Reflecting on that summer

I know what we did last summer

This is quite a personal post, which I’ve been thinking about writing but held off for a while. About what we got wrong and what we did right. And what the future holds.

Coronavirus was a big, clanging blow. We already knew there was a recession coming (it was long overdue after all). Most of the companies we work with on the 2Y3X programmeprogram had already set their minds to preparation. And bearing in mind going into an acceleration programme is a big commitment, we knew every single one was absolutely determined to take advantage of it.

Uh, how do you take advantage of a recession?

As founders ourselves, we’ve been through several. I had a whole bunch of agencies and an agency group in my time as a founder and CEO. The really great ones were all founded during a recession. There’s a simple logic to it, which comes in four parts:

  • You can’t carry your baggage into a recession because you can only design for the future, not for how it was when things were booming, so it forces you to evaluate only future opportunities
  • Clients and customers get much more selective (because it’s a buyer’s market), so your proposition has to be bang on for what they want from now onwards, not for the previous status quo
  • Competitors that don’t or can’t reposition lose their newly-focused clients and go bust, which means that clients move their business to the really sorted suppliers and they in turn thrive
  • These revitalised suppliers – you – attract the best of the released talent and a virtuous circle ensues

The reason the companies we work with had started focusing on, well, re-focusing is that they recognised that they needed to reorganise so that they could meet the coming recession head on and take advantage of the new landscape. Their planning, with us guiding them, centred around redefining, rationalising, focusing and building scalability.

Then bloody COVID hit out of the blue

The companies who were already on the programmeprogram took the hit, and still reeling we all regrouped and everyone rolled their sleeves up. As a direct result one of the companies we work with just had its most profitable month in years. Two others are making around 30% net. One has just sold at a multiple of eight times profit, double the market norm.

Our own company did something different. It could have been disastrous, yet it has been an amazing and exhilarating experience.

In early March we were in the middle of interviewing two new consultants for our company. We run a two-year programme that has a great track record: everyone that’s completed the programme in the last five years has doubled or tripled revenue. We’re pretty proud of that. We had decided to expand and were onboarding new clients. Our brand was strong, proposition clear, future bright.

So we were recruiting. Now, the first thing we teach people who work with us is how to attract, interview, qualify and motivate A-Players. We had identified our deeply-held personal values and knew we’d only want to work with people who shared them. So we were interviewing and had tentatively decided to take on these two new people. We’d also decided to hire a marketing assistant. Mia was due to start on March 16th.

Lockdown day

Frank and I made two decisions on the spot. Nearly six months later the reverberations are still being felt.

The first was a human one: Mia clearly had missed the window for qualifying for furlough and would have been left in the lurch. So we asked her to start as planned. Turns out Mia was just what we needed when it came to the second decision.

This was the big one.

We decided to scrap marketing and pitching for new clients.

We decided to make 2Y3X a pro bono company for the duration.

What surprised us was that nobody wanted to help us publicise it. Trade mags wanted to be paid to publish a press release about opening our doors to anyone who needed help. That was a disappointment to be honest. My view of industry rags purporting to support their communities became decidedly jaded.

So we publicised it ourselves, posting relentlessly on LinkedIn about our offer: free, no charge access to former founders and CEOs with decades of helping businesses survive. With absolutely no strings attached.

What happened next surprised us

Suddenly we started getting messages from coaches, consultants and chairs.

They were industry heavyweights. People I’ve known or admired from afar for years. Founders and CEOs with incredible track records. I mean inspirational leaders. And they wanted to help.

It gave us a roster of amazing people who made themselves available to the entrepreneurs who asked us for help.

We were suddenly able to help people from all sorts of sectors: agencies, engineering firms, tech companies, startups, professional services firms, social impact businesses.

We decided to train our volunteers in the way 2Y3X works so they could use some of the tools to give instant assistance to these pro bono clients. We ran group workshops and brought together these wonderful volunteers and started folding them into the family.

An amazing person called Marea got in touch and offered to design an onboarding programme based on the (robust but intricate) 2Y3X system. Mia then turned it all into a system in a way that none of us could have.

Then the founders of a successful management consulting firm based in the Middle East contacted us and asked if they could volunteer their services too.

On the weekend before lockdown I had been wondering whether or not to write my next book (on proposition development frameworks); whether or not to find a beach hut to retreat to for a few months until COVID blew over. I would have been very, very tanned by now but I suspect the book would have been a little lacklustre.

Instead I found myself doing fifty or sixty-hour weeks every week until mid-August.

We ran pro bono for almost six months

It also saw us opening a 2Y3X office covering the Gulf States and North Africa. Our ambition is to take the programmeprogram around the world, with trusted relationships built on common values.

Today we are just starting to refocus ourselves on taking on new clients. The ambitious ones. The ones who are absolutely determined to break through the plateau and nail it. Who want us to help them deliver on our promise: to double or triple revenue in the face of recession.

We’ve learned as we’ve refocused that pro bono works for us. For clients who really can’t pay for the programmeprogram there will always be a way of engaging with us free of charge, even if it’s only for emergency interventions or structured short-term planning.

We have also launched a 90-day version of 2Y3X which we call QuickMap, designed for companies that can invest in a fast, strong rebound but can’t (yet) afford the full programme.

Pent-up demand…

Last month Gartner published a chart which reminds us that pent-up demand for success requires the best suppliers focused on the future not clinging to the past.

We bit the bullet ourselves, we switched our focus to the new future not the old and comfortable. We decided to focus on what we could do something about now, not on trying to hold on to a world that disappeared behind us. It was tough, though the central decisions were, to be honest, easy. The combination of serendipity and some kind of business karma repaid us a thousandfold.

And now we face the future. We are open for business and ready for it. We’ve been reshaped by Coronavirus, sure, but we are stronger for it, broader, with an unmatched team of people, better able to help owners and leaders achieve their loftiest ambitions. We are surrounded by smart, inspirational people who we’ve got to know because they all, without exception, put their hands up and volunteered without thinking about the commercial implications. They are gold and the future is bright.

Perhaps you share our approach as you think about your own company’s future. If so, maybe you should join the programme.

Felix Velarde, partner

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