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5 Successes and 5 Learnings From Founding a Company During COVID-19

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Phew, we’re a month into this thing called entrepreneurship and we’re all still friends, we’ve continued to put food on our plates, and our website has only broken twice. I’d call that a win.

If you’re reading this, it’s possible you’ve been following our little journey. If you have been, first of all thank you. It’s a big deal to us and we’re grateful for your company. Second, we thought we’d celebrate this monthly milestone (and our continued, well-nourished existence) with a round-up of the highs and lows, the things we’re most proud of and the learnings along the way.

So, without further ado, I humbly submit to you our 5 successes and 5 learnings from founding a company during COVID-19.

uccess no. 1 – Launching during lockdown

This is more of a fact than anything else. We officially launched ethix on May 26th, bang smack in the middle of one of the worst economic and health crises our country has ever seen. As many of our friends were waiting to hear whether or not they’d been furloughed, we were trying to ingratiate our way into your social feeds with weekly blogs.
We’re incredibly fortunate to have been in a position to make this work. Our industry, digital marketing, happens to be in high demand at the moment. Charities have never been more in need of digital services, and less able to fund them. Which leads neatly on to our second win…

Success no. 2 – 23 pro-bono consultations and 2 pro-bono clients

Over the course of the last 5 weeks, we’ve had pro-bono strategy calls with 23 charities and ethical organisations in need of digital marketing support. This has been a significant time investment and one that we couldn’t have been happier to make. The sense of community and desire to help, through volunteering platforms like Digital Candle, has been incredible to see.

Success no. 3 – Scaling Offset Earth to 29 countries across 4 channels

Offset Earth fund climate solutions all over the world and we highly recommend you check them out. They were our first client and remain one of our strongest partnerships. Initially managing Google Ads, we’ve deepened our partnership over the last month to include Facebook, Bing and LinkedIn ads. We like them so much, in fact, that we’ve planted over 400 trees with them to date. A fantastic company run by fantastic people, we’re proud to accompany them on their journey, as both a partner and customer.

Success no. 4 – We delivered our first professional training

We recognise that not all organisations want, or can afford, full service management of their digital marketing campaigns. That’s why we were so excited when Farewill reached out to us to organise an Introduction to Facebook Ads training session for their partnerships team. We’re now in the process of formalising our training offering, which will cover Google Ads / Ad Grants, Facebook / Instagram, and Google Analytics among other things. If that sounds interesting, drop us a line!

Success no. 5 – Our blog and followers (that’s you guys)

It’s a modest following to say the least, but we’ve received a lot of encouragement and positive feedback in our first month. Our blog pieces so far have included “Top 5 Free Digital Marketing Support Schemes” and “6 Free Digital Marketing Tools You Should Be Using” (note to self: chill out with the listicles). In addition to these stand-alone pieces, we’ve been running a weekly digital marketing news round-up to keep you all up to speed.

Okay, enough back patting, onto the learnings…

Learning no. 1 – Focus on providing value initially, not making money

One of the reasons I believe we’ve had such a positive launch experience has been our willingness to accept short-term unprofitability in order to build long-term reputation. My old boss, Brainlabs founder Dan Gilbert, used to say “serve first” and we’ve taken this to heart.
We were pretty fortunate to be able to focus primarily on value from the beginning, and for us it paid off. You’ll want to find the right balance between needing to pay the rent and investing upfront in your reputation. We leaned heavily into pro-bono work, but maybe for you it’s just being open to partnerships that aren’t immediately commercial. Either way, in most cases the good work you do now will pay you back ten fold in the long run.

Learning no. 2 – Don’t try to be everything to everyone

6 months ago I wasn’t sure exactly what ethix would be. In a frenzied pre-launch, oh-dear-lord-I-no-longer-have-a-secure-income panic, I was scrambling for ways to secure business. What if PPC is too narrow? What if charities need partners who can manage their organic too? Could I run email campaigns? What about CRO?! Thankfully this phase passed and we decided to stick to what we know – paid digital – and to do it really well. Which leads nicely onto…

Learning no. 3 – When it comes to new business, focus on quality over quantity

A friend of mine once applied to 100 jobs in a week and got 0 responses. Another friend of mine applied to 1 job, her dream job, and got it straight away. Without professing to be sales gurus, from our experience the same appears to be true of generating business leads. We currently have zero outbound marketing and we’re still speaking to new leads every week. By specialising, and focusing on providing value over extracting money, our connections have been more than happy to refer potential clients our way. Our work is our lead generation.

Learning no. 4 – Having multiple founders has been a godsend

I can’t imagine what it would have been like taking this leap on my own. Even the simplest decisions would have been beset by crippling doubt. Having Gwenno, and more recently Kate, undertake this journey with me has been incredibly valuable. With all of us bringing a different perspective to the table, I’m always more confident in our combined approach than anything I could have come up with on my own. This is our first business so we still have everything to learn, but if you’re in a similar boat I highly recommend you surround yourself with valuable people. Be they co-founders, mentors, or simply friends, make use of them.

Learning no. 5 – Take a risk (if you can)

Now may be objectively one of the worst times to take a risk in your life. The trouble is, to our homeostasis-seeking brains, now is always the worst time to take a risk. As a species, we are very good at identifying the potential hazards associated with change and surprisingly bad at assessing the risks of staying the same. Personal development is kind of like inflation: if you’re not improving, you’re getting worse.

People said we were crazy to launch ethix when we did, maybe we were. Perhaps the risk you take isn’t as drastic as quitting your job to found a company. Maybe it’s just being a little more assertive in your current role or starting that blog you’ve always thought about. There are definitely people who really can’t afford to take risks right now, and in that case ignore this one. But if you’re one of those people, like I am, that instinctively shies away from risk-taking, then I suggest you begin the habit now, however small.

And there you have it folks. Hope you enjoyed our list. It’s been a crazy first month, but we wouldn’t change a thing.

Actually, I would quite like to take back that email where I misspelt the word “busy” as “busty”. But that’s another learning entirely…

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