Lessons From the Inc. 5000 Conference: How to Run a Business During the Pandemic

The second day of the 2020 Inc. 5000 Vision Conference was designated as a Day of Service, benefiting members of the nonprofit Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) and Inc.’s Military Entrepreneurs Program. Among other virtual events, during the morning attendees were able to receive one-on-one mentoring from Inc. 5000 CEOs. The afternoon session included more networking opportunities, as well as a host of big-name speakers. Here are some highlights.  

1. Tuesday’s Day of Service kicked off with remarks from Phyllis Newhouse, the founder  of Inc. 5000 cybersecurity firm Xtreme Solutions and nonprofit leadership network ShoulderUp, and a U.S. Army veteran. Newhouse encouraged the audience of entrepreneurs to stay determined and disciplined, and to choose one thing to focus on each day. “You have to ask yourself as an entrepreneur on this journey, ‘What’s my rock for today?'” Newhouse said. “Will it be a connection, will it be an opportunity, will it be a resource?” She also stressed the importance of mentorship, and advised founders to look outside their industries for mentors and to be clear about what each party will gain from the relationship.

2. The pandemic has opened up companies to new risks and liabilities, and made planning for the future more fraught. The co-founder and CEO of Box, Aaron Levie, spoke with Inc. senior writer Christine Lagorio-Chafkin about how to make smarter decisions during a crisis, how to be nimble while working remotely, and how flexibility might be the key to longevity. “Companies that aren’t flexible are probably already gone or they’re not going to make it,” he said.

Levie also pointed out some fascinating upsides of his company’s seven months of virtual work–including why your meetings might actually make your company stronger when they’re held over video. “One upside has been now we can bring together different parts of the business, different teams, different parts of the organization all at once,” he said. “We know we get better participation and better ideas.”

3. In a facilitated networking session with Nicole Cutts, a licensed therapist and the CEO of Cutts Consulting, attendees got frank about the challenges of prioritizing mental health while running a business. Cutts recommended strategies for self-care, including breaking down what you do to the smallest possible units, shifting the stories you replay in your head to a more positive tone, and writing down five things every day for which you’re grateful. If all else fails, Cutts said, “One thing you always have time for is to breathe.”

4. Steve Case, co-founder of AOL and founder of the VC firm Revolution, discussed the ways founders located outside of America’s biggest startup hubs can improve their access to capital and talent. The pandemic, he said, has accelerated the shift to remote work, which creates new opportunities to hire employees all over the country–but also leads to new challenges around workplace culture. Case predicted the next wave of successful startups will be geographically diverse and will break through in centuries-old industries like health care, agriculture, and education, which will require cutting through lots of red tape. “It’s going to require a different mindset,” he said. “A different playbook.”

5. Fashion entrepreneur Rebecca Minkoff spoke with Inc.com managing editor Lindsay Blakely about how her company had to pivot fast and aggressively when the Covid-19 pandemic closed all of the more than 900 retailers that sold her products. In a matter of weeks, the business, which was previously 70 percent wholesale, became an online-only, direct-to-consumer operation. While that shift brought all sorts of challenges with it, Minkoff says she’s learned to embrace the constraints the pandemic has imposed. “The product that we’re beginning to see, it’s better than it’s ever been, and the team used to travel overseas every year for two weeks,” Minkoff said. “There were all of these things that we thought we had to do. It just goes to show when you can focus, it’s quiet, you can really do great things.”

6. Serial entrepreneur Cindy Eckert talked about the traits that have contributed to her success, and told stories from her experiences leading Sprout Pharmaceuticals, the company behind controversial female-libido drug Addyi, and the Pink Ceiling, a venture capital firm that invests in women-led businesses. In an interview with Inc. CEO Eric Schurenberg, Eckert said entrepreneurs should embrace their quirks, remain curious, surround themselves with optimists, and appreciate their employees and customers. She also urged viewers to be bold, but not to confuse confidence with competence. “Success does not come from having all the answers,” she said. “It comes from having the courage.”

Free Main Stage passes are now available for the Inc. 5000 Vision Conference. Click here to claim yours.

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