For Season 1 – Finding Growth in a Crisis, I have asked amazing women leaders around the world to join me in a fireside chat about how they have dealt with lockdown and the covid-19 crisis. We spent some time learning about their businesses and inevitably talk about how they have coped (or not) with this crisis – both in business and in their homes. For the last episode, I chose the main topics that emerged.
On balance, the stories of the 10 women I interviewed in the last 6 months are stories of hope and light. Whilst crisis can be really tough, they are also a time where our inner strengths are revealed, our core values are exposed and re-affirmed, and our life goes through changes that were bound to happen for a long time. So let’s go back in time!
The start of the podcast
I have been on a journey. And what a journey it has been. I still remember the day the idea came to me. What if? I shooed it away as if it was a disease. Well, I could not possibly have any time to launch a podcast. I am too afraid of launching a podcast. And I don’t know how to do a podcast. Who would possibly want to talk to me. Who would possibly want to listen.
That day, the idea hung over me as a cloud, and I think it must have been visible. I remember at some point Hubby B looked at me with an inquisitive look and said “what are you thinking“. I said “nothing“. One of those women nothing that has all but nothing on it. I resisted to telling him because my hope was that it would go away.
As usual, I was not successful keeping something away from him, and when I told him I was thinking of launching a podcast talking to women about how we could find positive sides to this crisis, his response was clear.
Sounds great, just do it.
I was puzzled. In fact, I was hoping he would call me to my senses and remind me of all the commitments I already have. He didn’t. And so I boarded this virtual journey and never looked back. So what did women tell me during this journey?
I had a hard time picking the main themes. Each time I listened to the podcasts again I felt like adding more. Today, I want to talk about how women reinvented themselves, how they made the best of this time, how they led their businesses through growth and also how they stayed authentic and connected with themselves. This does not do full justice to all that we have talked about, but I will leave it to your curiosity to find a few more.
When I first started finding out about the businesses each women led, I knew each of them was bound to have found challenges as the pandemic hit. This was not an easy time. All businesses coming to the podcast were, in one way or another affected by the pandemic. Retail shops, food, design businesses, publishing companies, online platforms, data companies, coaching. Some may have benefited from the pandemic, but overall, almost all had to reinvent themselves.
Filipa was forced to close the Wink shops early on and put everyone on furlough. She put contracts on hold and suspended rent. She felt responsible not only for her team but also for her franchisees, who turned to her for direction. Moreover, she knew that she had to reinvent the practices very quickly so she would be ready to re-open. The management team spend the time figuring out how the new normal in beauty services would be. Whilst she really struggled in the beginning of the pandemic (and some tears were involved), she snapped herself out of it and found a strength she did not know she had.
As for Martina, adapting is in her nature. While she was lucky she had just received the stock from China for her main product – the MUtable – she was left without the ability to develop a new product she was launching – the MUwall. The usual process would involve sending her designers to China where they would work very hands on with the production company. As that was no longer possible, she had to find new alternatives. At the same time, her customers were desperate looking for advice on how to entertain their children. No wonder! The company quickly started curating and later developing content. In the end, she believes she had more resilience than most, as creating a start-up requires you to just have lots of resilience.
Adriana did not waste any time taking bold steps in her business. As some of her clients in the retail and transport sector in Brazil started cancelling contracts, she was quick to renegotiate extensions or suspensions instead. She sent her team home early and a few weeks into lock down, she just cancelled their own rent and now runs a fully virtual team. In a time where companies needed to be even more in touch with their customers, VAIPE took a key role in allowing them to communicate and survey them, especially in the area of mental health. Adriana created a new product, free for clients or non clients, and with that, managed to continue to keep the momentum of her company. By September, she was already pretty much where she always thought she would be, despite Covid.
If there is someone that lived through reinventing practices was Dr. Kristina Brovig. As a doctor, she had to find systems to be closer to her patients without being able to see them in such a difficult time. She had check-ins every few hours, patients coughing to a recording and anything that a simple phone could provide. With technology, she managed to follow 30-40 patients at each time. Looking forward, she can’t imagine that things won’t change. Tele-medicine has opened up opportunities for more efficiency and limiting people’s exposure. She has the hope that practices will evolve to make more use of tele-medicine as a complementary way to see people and do investigative medicine.
Crisis can indeed make space for growth. Whilst many suffered, some products did go through exponential demand, though some not without changes for the new environment. People wanted to give more and they did so online, people needed more ways to connect (especially in old age) and they did so online. People spent more time at home, so they wanted baking products, books, content and advice. They also had more time to connect with themselves.
As Emily had just launched Grapevine and was trying to grapple with the change the pandemic imposed, suddenly her business started to grow exponentially. With Covid, there was a lot of social need and people were looking at ways to give back and help. In addition, the giving circles were no longer able to meet in person and needed virtual ways to come together. Whilst they were overwhelmed with all the work, they also felt compelled to do everything that they could, as they were not only supporting their customers, but also their communities at large. The business evolved to support customers with more than their payments to also helping giving circles hosting events and taking decisions virtually in this new environment.
