I came into the Great Recession fresh out of grad school with a Master’s Degree in Real Estate Development. That was my first war. I didn’t have a job lined up. My savings were running out. I couldn’t give away labor. So I did the only thing I could think of: I started a company. I licensed the name of a condo sales company that couldn’t sell anything and went to work managing and leasing properties for a bunch of other people that couldn’t sell anything. It was hard work and ugly work but it was work. It got me through the recession and eventually, into a company I really wanted to work for. And finally back here, as startup founder again launching a real estate investment platform for underrepresented communities. Off to war again.

If you’re a consumer of the myriad of business wisdom available on twitter, as I am, you’ve been deluged this week with the concept of “Wartime CEO’s.” I was first introduced to the concept by a CEO I’ve been following, Taj Ahmad Eldridge at LACI.

The concept stems from a 2011 article “Peacetime CEO/Wartime CEO” by venture capital behemoth Andreesen Horowitz co-founder Ben Horowitz. The article focuses on Google’s CEO transition from Eric Schmidt to Larry Page, and the deep differences between the two men’s leadership styles and the divergent environments in which they excel.

Peacetime in business means those times when a company has a large advantage vs. the competition in its core market, and its market is growing. In times of peace, the company can focus on expanding the market and reinforcing the company’s strengths.

In wartime, a company is fending off an imminent existential threat. Such a threat can come from a wide range of sources including competition, dramatic macro economic change, market change, supply chain change, and so forth.

The piece caught fire again because the Coronavirus pandemic has moved a lot of people from believing we’re at economic peace to economic war. That may be true for some people.

But for minority and female founders and entrepreneurs, we’re always at war.

We fight racism, sexism, under-resourcing, and systemic barriers whether times or good or bad. If you need a refresher on that, feel free to peruse the links below:

  1. Crunchbase: Just 1% of venture backed founders are Black
  2. Bisnow: The DC Broker Industry is Overwhelmingly White. An Getting Whiter (there’s a photo of me here)
  3. HBR: Only 3% of Venture Capital went to companies with a female CEO
  4. Etc. Etc. Etc.

While I fundamentally take issue with the underlying premise of the above photo (that your vote doesn’t matter), there is an uncomfortable truth that regardless of the political or economic times we’re in, the struggles are the same, even if their magnitude is different. Effectively, we’re always at war.

The Coronavirus pandemic is just the opening of a new battlefront. You already know how to fight outnumbered and outgunned. I’m not going to focus on how to take care of your health because I’m not the CDC. This is the CDC. Here are some resources I’ve found to armor yourself in business Beskar like the Mandalorian:

  1. Get Compliant. There will be government money. We don’t know how much, who’s giving it, or who will get it, but if I can guarantee you nothing else, it will have strings attached. Make sure your taxes, business registration, bank accounts, financial statements, and affairs are in order. As an investor, adviser, and broker, I’ve worked with small businesses for years and it’s heartbreaking to see hard-working entrepreneurs suffer for lack of having decent accountant or an overdue sales tax bill. Lost on where to start? Talk to your local small business administration or non-profit. Find one in your area here.
  2. Take Care of Your Chicken. Now is the time to cut your spend on things that don’t make you money. How many subscriptions and business products do you actually use? Are they business critical? I pay around $365/month for my CoStar subscription and another $200–300 for additional databases and email services, web services, hosting, and additional services. Do I need to pay full freight to email all 5,000 of my contacts, or could I split them up into the top-producing contacts across my business lines? There’s an argument to be made either way and now’s the time to have that conversation. Here are some tech tools to manage your subscription spend.
  3. Make Alliances. Now is the time to talk to smart people. Like a company’s work? Email the CEO. Have an idea that needs funding? Call the GP of a fund. Heard of someone doing something cool and want to see where you can fit in with them. Call them now. I went to a Boutique Hotel conference years ago fresh out of grad school with no job and no real exerience to my name. I got the card of the then CEO of Morgans Hotel Group (Delano, Mondrian, Hudson, etc.). I called him on his cell phone two days after and reminded him I was working out of DC. He said, “I’m in Vegas right now, but can you meet me at my office in New York on Monday?” I was on the next fucking Boltbus. Lost touch with someone? Rekindle the relationship. This fantastic article from Sloan Management Review details the exponential power of reaching out to old ties.
  4. Fight the next war, not the last. Fact of the matter here is, we’re all fucked. Getting unfucked doesn’t mean a retrun to yesterday’s status quo. It means real change to systems, policies, and norms that don’t work right now. Whether it’s the end of imprisonment for minor offenses, or 3 oz limits on liquid bottles on airlines, or teleworking, or the necessity for a warm intro to a VC (a topic Del Johnson has been adamant about for years), the pandemic has exposed any number of structural rules and methods that serve no purpose. If anything, their sole use is to advantage a few at the expense of many. This is the time to overthrow the bad rules (and rulers). And with a universal threat, this may be the best time to have committed allies fighting alongside you instead of against you. Here’s why we’re not going back to the way things were.
  5. Get the help you need. Whatever it is, emotional, mental, business, health. Just get it. I don’t have a lot of regrets in life, but my biggest is not reaching out and asking for help when I need it. Suffering in silence isn’t where it’s at. And no matter how you feel, you’re never the only one struggling with something. Here’s a great article from Mandela Schumacher Hodges Dixon of founder Gym with resources for entrepreneurs worried about a downturn in business.
  6. Tell de troof! If shit is fucked up, say shit is fucked up. Now is the time to communicate and overcommunicate. It’s also the time to be transparent about things you know, things you don’t and what your plans are. And how they will change. And as it relates to health and safety, pull no punches. Soho House may well have imploded their business by not disclosing that one of their guests at their DTLA location tested positive. Here’s how to communicate during the Coronavirus Pandemic.

As we head into the next recession, I hope I can be helpful for those of you going through your first. Or maybe your first as an entrepreneur. As always, I wish you good fortune in the wars to come. If I can be helpful to you or your venture during this time, please don’t hesitate to let me know how.