Now We Start to Enter the Sad Phase. Take Care of Your Team.

This has been an incredible roller-coaster for us in SaaS and Cloud since March 15, for some even more than others, but an incredible amount of change for all of us.

Some of you are in the “Covid Decimated” category (travel, IRL events, etc) and things in many ways are as tough and rough as March.  But most of you are in either the “Covid Impacted” (down but still growing) or “Covid Beneficiary” (growing faster since so many now have to work-from-home) categories.

In all cases, by July we sort of settled into a New Normal phase after an unprecedented amount of change:

  • March Phase:  Freefall Phase.  This was hard on all us.  Other than Zoom and a few others, it seemed like the world would crash deeply for SaaS and Cloud.  Record unemployment claims, streets emptied.  It felt like it would be another tough, across-the-board SaaS downturn like ’08-’09 all over again but just worse.  But it wasn’t.
  • April Phase: Odd Bounce Phase.  April was odd.  The Covid Decimated didn’t recover.  No one got back on airplanes that didn’t have to.  But for the rest of us, somehow, businesses started using SaaS sort of like before, and sometimes, more.  It turned out, if we all had to live in the Cloud now, we also had to continue to use and pay for the Cloud. But CIOs began to move to a more methodical cut-cut mode.  To cut anything they didn’t need to move their teams to work-from-home.  The checkbooks opened for what they now needed though.  And it wasn’t just Zoom.
  • May Phase:  There are Winners Phase.  In May, the “Covid Beneficiaries” beyond Zoom started to become very clear.  eCommerce started to accelerate a decade in just months.  Other collaboration tools beyond Zoom started to see record growth as teams had the mental bandwidth to settle in for a long haul and figure out how this was all going to work.  Call center software, whiteboard software, document collaboration, all took off.
  • June-July:  The Getting it Figured Out Now Phase.  We then went through about 60 days where we all started to become mini-experts in this new Almost All of Tech is Working from Home phase.  We’re good — so we adjusted.  We adjusted sales and marketing.  We moved field budgets to digital budgets.  We learned new ways to onboard customers, faster.  And our reforecasts “held”, so we knew pretty much what the rest of the year was going to look like from a budget perspective.  Many folks began hiring again, and venture capital came back with a roar.

That’s like 4+ years of change all rolled into just a few months.  That’s more than almost any of us can process and keep up with.

So where are we now?  We’ve figured out how to make it work in the New Normal at work.  It’s different.  Many things are harder, some are easier.  But we know.  We have a pace, a cadence.  A new set of processes and tools.

Even the “SaaStr Inc.” events team — with no IRL events at all happening — had a record July.  How?  The team figured out what marketers want to do digitally.  Struggled, adapted, even grieved a bit … but then hit their stride with the New Normal.

Well, with that relief from figuring out how to work, I think, comes the next phase.  I think it will unfortunately be The Sad Phase.  Because the mad scramble to adapt, to adjust, to cut, to fix, to rework is stuff we are good at.  And stuff we can partially control.  And hone.  And work on together.

Now, we have to deal more with the Work Outside of the Cloud.  The restaurants that will never reopen.  The retail shops that will stay boarded up, probably for years to come.  The airplanes, that without massive government support, will soon cease flying.  The anger from the 33% of the country that doesn’t even have a job.  The fact that we didn’t seem to really get anything in the U.S. from our shelter phase.  That our schools aren’t working or reopening.  That we haven’t really seen much of our families in so long, and won’t be.

And so I worry the next 90 days, even though we’ve stabilized our SaaS businesses, will be the saddest.  The partial mental break we get by having restored a new normalcy at work may be eaten away by the non-Cloud world that is going to get even worse before it gets better.

I wish I had the perfect advice.  I wish I was, and had been, a better CEO, so I could tell you:

  • How to coach the team through this.  They need to take a break, and have a breather from all the change.  But they also need to keep busy, and have clear and thoughtful goals for the rest of the year.
  • How to get them more help.  We all will need more of it.  More personal help, more mental help, more support of each other.  More Appreciations.
  • How to give them space, let them take some time off.  Some of us really enjoy our time off now.  Some of us struggle with it.  Everyone seems different.  But finding a way to let people have some real personal time is a good goal.
  • How to cut the team some extra slack.  Especially as founders, it’s so easy to be critical, even accidentally, even when really all we want is for the best of folks.  Maybe hold back more. Maybe just remember criticism always stings.  Even when you give it to your top performers.  Maybe even folks that could take it, and appreciate it, in normal times may struggle with criticism now.  Even indirect and accidental criticism.
  • How to have more fun together.  You can’t do Zoom games every single day.  Wine Wednesday each week may be too much.  But if you can find a way to have more fun together, it might help.  It seems to.  If not for you, then for your team.  And if they have fun, that will help you too.
  • How to recognize this may be a tougher time for your Stretch VPs than your Seasoned VPs.  Stretch VPs are better for start-ups … but they haven’t seen this before.  This is a playbook they haven’t run before.  They may hit a bit of a wall, or struggle more here, than folks that went through ’08-’09 and even ’00-’03.
  • How to be there more for each other, even if sales is harder now.  It’s hard to know how much pressure to put on the “number” to hit in challenging times.
  • Even maybe, how to help your CEO.  Yes, the CEO is always supposed to be a rock. The one that guides and pushes. But even if it doesn’t look like it sometimes, CEOs are human beings too :).  I don’t have any great advice here.  But I do know if you see your CEO struggling more than normal in the Sad Phase, if you can, if you want, do something extra for her.  She’ll know.  She’ll see it.  And I bet she may be even more grateful than you realize. Even a small gesture can really go a long way with a CEO.
  • Hug your cofounder.  And hug it out.  I try to avoid all hugs in the workplace, always have.  And of course, social distancing. But even if it’s a virtual hug, or a conceptual hug, it’s the same point.  As a concept, a few more hugs seem to always help.  Don’t let disputes linger.  Don’t let disagreements go on.  Maybe Hug it out in the Sad Phase, even if you aren’t used to doing that.  Even if you’re not even sure who was wrong, or right, or who started what.  It doesn’t matter.  What matters is being there for each other.

I don’t know how to give you that advice, because I’m not great at it myself.  But I see the Sad Phase coming quickly now. So at least get ahead of it, and maybe think about those things and more.

Published on August 1, 2020

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