Across the world, this pandemic is testing our resilience—as individuals and as a global society. It is overwhelming our healthcare system and taking lives. It is shuttering businesses and putting livelihoods at stake. At the same time, government officials and companies are preparing for an uncertain future, including a phased reopening plan with significant changes to how we live and work.   

For those of us who are non-essential workers, we can choose one of two responses to the crisis. We can either rise to the challenge, adapt, and remain optimistic, or we retreat, isolate in more ways than physical, and wait for the wave of fear and anxiety to come crashing down. 

My message to all business leaders right now is to be fearless—stay open-minded to rethinking your business model and search for new opportunities while your businesses are shutdown. Resist the urge to cling to the status quo, because our “new normal” does not allow for that. I’m encouraged by the many people who have reached out to me for support and guidance, just as I’ve reached out to my mentors and peers in the industry to discuss what’s next as we navigate this crisis together. 

In terms of scenario planning for Convene, I’ve found reports from Imperial College and the American Enterprise Institute to be helpful in navigating the pandemic and planning for the future. They include the following assumptions, which we are using to guide our strategy:

  1. COVID-19 doesn’t magically disappear; it will continue to mutate and spread around the world until there is a vaccine. 
  2. Some form of preventable social distancing measures will need to remain in place until there is a vaccine or herd immunity has been established.  
  3. And it’s likely that we are at least one year away from a vaccine. 

So, how can your business survive the new normal? I’m sharing an outline of Convene’s Survive & Thrive strategy in the hopes that it will help you think through your own business planning for the next 12-18 months.

How we are surviving. Control what we can control.   

  • Reducing all controllable costs; including the hard decision to lay off and furlough ~77% of our team members.
  • Delaying or cancelling all large capital expenditures and growth investments to protect and preserve cash.
  • Working closely with our landlord partners to modify our existing deals to temporarily reduce our monthly real estate expenses and buy time for our core meeting & events business to come back online.
  • Partnering with our shareholders and lenders to raise more capital and secure our balance sheet.

What we will do to thrive. Convene 2.0.  

As Steve Jobs famously said “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”  At Convene, we are 100% focused on creating innovative new products and services that solves our customers’ challenges and fully aligns with the new world order. In addition, we are taking advantage of the opportunity to improve internal systems, processes, and reinforce the infrastructure of our core business. 

  • Reimagine our business model by diversifying and expanding our product and service offerings to be competitive in a post-COVID-19 world. We are exploring ways to serve our customers in different ways that contemplates the new world order and lets us serve our customers wherever they are—at their office, within a Convene location, or working remotely. Last week, we held our first-ever 3,000-person virtual event for a major publishing house, which was coordinated and broadcast seamlessly by our remote audio-visual teams. For a company whose business has been entirely built on physical space, I’m proud of how our team quickly pivoted our physical experience into a digitally enabled one.  
  • Open our locations as circumstances allow and bring our furloughed team members back to work. We aren’t planning for an all-at-once reopening, rather, we’re preparing for a staggered reopening schedule and deploying lean teams across the country who will successfully reopen our existing locations.  
  • We are reimagining the Convene experience in a post-COVID-19 world, including new standard operating procedures and design enhancements to our physical products to keep our team and clients safe, healthy and productive until there is a vaccine. We’ll be sharing more details on this plan and how our spaces and the Convene experience will change soon.     
  • Build out core infrastructure, improve our existing offerings, and mature our systems and processes. Many of the projects we had deprioritized due to prior growth are now brought to the forefront, giving us the opportunity to create a more systemized, efficient and sustainable way of running our business. 
  • Be opportunistic and capitalize on the opportunities that will come our way the next 6–18 months. I predict M&A opportunities are coming soon and we’re preparing for them now. Sometimes the best defense is a great offense and we want to do both.  

Throughout it all, we’re relying on our incredible team to make this happen. We’re leaning into our core values of GRIT (genuine, relentless, integrity, and teamwork) to bring Convene back to its new level. We’re asking our team members to “normalize discomfort” as they exercise agility and stretch their skills in new and different ways. At the same time, we’re being empathetic to one another and leading with love and kindness. For me, that means I’m back to doing daily stand-ups, weekly all-hands townhalls, and offering more of my time for 1:1 meetings with all team members. 

As an entrepreneur, I see opportunities where others see problems, and I challenge you to do the same. While there’s a lot of uncertainty in the world, my optimism for the future has never been stronger.  

Now what?  

“Behind them a past forever destroyed, still quivering on its ruins… Before them the dawn of an immense horizon, the first gleams of the future… And between these two worlds, something that seems to be an ocean… A troubled sea filled with wreckage, traversed from time to time by some distant sail; the present, in a word, which separates the past from the future, which is neither the one nor the other, which resembles both, and where one cannot know whether, at each step, one treads on living matter or on dead refuse.” 

– Alfred de Musset’s Confession of a Child of the Century

The rules have changed. A new game is now being played. Our old assumptions replaced by a new set of expectations. Personally, I could not be more excited for the journey that lies ahead. It will be treacherous, but as entrepreneurs and leaders we have the talent, the vision, and the will to not just survive but thrive in this new world. More exciting yet —we can shape it. 

Don’t stop! 

Ryan Simonetti