts in our CRM, sending program updates and summarizing content presented in mailings and newsletters.
In group video calls and panels, it’s extremely important for a program coordinator to always create content and questions beforehand. Coordinators brief the participants and moderate the session flow. As the host knows the needs and challenges of both sides, he/she is the best person to lead the talk and direct startups during the Q&A session. The new condition requires new rules!