Andrew McConnell is an EO member in Atlanta and CEO of Rented.com, which ranked No. 389 on the 2019 Inc. 5000 list of America's fastest-growing privately held companies. We asked Andrew for his thoughts around impact-driven companies, and how his company is making an impact on clients during Covid-19. Here's what he shared:

As many companies step-up to offer help and support during the Covid-19 pandemic, business owners may find themselves wondering how they can create positive impact.

Before the pandemic, I sat on a conference panel with several other entrepreneurs. The discussion ranged from sharing our personal journeys, to what we would do differently if we could start over, to opinions on whether entrepreneurship could be taught or was inborn. (Spoiler alert on that last one: The skill can be taught, but the preference to become an entrepreneur is something else entirely.) The panel included far more accomplished people than me, so I likely left with more takeaways than the audience.

Intentionality and your company's impact

Of all that I learned, it was a comment by a single panelist that stuck with me. She mentioned how women were more likely to start "impact" businesses, and that as a category, impact businesses are growing across all groups--male and female founders alike. I took that as a promising sign and went about my day.

Later, in an unrelated session, however, the full import of her comment hit me.

The following day, I was listening to medical experts discussing their specialized fields when an orthopedic surgeon lamented how poorly equipped most of us are at weighing the benefits of particular medications versus potential side effects. Speaking of a patient with osteoporosis who broke her left shoulder but was reluctant to take a prescribed drug because of the dreaded side effects, he pointed out that not taking the drug also had side effects: Namely, being more likely to break her right shoulder.

The truth and simplicity of that statement hit me like a ton of bricks and made me think back to the earlier startup panel.The fact is that every single company is an "impact" company. Some intentionally pursue a positive impact, while others are more haphazard, unintentionally having an impact they did not foresee.

Every business has an impact

Every business will and does have an impact; that is unavoidable. The critical questions are:

  • Will that impact be positive or negative?
  • Are you intentionally shaping what that impact will be?

In our company, we proactively guide our impact. We start with our mission: To sustainably support local communities in creating a global reach on their own terms. Our company's every action, decision and product stems from serving that mission. Before the Covid-19 crisis, we did that by strengthening and supporting local rental management companies through access to world-class talent, technology and resources.

Impact-based Covid-19 response

Because of the breadth of our client base, we realized early on that Covid-19 would have an enormously negative impact on our clients. For this reason, we did not wait until they were impacted, but instead took the following steps to get ahead of it:

  1. Before any shutdowns or stay-at-home orders were announced, we cut all clients' bills in half. We knew travel restrictions and cancellations would negatively impact them, and wanted to help bridge the short-term cash impact.
  2. Next, we examined our internal skill set. We utilized our C-suite's prior experience in management consulting, bankruptcy law and real estate finance to begin consulting for our clients to help get their finances in order with scenario analysis and planning functions.
  3. We looked at our clients' assets--empty homes--and rethought how we could help them make money in a travel-restricted world, mostly through long-term rentals and housing frontline and medical workers.
  4. We supported our clients through "cancellation conversions" and gift card programs to help them bring money in the door and stay in business.
  5. We saw the number of layoffs and furloughs, but also knew there were other businesses with hiring needs, so we launched a program to help managers in need find and recruit talent.

Not all of these measures made money for us; some led to losses on our part. All, however, have been beneficial to our clients. Without our clients being in business, we cannot stay in business. None of those measures involve our core product, but all are 100 percent aligned with our mission of supporting local communities by strengthening and supporting local rental companies. 

Plant the seeds of impact

That is our impact. Our impact is proximate to the companies we work with, and the communities they work in. Our impact is proximate to the individuals who work in those companies, as well as those who live in the communities that benefit thanks to what we do as a business.

Our impact is not a byproduct of growing revenue 50X over three years. Rather, that rapid revenue growth is a byproduct of serving our mission and constantly working to better understand our clients and their communities. Our financial success is a byproduct of delivering real and positive financial results for these clients. It is this intentional focus on a meaningful mission that drives the business. Rapid revenue growth is a byproduct, albeit a more than welcome one.

Our mission dictated our Covid-19 response. Our clients and our business are stronger because of it.

As the Stoic philosopher Epictetus said nearly 2,000 years ago: "No great thing is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen." Anyone can plant a seed. To harvest beautiful and delicious fruit requires time, work and intentional effort. The difference is that the impact of one is just a hole in the ground. The impact of the latter is a tree that may bear fruit long after you are gone.

Which would you rather be the outcome of all your hard work?