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“I am really concerned about starting a new company right now. I think the world is too unstable and it’s just too risky,” a very close friend of mine was relaying to me the other day. “I have a job. I don’t want to voluntarily quit, have my company fail and then struggle to find something on the other side.”
“You need to look at things differently,” I responded. “You need to look at the extraordinary opportunities and the lower barriers to entry for starting a company right now. You can have access to people and talent that you would not have had previously.”
“Yes, I know, but I am still worried,” my friend immediately responded. “I guess I want to have my cake and eat it.”
As technology futurist Kevin Kelly would say, right now is the best time to start a new business. Unfortunately, many potential founders, like my friend, are fearful. This is not anecdotal. Between 1978 and 2012, the number of new companies declined by nearly 44 percent, according to the Kauffman Foundation.
Paradoxically, recessions and unstable periods present the best opportunities to start new companies. During the 2008 Financial Crisis, billion dollar startups like Uber, Airbnb, and many others were founded partly as a response to changing market dynamics.
The present day is no exception, offering once-in-a-lifetime opportunities and unfair advantages to potential entrepreneurs. Among these are increased access to people and talent at lower and negotiable costs, and an environment in which consumers are more willing to try new products and services — often out of necessity.
Increased Access to People and Talent
During boom periods, engineering, design, product and sales talent can be incredibly challenging to recruit and eventually close. Not only is the talent scarce on the market, but the best ones often command fees that can quickly bankrupt a nascent startup if they do not show value from their hires quickly.
Now, many established companies and even startups have laid off talent due to decreased marketplace demand. And due to larger market dynamics, overall salaries have also declined for once in-demand positions.
This has opened up people and talent-recruiting opportunities for entrepreneurs; with the ability to access talent that is critical to early stage growth that would otherwise be lured by larger salaries or more stable opportunities. Entrepreneurs can also rely more on alternative compensation schemes like equity to lure potential hires as the cash compensation and bonuses become more scarce.
Time to Negotiate “Fixed” Costs
Although the fixed costs to start a new company (i.e. servers, real estate, etc.) have come down considerably over the past 20 years, they are still relatively high for early stage entrepreneurs. For real estate leases, SaaS and other capital and operating expenditures, entrepreneurs are often faced with high initial upfront expenses before their business ever generates its first spate of revenue.
In leaner and meaner times, real estate costs often decline considerably and landlords are more than willing to provide attractive deal terms to close a deal, including office renovations and more flexible lease terms. Other cost centers like SaaS and independent-contracting services may be more open to negotiation and flexible business terms as well. All of this decreases the cost of starting a business and allows entrepreneurs to deploy precious capital resources into hiring and product rather than fee based services.
A foundational challenge to starting and growing a new business is acquiring customers. An expensive proposition, this will often involve persuading consumers to try a new product option or category or switch between brands. Many entrepreneurs often fail at this process, even when equipped with a significant capital war chest.
In the current environment, customer-acquisition costs may decrease considerably. First, due to economic necessity and changes in routine, consumers may be more willing to try new products and services or even switch brands from their normal selection. More importantly, as new behaviors and routines come to the fore, consumers may adopt different products and services. This provides ample new opportunities for acquisition.
Leaner and meaner times present a host of macro-economic challenges. Somewhat paradoxically, but also logically, this makes right now the best time to start a new business. Chiefly, this is because of greater access to people and talent, negotiable fees and a greater willingness amongst consumers to try new products — sometimes out of necessity.