How We Changed The Way We Make Decisions With COVID-19
When COVID-19 hit, I was the owner of a hostel in Saigon. A business in the international tourism industry in Vietnam: aka the-worst-possible-business-to-own at a time when borders are closing (still closed as of today), where 90% of your clients are international travelers and where your business is on the market of “in-real-life human connections” (shared dormitories, family dinners, parties, group tours, etc.).
To give you a better idea of the trauma; the tourism industry in Vietnam was growing by 15% every year. On Hostelworld, the number of hostels listed in 2016 for Ho Chi Minh City was of less than 80. In 2020, we were 150! This market was booming and it brutally stopped.
When the international borders closed on the 17th or 19th of March 2020 in Vietnam, I officially realized that my business (me, my team, my life) were on the wrong side of the fence.
Since the pandemic started, it looks like you have two sides; the businesses that keep operating and can overcome these difficult times and the ones that have to stop operating and may just die. And on the human level, the workforce, it’s the same; how many people are loosing their job and must recover and learn a new job? How many of us can affort the time and money to operate such a transition?
There was going to be all these other businesses like technology companies, food supply, ecommerce, etc. that would skyrock and keep growing.
Meanwhile, the tourism industry and F&B (I’m thinking of small restaurant owners, clubs, etc.) would suffer from this crisis.
Asking “what will not change” rather than “how things are going to be different”.
I stole this question from Jeff Bezos one day when I was looking for answers to my questions about “the post-pandemic”. I was trying to find out “what will change with the pandemic” and trying to strategize with some friends about how could we take advantage of this situation and jump back to the right side of the fence?
In 2020, without any revenues, I was looking for business ideas. I was looking at new trends and trying to find out which business would have a chance to keep growing even with covid-19 and could be interested in my skills, experience and knowledge.
And Jeff Bezos, in an interview, get ask this exact same question: “What will change with COVID-19?”
His answer was so enlightening! He simply said something like this; “The right question is: what will not change. All I know is that people will keep wanting more variety of things to buy online and faster deliveries. It’s impossible that someone call me and ask for his purchase to be delivered slower or to have less choice on Amazon”.
And I was really touched by this answer. I was like: this is such a rational, realistic way to put things in the right perspective.
It’s so much easier to answer “what will not change” than trying to anticipate or forecast about how things will change… You are shifting your attention on some really rational facts, rather than unstable eventualities.
And he said something like: “I cannot know how the world will change”. It made me think a lot about all the work I was doing with my meditation: accepting instead of resisting.
Accepting that the world is changing and accepting to train ourselves to adapt to it and be prepared for the change.
Forecasting no further than a week ahead.
Since we cannot plan how things will change in the future anymore (at my level at lease, I don’t have access to the information that all the super powers in this world have unfortunately), planning on the long run like 3 years ahead is more like playing the lottery rather than actually making business decisions.
And that’s cool for me. I was never a big fan of the 3 years (50 pages) business plan document that every business school in France was teaching you to prepare if you wanted to open a business.
3 years plan works in a stable market like France. But in Vietnam it’s different. It’s a country where the tourism was growing of 15% each year and the economic growth is about 6-7% per year.
In Vietnam, by the time you make your 50 pages business plan, the competition has had time to overcome you, the country has already changed, etc.
But still, before COVID-19, it was easier to plan ahead and see how things could evolve. Especially because the government was not making decisions on the fly and was not announcing a lockdown for “tonight 6pm” at 3pm.
So, for small business owners it has become important to learn to adapt to this environment. And planning a week ahead is already long term.
Planning your week is much more manageable. It’s easier to visualize, it’s faster to plan: you may be able to achieve 2-3 goals…, and it’s more rewarding as you are almost guarantied you can succeed, unless some really messed-up events happen.
So now, instead of doing: Year > Quarter > Month > Week > Days, my planning is more like:
- What’s my goal for this week ⇒ tasks everyday.
- What do I want to accomplish this month ⇒ general idea of how my weeks will look like.
And this way, I see a month as 4 weeks, a quarter as 12 weeks, etc. I keep things general for my year, quarter and month, but I am much more specific for my weeks and days.
This new way of planning, to me, has helped me to write the article The importance of Small Steps, where I talk about building habits and walking smaller steps, more regularly, everyday rather than giant steps that takes ages to prepare and where the risk of failure is higher in an uncertain world.
I accept more the reality of things
I mean I resist less to the events that happens. I used to be on the side of the fighters; the ones who never give up!
