QuickHit: The “Great Pause” and the rise of agile startups
Vice President for Accelerator Investment Fund for Capital Factory, Bryan Chambers, joins Tony Nash for QuickHit’s 15th episode. In this episode, they discuss the making of agile startups, and how they are amidst an economic recession brought on by the COVID pandemic, energy fallout, and other issues. Chambers also talked about The Great Pause. He sees this as a large contributing factor for the future of startups around the globe.
Capital Factory is the center of gravity for entrepreneurs in Texas. They help founders and startups by introducing them to their next investors, their next customers, their next employees. Since 2013, they’ve been the most active VC in the state of Texas, unlocking billions of dollars of new value for startups.
TN: How have small, innovative companies been impacted by the various kind of problems we’ve seen over the last four months starting with COVID and then energy fallout? And how are corporates responding to that?
BC: The best entrepreneurs I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with generally have two characteristics: they’re incredibly resourceful and they are very emotionally intelligent individuals. Those are the two critical aspects of entrepreneurs that are also going to help them successfully navigate a global pandemic.
Everybody’s pretty impacted. The impact is significant. And so much that we’ve applied a formula internally called the COVID Impact Score. We ask everybody: how has COVID impacted this business and where is it going? How is it changing? Few people are positively impacted by it. Most people are negatively impacted by it. A few businesses are just neutrally impacted. But most people fall into that first camp, the negatively impacted.
People should be looking in the mirror, thinking very deeply about how do they pivot. How do they capitalize on new opportunities? Regardless of a global pandemic, it’s incredibly hard to build a startup and build a successful organization. This makes it even more difficult, and we’re going to see a lot of companies die faster. But we’ll also see lots of new and exciting innovations be born. We know in the wake of a crisis, major innovation and reform, happen. It’s exciting. But it’s also painful to get there.
It’s the Great Pause. The investment community is confused because our minds always say “no” when it comes to making an investment decision or a purchasing decision. It may not the [fault] of the product or service. We don’t know what’s going to happen in our business next month or next quarter and confused minds say “no”. And I think there’s a lot of “no” right now.
TN: That’s what we’re seeing in the commercial environment but I think from the investor side, I yearn for the days of Q3 2019 in terms of investment funding. What a beautiful time it was. And it’s just a 180-degrees from that right now. As an entrepreneur and a startup, it’s an interesting time for us. It’s a matter of reorienting who we are. I know Capital Factory is doing the same thing. Even big corporates are doing the same thing.
That’s what we’re seeing in a lot of the conversations we’re having. Many people aren’t really sure of their short-term priorities, and they just kept moving along. We’re finding opportunities in that, which is great.
Figuring out how to respond to that had been a challenge for us. But now that we’ve cracked it, we feel like we’re really moving ahead, and I’m hoping that those entrepreneurs that you guys are working with, that many of them can do that.
So part of the next step is what are corporates doing? How are corporates innovating through this? Are they relying on Capital Factory companies or external innovations to figure this out, or are they doing that great pause you’re talking about? Or are they just taking their own inventory in-house? Maybe they are trying to figure out where they’re going?
BC: It’s all of the above. Budgets have dried up and confusion still remains. People are scrambling to figure out how to re-prioritize innovation projects. But something so unique is happening in the technology ecosystem, not just in Texas, not just in the nation, but across the world. Innovation cycles are continuously speeding up. They’re getting faster. This only makes Fortune 500 companies more and more susceptible to disruption and more and more uncomfortable.
Any major corporation has two strategies: an internal strategy and an external strategy. They must be thinking about both. How do we improve our own processes, our own efficiencies and continue to innovate and iterate better and faster? But we better look outside our four walls, because startups are coming to eat our lunch. They can do it better and faster than they ever have in the history of the world, and it’s happening.
New business models and new types of firms will emerge. New firms like Capital Factory and our Innovation Council, the service that we help provide to startups and to our Fortune 500 organizations are going to be more prevalent. It is so fast and furious [at this point in time]. No large corporation can [compete] successfully without help from new types of partners.
TN: What we saw initially with COVID, especially, is a wave of fear. Now what we’re starting to see is a wave of humility. We could have done this better. We need to look outside. We need to consider that person inside who had that idea. That initial wave of fear was really two months. People were just reacting and trying to figure out how to survive day-to-day. Now they’re taking stock and looking back so they can figure out what their next step is.
How do you see corporates operating with external innovative companies going forward? Do you see more action there? Do you see more interest there? Do you see the return of corporate VC arm in any large company?
BC: Corporations need to be great at executing low-cost, low-risk proof-of-concepts in a non-production environment. We’re going to need to do integrations with lots of startups and rapidly test. Then [they will need to] choose the ones that work well and scale with them, if not acquire them, invest in them or support them.
The global pandemic has brought that confusion which has brought a temporary pause. But we’re going to see it continue to accelerate, and we’re going to see it accelerate in all areas. Organizations will be be forced to start engaging earlier with startups. We’re going to see more corporate venture capital dollars begin to flow.
Big corporations, now for the first time, are turning around thinking, “Oh my gosh, that startup can really compete with us and we´re Microsoft.” That statement is more true now than it ever has been. It’s only that level of innovation that will continue to benefit the agile, resourceful startups.