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An Open Letter From an Investor and Entrepreneur Coping With the Coronavirus Situation

March 27, 2020 Business News No Comments
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First, let me tell you that I am an entrepreneur, a guy that has start-ups in his blood. I’m now on my twelfth company. Or is it thirteenth? This one began early last year when it became obvious that college wasn’t the answer for about half the population. College graduates, especially with liberal arts degrees, were not finding work but had a student debt load that frightened them. With about fifteen years’ experience in higher education I could see where specialized training in things like coding, data science, data security, home health care, and many other fields offered a better choice for kids out of high school and adults dissatisfied with their jobs, pay and status. So, I thought, logically, there would be a growing and critical need for people with these kinds of skills, few of which were taught in college. So, I started a new company. Another one. And I committed to fund it myself through its early development.

Together with Barry, my right-hand man, and with the early help of my friends Ryan and Cassidy, who collaborated on a book dealing specifically on the subject of practical college alternatives, I took my small staff and turned them towards developing a new product. The goal was to develop a website, an online directory offering access to every “college alternative” available and the organizations that taught these courses. It was a monumental task and it would be expensive to develop it.
After a test using an MVP (minimum viable product) proved the concept was attracting a lot of the right attention, I said, “Let’s go for it, let’s do it.” From that point – May 2019 – we went for it, going from just over 200 organizations that offered about 1,400 non-degree skill programs to over 40,000 programs covering 12,000 areas of study offered by more than 3,000 providers. This was accomplished by early January 2020. Now we had to begin selling features to those whose courses and programs were already on our website. To do this we needed salespeople, another cash requirement. As the sole financial supporters of our company, my wife and I made the commitment to invest more in establishing the sales effort which would result in some revenue coming in. We were excited. And we were already into this new company to the tune of almost a million dollars.

Then the coronavirus appeared. In the ensuing semi-panic the state college on whose campus our company office is located decided to close our building in the research park. This was on Tuesday, March 17. Our small crew were sent home to work remotely. Business as usual in unusual times. Insertion orders went out electronically, and conversations with more business partners continued for a week. Our expenses continued at a pace of $40K-$50K per month.

And it all comes from my personal checkbook.

We have had all-hands company meeting every Tuesday and Friday. Now we have them via teleconference. Last Friday, March 20, I could tell by the looks on the faces that our team was a worried bunch. The media had stories of layoffs, closings, virus infections, toilet paper and disinfectant hoarding, and possible shutdowns lasting months. Prior to the teleconference my wife and I discussed how we should deal with the situation, specifically whether we should continue to fund the company and if so, how long. We decided to continue making personal investments in the company, and to the relief of our crew, told them their direct deposits would continue. And they are.

But now I’m worried. Investments and expenses continue daily, with no end in sight to all this. And there is no comfort in knowing I am not alone in facing challenges foist upon us by the coronavirus and the decisions made by our governments, both state and federal.
It is hinted that there will be some relief, partial financial relief anyway, from various government agencies. I will be looking closely at what’s available and how to apply for it. But I’m skeptical of a government bureaucracy that has never once helped me in over forty years as an entrepreneur.

One thing for certain that I will continue to do and that is being honest and candid with my crew, with prospective new hires, and users and partners whose engagement with our business will be essential to our future success. This is what’s on my mind and maybe provides the reader some insight into the kind of decisions entrepreneurs like me must make as we deal with the pandemic. We are not alone in this although it sure feels lonely…

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