For Constanze, she took a bold step early to stock up on ingredients ahead of lockdown in Germany. She stocked the raw materials anywhere that she could and then managed the company through huge growth from a remote location in the Black Forest, and away from her factory. Customers were home and Glutenfreie’s baking mixture was at peak demand. On top of it, she landed a key agreement with the largest organic products brand in Germany. As she described it, it was a true explosion. She has gone from a team of 3 to a team of 10, expanded the kitchen-factory and the storage capacity.
Making the best of the time
This was a time for growth, a time for reinventing yourself. No matter what, the women I interviewed took bold steps but they also sought to make the best of this time. 2020 may have brought them tough times, but they will also leave it with good memories. For them, and those around them.
In Singapore, Pridhee found that they had huge demand for the books when lockdown kicked in, but no way to provide these books. So they pivoted to providing audio files or a video session to give a resource to parents who were (desperately) looking to get their hands on the books. When books finally went back to the essential good category, then they could fulfil all demand. At the same time, her customers were more engaged then ever. So they reversed the process and started asking their customers what they wanted and to share their content. With that, the company is now looking for new launches. From difficulties, came opportunities. And Pridhee has given her advice to us “Just do it”. She concentrated on celebrating the small wins she achieved. She opened a bottle of champagne to celebrate .
Meredith launched a business that could not have been more attractive during this time. It is a platform dedicated to people 60 and better and to provide them with alternatives to living their homes where they are still in a very active stage of their lives. She did not know there was a pandemic that would require the elderly to really stay home during the coming months when she launched in early 2020. Talk about timing! During the pandemic, members wrote to Meredith describing this platform as a “lifeline”. People have found community and sanity in a very insane time. There was always a great need for them to do what they do, but in the age of covid, the need became ever so much larger. It was not about whether people wanted to stay home, but rather they had to stay home. This compelled Meredith to work even harder, having launched the platform only 3 months before lockdown kicked in. Living in her childhood home, she made the best of her 7-days a week start-up working style and sought to build memories for her.
Being true to ourselves
This time did not come without its challenges. Be it putting employees on furlough or dealing with exponential growth, becoming an overnight teacher or having no product to sell, having cancelled contracts or having no time to sleep, these women have been leaders through this crisis. Leaders in the way they deal with their businesses, their homes and themselves.
One thing that struck me in all my chats was the honesty and authenticity people brought into the conversation. From Episode 1 to Episode 10 , there was something to be said about the way each woman opened up and shared their struggles, their tips and shortcuts, their advice to themselves if they got to do it all over again. I am a big believer in authenticity. Whilst it is often seen as weak or vulnerable, I see it more as being self-aware and truthful about it. And as a host, it was key for me to bring real stories to the world. Stories of growth in the face of adversity, but stories that recognised adversity as a key part of the change. Not all painted in roses.
In my conversation with Christine, she stated how she was, as a coach, seeing seeing burnout and stress as more common topics in the corporates she was talking to. Helping employees manage their mental health is no longer a nice to have for companies. She also found that this was a time for reflection for people who were taking time to dive into themselves and really figuring out what they wanted to do. As a coach, helping people do that “click” is the magical moment that drives her. Whilst she felt like she was already at a slow pace, which helped her deal with this lockdown, she struggled with the lack of social interaction. This is when she found out she was an extrovert. Unlike me, I found out the introvert in me!
The final episode brought me to Arese in Nigeria. She brought us her story of how she struggled with her mindset through the early times of the pandemic, struggling with weight gain, lack of focus and lots of anxiety about the future. She questioned how she lived her life and debated with her fears in the face of a pandemic. However, after lots of mindset work, she pulled it through, started boxing, lost the extra weight and enjoyed her times with her daughter, getting to know her better and even rapping together. By the Fall, she had launched a 13 episode TV series based on her book, as part of her quest to change the face of African Millenial Women Literacy. She stayed true to her mission, and to herself.
The Wrap Up
It is a wrap up. Thank you for being part of Season 1 of the Make Space for Growth podcast. It has been such a great experience to put this together for you and importantly, to all the women that agreed to be part of this journey. Share this episode, binge listen and let me know what you have enjoyed the most.
The 10 Words to Describe Lockdown
- Challenging – Filipa
- Tiring – Martina
- Present (and Slow) – Christine
- Exhausting (and Enlightening) – Kristina
- Grow Grow Grow – Pridhee
- Tumultuous (but also educational, inspiring, challenging) – Emily
- Corona Holiday – Constanze
- Stamina – Meredith
- Best time of my life – Adriana
- Manic – Arese