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Surviving and thriving through challenges

July 27, 2020 By: Julie Angus

This post is also available in: Français (French)

When I decided I was going to row across the Atlantic Ocean, I didn’t know it was going to be the worst hurricane season in all of history. We had looked at all the historical weather data and chose a route to minimize our chances of encountering a storm, yet three weeks into our journey we were hit by Hurricane Vince. We were in 50-foot waves in a rowboat less than half that size and we would go on to be hit by another hurricane, as well as three tropical storms throughout that five-month journey.

Today we are facing another storm of epic proportions. No one could have predicted that our world would be frozen by a pandemic, that every day tens of thousands of people would die of a novel virus, schools and business around the globe would be shuttered and we’d plunge into a recession worse than anything we’ve seen since the Great Depression. It is a surreal world that feels more Hollywood dystopia than reality. Yet, as unpredicted as it was, we will find a way through it and the path we choose will impact how many people die, how our economies recover and how the globe is reordered. For startup folk like us, our choices will determine whether we wither or thrive.

There are three key lessons I learned rowing through hurricanes that we have applied to this current crisis to help our company, Open Ocean Robotics, navigate these stormy waters.

Deal with the crisis

When we first discovered we were going to get hit by a hurricane, the ocean was calm and it seemed unbelievable. Yet a call to the National Hurricane Center in Floridaconfirmed the news. Taking action was crucial to our survival and we rapidly prepared ourselves and our rowboat. With the pandemic, it wasn’t that different. When we first heard about it in China it seemed far away, but bymid-Marchwhen it was declared a pandemic — there was no hiding from it. Our company created a crisis plan to deal with the safety hazards COVID-19 would pose, changes in customer behaviour, and challenging capital markets. We shifted to a work-from-home environment for most of our staff and put in safety and cleaning measures for our facility. We advanced our communication and collaboration platforms to work remotely and enhanced our regular meeting schedule. We reduced our burn to extend our runway to postpone our next raise.

Focus on the here and now

When the wind and waves battered our rowboat it was easy to dream of when things would return to normal, but we needed to focus on what had to be done on an hourly basis to make that a reality. This pandemic will last longer than the five months we spent rowing across the Atlantic, and we need to pace ourselves. It is crucial to work towards a vaccine, but we don’t know how long that will take, how effective it will be and what percentage of the world will be able or willing to be vaccinated. To thrive, we need to recognize that it’s not just about the destination, but the journey, and to accept both the good and the bad that comes with our new way of life.

Learn from the challenge

With every hardship, there are lessons that we learn which can help us be stronger in the future and deal with future challenges, whether they are similar or not. When that first hurricane hit us, we never expected another to follow. Our lessons had more applicability than we would have liked, but it also taught us resiliency, how to deal with fear and the importance of taking things one step at a time. At Open Ocean Robotics, we have already learned how to enhance our communication platforms and incorporate working from home as a way to achieve greater balance and productivity. We’ve learned to become more supportive of one another and the importance of our team’s emotional and physical well-being. It has also reinforced our commitment to triple bottom line returns, focusing on profit, people and the planet.

Despite the challenges we are all facing, opportunities lie in this crisis. As a united planet, we have the chance to emerge more equitable and sustainable, to better protect our most vulnerable and reduce our impact on the environment, so that we don’t face even more dire destruction in the future. It can be a time for startups to flourish, and just as the 2008 recession created unicorns including WhatsApp, Instagram, Slack, Uber and Pinterest, the 2020 recession will spur innovation. This hurricane will also pass; we just need to keep rowing and make sure we’re going in the right direction.

Julie Angus