But now, I am more and more joining the forces of the listeners, of the observers. If something is happening, I tend to accept it and make decisions based on it.
Acceptance is a big change for me.
And it’s going to be a 10 years training, I guess. I think we all want things to happen the way we expect them, it is in our nature. But the difference of reaction between someone who resist the result and someone who accept it is huge.
Let me take an example:
When I started using Notion, the productivity app, the learning curve was so steep (but also so rewarding) that I was hoping, secretly, that this would be the last app I would ever need to learn in order to work.
But it turned out that an “all-in-one” app isn’t a reality yet.
I mean, if you’re looking for reorganizing your tasks and your thoughts, staying productive and being able to track your activity, store some information and organize your workflow, Notion is offering these possibilities.
But if you want collaborative mind-maps, Miro is better. If you want to create visuals, Canva is more appropriate. etc. You have so many other players, options and all these apps have so much to offer.
Me, resisting to this would be to try to fit everything into Notion or worst, stop using other apps because I want to stop learning and stop accepting that everyday, there are new ideas, changes and I should learn to adapt to it.
I make sure there is a way to make money online
A lot of people ask me if I’m going to re-open DaBlend Hostel. For many reasons other than what I want to talk in this article, I am not thinking of reopening it…
But one of the main reason is that, I don’t see any future in opening a business that cannot profit from the internet yet.
With the hostel, I used to be one of the most connected to the web hostels among my competition in Vietnam:
- 55% of my bookings were coming from my website,
- The rest was online-travel-agencies (OTAs such as Booking, TripAdvisor, Hostelworld, etc.),
- I was posting online 3 times per week on social medias
- I was cumulating 1000 reviews online.
But still, people had to stay physically in the end for me to start making money.
And so, in a covid-19 context, it’s difficult for me to see any attractivity in opening a business such as a hostel. You’d have to invest in a house, renovate it, spend time online to build your reputation, but not be able to make any $ before people stay physically at your place… Not mentioning that borders are closed and may remain close longer, that we may be in another lockdown, etc.
And I think that all the businesses that are used to make money by welcoming their clients on-site are facing the same problem: how to make money online for a restaurant? a club? a bar or a hotel? An airline? etc.
For some businesses, it’s more difficult than others, but imagine that, even if the “new normal” post pandemic allowes us to have a similar way of living, if you build a technology, if you have part of your activity online, if your team knows how to do it from their home, etc. this can always be a real competitive advantage for the future.
I work for a tech company now. But imagine working for a restaurant; if you know how to make money while everyone is on lockdown, this gives you a real opportunity to be able to keep growing with or without covid, even in the worst times… until we run out of internet (?).
As a business owner, with the covid-19 pandemic, it’s easy to start panicking or give up. I believe that the businesses that will survive this and get out of this stronger than before are the ones who will change the way they make decisions:
- Focusing on what will not changed, instead of what will possibly changed. Everything is subjected to change, you can only adapt to change. So focus on what won’t change: what people will always want?
- Focusing on a time frame you can control: planning a week is much easier, rewarding and productive than planning 3 years ahead. Focus on how you can this week, do better than last week and move toward your goals set for the month, year, life…?
- Accepting the reality as it is. If you see you are resisting to change, notice it and learn to let it go. Things will always change, by resisting you are increasing your chances to be disappointed, frustrated, anxious or unproductive. Accepting the reality will allow you to see what is really in front of you.
- Trying to generate revenues online. If you push your teams toward this goal, even if the world changes back to a situation where COVID-19 becomes part of our everyday life and we learn to live with it, you will still benefit from your efforts. Worst case scenario, you’ll have learn a new way of making money, helped your business to transition to a more tech-oriented activity. Best case scenario, you can generate much more revenues from two source of income: online & onsite.
This is only 4 examples of how I changed the way I make decision with COVID-19. I’m sure there is more to talk about. What about you? How things have changed for you and what could we possibly learn together from this pandemic?
Feel free to email me for any question or reaction you may have to this article. I wish it to be a conversation started rather than a monologue.
Thank you for reading until the end!
Every morning, after my meditation 🧘🏽and my breakfast ☕️, I sit at my desk for one hour and write answers to my own questions, as an entrepreneur ✍️. Then I publish it on this blog, hoping to help other entrepreneurs to find answers to their questions too. And this, no matter your “level”.
To participate, ask me questions on social medias @nicolasthanhg (click on the icons below). I may answer directly or write an article about it.
Now, you can also go back to the blog page and search for articles related to your scope of interest. 🔍
Have a good day,