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12 things business leaders learnt from 2020

Lucy Dean
·7-min read
Street scene on a quiet weekend morning in central Sydney. The under construction tram lines, shopfronts, skyscrapers and pedestrians are visible in the image.
Here's what businesses have learnt. Image: Getty

A pandemic, bushfires, floods and recessions: 2020 has been a big year.

And for Australian businesses, it’s been one of their most challenging ever as restrictions sent Australians home, tourism hit pause and remote work became the new norm.

Yahoo Finance spoke to 12 business owners and specialists to find out their biggest lessons from one of Australia’s biggest years.

Hard times bring out grit: GoDaddy

GoDaddy is a company that helps small businesses and entrepreneurs to start and scale their ventures.

“This year taught me that people, businesses and communities can overcome and achieve remarkable things when they rally together for good,” said GoDaddy senior marketing director Suzanne Mitchell.

Watch: 21 tips to make money in 2021

“In the past, ‘scrappy’ might have carried a different connotation, but it’s come to define everything that is good about Aussies, individually and collectively, and our inspiring ability to fight for what we’re passionate about.”

Adaptability is key: Zoho

Zoho is a global technology company with a suite of over 45 cloud-based business applications.

“Contending with the uncertainty of 2020 and the changing world of work, I learned the importance of adaptability as a leader,” chief strategy officer Vijay Sundaram said.

“Adaptability, not just in terms of remote working, but in terms of empathy and understanding your team and their individual situations.”

Avoid analysis paralysis: Flow Athletic

Flow Athletic is a gym in Sydney’s Paddington, specialising in fitness, yoga and strength training.

“Being a fitness studio owner, when we got shut down I saw too many business owners overthink their next move,” Flow Athletic director Ben Lucas said.

“By the time they had taken action it was too late. They had lost a sizeable part of their income and customers. Make decisions at pace and learn on the fly.”

Community will get us through: Vend

Blurred out, these images show office workers on their way to or from their jobs.
Image: Getty

Vend is a cloud-based point of sale platform. Its founder, Vaughan Fergusson said 2020 was a huge challenge, but taught his business the power of community.

“In retail, as in almost every other industry, ‘business as usual’ was entirely disrupted, but the support of everyday Australians gave businesses the hope and impetus they needed to adapt and evolve.

“As 2020 draws to a close, Australia is recovering quickly – both socially and economically – and I don’t think we can underestimate the role that community has played in that.”

Connection is power: SevenRooms

SevenRooms is a data-driven restaurant reservation platform allowing businesses to drive traffic to their website and monitor seating availability.

General manager Paul Hadida said months spent at home highlighted the importance of human connection.

“Australia is famed for the vibrancy of its hospitality sector, and its operators continue to teach me that every challenge is an opportunity to do something bigger and better,” Hadida said.

“Unperturbed, they have continued to evolve this year, adopting digital tools that will define industry success for decades.

“This year, these businesses have continued to demonstrate the power of connection, and how building deeper personal relationships with guests is perhaps the greatest competitive advantage they can leverage in testing times.”

Embrace change: Soul Alive

Soul Alive is an online guided meditation business.

Its director, Luke McLeod, said Covid-19 taught him to embrace change.

For 10 years I had built a safe and secure life living in Sydney. When Covid-19 hit it really put things in perspective as to whether my financial expenses equaled the quality and contentment of life that I wanted,” McLeod said.

“As a lot of my face to face work moved online or paused, I took the plunge to move to the Central Coast where I was able to live in a beautiful place right next to the beach for a fraction of what I was paying in Sydney.”

He said that while tough times can lead us to retreat until it’s over, it can be good to sometimes take a chance.

“Every now and then, jumping on the board and seeing where that wave of uncertainty goes can lead to another beautiful place.”

Health comes first: Beforepay

digital tablet in hand with city skyline.
Image: Getty

Beforepay is an Australian fintech that gives Australians access to their pay on demand.

“In the face of the challenges and changes, we’ve learned to prioritise our well-being – whether mental, physical, social or financial – checking in on those around us and focussing spending on life’s necessities,” said CEO and co-founder Tarek Ayoub.

“It’s likely that the pandemic will have a long-lasting impact, and I’m hopeful that in 2021 and beyond we’ll continue to empower every Australian to take control of their wellness with the right resources and support to do so.”

Renewable revolution is happening: WePower

Kaspar Kaarlep is the co-founder of WePower, a blockchain-based energy procurement marketplace. He said 2020 has shown revolution doesn’t need to happen slowly.

“The acceleration of digital showed us the capacity and desire in Australia to do things better. The energy sector embraced this, legitimising the hype around blockchain by applying its traceability to Australia’s abundance of renewable energy,” Kaarlep said.

“This opened the renewable door for small businesses, making it accessible and affordable, as well as providing a solution to Australia’s transparent corporate sustainability reporting problem. For a year of ‘unprecedented times’, 2020 taught me that Australia’s renewable future may arrive sooner than predicted.”

Find good people, and it’ll be fine: Vitruvian

Fitness app and training device start-up Vitruvian launched in 2020 and director Jon Gregory soon had to decide how to manage a remote team and grow a business from home.

It turned out to be easier than he thought, he found.

“For us Covid-19 introduced an instant global demand for home fitness products which was a bonus for us, however the challenges of raising capital, hiring, prototyping and building productive capacity without being able to leave home were high,” Gregory said.

“Good people want to be productive, and as a start-up it was a big leap of faith paying people to work at home. But if you get great people, you can trust them to find a way to be productive.”

Flexibility biggest secret to success: Fiverr

Adelaide city centre bustling with people
Image: Getty

Fiverr is a freelancing platform specialising in digital services like graphic design, programming and digital marketing.

“As Australia gradually transitions out of crisis mode, this year has taught us that innovation and creativity can arise from environments we least expected, with flexibility emerging as the defining characteristic of business success,” Fiverr’s vice president of international expansion Peggy de Lange said.

“As business leaders, we need to embrace the learnings of 2020 and create a foundation of trust and freedom that will empower our teams and ensure a successful transition into the new world of work.”

Nothing is guaranteed: Stone & Chalk

Cheryl Mack is the head of community at the Stone & Chalk technology innovation hub.

“One of the major lessons that emerged over the course of this year is that nothing is guaranteed. Things can, and will, change quickly,” Mack said.

“In my professional life, this shows up as a reminder that I don't need to live reactively and jump in or out of something quickly just to keep up, but to instead be decisive and act with purpose once I have made a decision. In my personal life, this means making time to celebrate and be grateful for everything, even the small wins.”

Keep an open mind: Spacer.com.au

Mike Rosenbaum is the founder of peer-to-peer self-storage marketplace Spacer.com.au and co-host of the Founders on Air podcast. He said the common theme of 2020 is that there’s no such thing as overnight success.

Everyone we interviewed had ups and downs and shared that it was a matter of pushing through the hard times to eventually see the fruits of their and their team’s labour,” he said.

“Be adaptable to shifts in the market and consumer behaviour and don’t be afraid to pivot. Keep an open mind.”

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