“Everything you thought you knew about your business before coronavirus is fiction”

From his home in Bulgaria, locked down with his wife and baby, entrepreneur Rune Sovndahl considers the brutal and dizzyingly commercial impact of COVID-19. The facts are simple – if somewhat shocking: 50% of his company’s bookings have disappeared. And, after much thought, he believes that any talk of an instant bounce-back is a sugar-coated delusion. This businessman does not see customers waltzing back as soon as life ‘returns to normal’. Instead, he is, certain that reviving his business will take an enormous amount of effort and will demand the creation of as-yet-unknowable new business models. After the pandemic, nothing will ever be the same. Business as usual no longer exists. 

Not surprisingly, Rune – like most of us – feels fear. However – and here’s the thing – that’s not the only over-riding emotion he feels. A powerful and energising sense of excitement and opportunity also drives him. 

Massive shift

Rune’s business, Fantastic Services – a digital company that allows customers to book services such as cleaning, removals and rubbish collection – was born amid the 2008 recession, so this entrepreneur is no stranger to building companies in challenging times. However, he feels that the coronavirus environment – either living with the virus or dealing with its aftermath – will be much tougher than the banking crisis. 

He says: “Shifts happen, and this is another massive shift. I think that this will be trickier because there are so many factors are at play. What will come out of this, I can’t predict. However, it’s going to take a lot of reinvention. Not every recession requires reinvention, but this one most definitely will. Many companies I know have already gone into administration. Some people underestimate how big this is.”

Wracked with fear

All the more reason, then, to wonder why Rune is so full of excitement in spite of the worry. But before we do, let’s look at how he’s responded to the crisis. 

He says: “When the UK government announced the shutdown, I was staying in a B&B in King’s Cross. I knew I had to fly back to Bulgaria to be with my wife and child, and I had a sleepless night. I was wracked with fear. I was afraid of losing my business and of letting the special people who I’d spent ten years working with go.”

Positive response

But, after absorbing that fear – and coming to terms with the financial hit – Rune began to respond positively. He and his team rapidly launched an ‘anti-viral sanitation service’, built an app for self-shielders and came up with a new ‘crisis’ pricing structure, which includes free services for NHS staff. He has also won some new contracts for website projects and created a new working regime, consisting of daily live conference calls and lots of planning.

He says: “My focus has been on retaining our 400 staff to make sure we’re ready for whatever comes next. And the leadership I see in the company is inspiring. Everyone is working harder than ever. Personally, I’m now putting everything back into the business. I’m not going to see a salary for at least a year, maybe two, which means that financially I’m back to where I was 15 years ago, so I’ll be moving to a smaller flat.” 

Excitement & optimism

So where, then, does Rune’s sense of excitement come from? What is there to be energised about?

His optimism comes from deep within his entrepreneurial bones; from the raw chemicals that power his internal batteries. He explains: “I’ll tell you a secret. This crisis excites as well as scares me. I went into business to solve problems – that’s what drives me. I founded Fantastic Services because I wanted to create the easiest place in the world to book services and I’m still on that mission. Yes, this is the biggest financial blow we’ve ever taken, but it means that we’ll have to get better at what we do. That’s how we will weather this storm.”

Pressing the ‘reset’ button

Rune also offers a more strategic assessment, arguing that now is the right time to build efficiency and resilience: “The period straight after a recession is when you see the fastest growth. Everything’s in flux so many people give up and companies fail. But, if you’re organised and efficient, you can survive, pick up their business, and thrive. So, we’re pressing the reset button. Everything we thought we knew about our business is now fiction. It’s history. It’s time to reset…reboot.”

Start-up buzz

And already, Rune and his team are working flat out to establish new ways of selling, booking, and being more productive. And it’s that feeling of starting again – the launch buzz that comes with a sense of new opportunity – that’s energising Rune.

But it’s tempered by deep concern. He says: “People who are waiting to see what happens – wake up!” he says. “Whatever you thought was coming back, it’s not. That world no longer exists. Reset your plans. Change your mindset. What’s coming is the deepest recession for a century. That will give you many opportunities and many things to capitalise on, but there is no business as usual. You’ve got to anticipate and act fast. You’ve got to act now.”

CLIC’s final word

This interview highlights the meteoric impact that coronavirus is having – and will continue to have – on entrepreneurs and businesses. It also provides insights into how business leaders are feeling, and the two responses – seemingly at odds – that it is creating. On the one hand, there is fear; on the other, a sense of excitement and opportunity. What makes Rune so different is that he shows how it’s possible to feel both contrasting emotions at exactly the same time. 

By accepting and reacting positively to the fear, while gaining motivation from the buzz of new opportunity, Rune shows how entrepreneurs can start to find a way to climb out of the catastrophic meteor crater that is being created by COVID-19.