I started my first business, a tech-focused PR and marketing firm, during the 2008 recession. It grew quickly while the economy tumbled and brands couldn't afford the overhead of big agencies. Through observation and countless conversations with those who were "losing it all" (many of them former colleagues and close friends), I scooped up lessons about how to serve resource-constrained clients, and what I needed to do to build a company despite obstacles. This knowledge has stayed with me and proved useful through every up and down I've experienced since--professionally and personally.
Amid yet another crisis, I'm inspired to hear about those who've founded, grown, and pivoted businesses despite challenging circumstances. Entrepreneurs, agile and visionary by nature, are poised to lead us through the impending recovery. Here are a few indomitable innovators who continue to give me hope for what might be accomplished as the Covid-19 pandemic recedes.
Resilia helps nonprofits create sustainable change
When Sevetri Wilson was a sophomore at Louisiana State University, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast and became the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, as well as one of the deadliest. In the aftermath, Sevetri was astonished to see billions of dollars wasted -- often because of a complete lack of accurate information sharing, which led to huge openings for fraud and abuse. She knew these misdirected resources could have saved lives, and she realized that there would have to be a better system in place for future disasters.
This realization ultimately led her to create Resilia, a technology platform that increases nonprofit capacity and enables grantors (cities, private foundations, corporations) to deploy billions of dollars and scale impact. Nonprofits are often the first line of defense after a tragedy like Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Covid-19 today, which is why they have to be capable of communicating clearly with relevant stakeholders, tracking outcomes, and ensuring that their resources don't go to waste. Resilia's innovation couldn't be more relevant for the current climate, and the company just announced another $8 milllion in funding to continue scaling its tools and resources for nonprofits and grantors alike.
Travara reminds its customers that the world is still out there
Bad luck is one thing, but starting a travel company shortly before a pandemic shut down the travel industry and confined billions of people to their homes must feel like an act of God. That's exactly what happened to Michelle Martin, the founder and CEO of Travara -- a travel platform that supports sustainable tourism and makes it easy for people to travel well.
But instead of throwing up her hands, Michelle got to work and released the Travara Membership program to support small businesses in the industry. By offering discounts to sustainable brands, hotels, and tour operators, access to curated trips, a customized itinerary creation service, and much more, the company is incentivizing consumers to book future travel. By maintaining engagement with her customers and offering a unique range of environmentally and socially conscious travel resources, Travara is doing everything possible to bridge the Covid-19 gap and get everything moving again when the restrictions lift.
Yext is combating misinformation during the pandemic
Although we're living at a time when it's easier than ever to access information from anywhere in the world, the internet has also become a massive engine of misinformation. Blogs and other publishing platforms aren't held to any journalistic standards, and as a result governments and businesses alike find themselves battling information warfare.
Yext was founded to push back against online misinformation by helping companies and other organizations deliver internet users accurate and official information about them via search engines and maps, as well as on their own websites. When Covid-19 hit, Yext realized that its mission had taken on a whole new significance. The importance of accurate and timely answers intensifies during a pandemic and an economic collapse, and in some cases, those answers can mean the difference between life and death.
So Yext took action, making Yext Answers free for 90 days, helping companies, health care providers, and other entities develop a comprehensive Covid-19 information strategy, and forging partnerships with state and local governments to fight misinformation around the country.
WayWiser keeps families connected in the midst of a crisis
WayWiser was founded to keep seniors connected with family and friends through a single, easy-to-use platform. This isn't just a way for seniors to become less isolated -- it's also a way for users to stay informed about issues like Covid-19 and the increasing number of scams out there. Every member of the WayWiser team has an older loved one who has been scammed, so they have a personal mission to provide a resource that can arm seniors against criminals.
The company's mission is to help seniors remain as independent and connected as possible -- especially during this emergency. That's why it just released the "Family Engagement Program," which uses Slack to help assisted living facilities and health care providers facilitate communication between seniors and their loved ones.
As a result of my experiences, and watching others go through similar circumstances, I am a firm believer that tragedy often reveals hidden opportunities. "Innovate or die" goes the trendy saying co-opted by Silicon Valley and first popularized by author Jack Matson. Although a bit over the top, it's mostly true. What compels us to move forward is the ability to overcome. Rarely does transformation happen in the comfort of our routine.