How we survived one year of a global pandemic

Friday, March 19, 2021
By Flo Devellennes, CEO & Co-founder, Poparide 

If you’ve been following Poparide, you may have read how Covid-19 flattened our revenue curve by 95% in just six weeks after stay-at-home orders were introduced in Canada.

Had you asked me a year ago to predict where Poparide would be today, I would likely have said that we’d had to shut down given that we lost nearly all of our revenue and we only had a runway of a few months.

Against all odds, I’m happy to say that Poparide is still alive and well, and that while we had to make a few changes during these difficult times, we managed to get through the storm and are now starting to see the light at the end of the Covid-19 tunnel.

Here’s how we survived the first year of the pandemic.

We recognized a crisis was coming and prepared for the worst

As early as January 2020, we started seeing signs from abroad that if Covid-19 entered Canada, we would likely be confined to staying at home and travel would immediately cease. 

We started thinking early on about how we’d deal with a crisis, and what steps we’d need to take if worse came to worst and we had to shut down the service. By being mentally and emotionally prepared, it helped us execute calmly when the time came.

We communicated transparently with all stakeholders

Once the official stay-at-home orders came into effect on March 13, 2020, we immediately acknowledged both internally and externally that we were in a crisis, and we quickly sent communications to our members advising them to stop using our service until further notice.

During this period, we also communicated openly and regularly with our team and our investors, and informed them of the actions we were taking to keep our members safe and how we were working to ensure the business would survive, which brings me to the next point…

We cut all non-essential expenses and reduced salaries

As soon as we started seeing a sharp reduction in bookings, we went into “survival mode” and cut all non-essential costs, including office rent, marketing and affiliate deals.

We also decided to reduce all salaries down to 75%, which was enough for everyone on the team to live on but made a significant impact on preserving our cash reserves, which helped us increase our runway.

We tapped into every government program available

A couple of weeks after confinement orders were put in place, the Canadian government announced financial aid for businesses, and we applied as soon as we could. 

First, we gained access to the CEWS (wage subsidy) which covered 75% of our salaries (up to a maximum of $3,000 a month) and we then received the CEBA (business loan) which gave us an interest-free line of credit of $40,000 (which was later increased to $60,000).

Later on, we also applied for the HASCAP (BDC loan) and the BC SmB business grant.

All of these measures allowed us to continue operating while increasing our financial reserves, in light of a likely long recovery period.

Once the panic was over, we took some time off

After the first few weeks of panic and once the initial crisis appeared to be under control, we took some time to relax and reflect on what had just happened, and what to do next.

As it became clear that the travel market would take some time to recover, we took the unique opportunity to take some time off, which for some of us hadn’t been possible for years due to the intense startup rhythm.

We used the slowdown to start internal projects

After some time off, we still experienced a massive reduction in carpool activity, and we found ourselves with a lot of free time. 

This was the perfect opportunity to start projects that we wouldn’t normally have time for, including cleaning up some of our platform’s code, setting up a remote customer service team, and building up our internal tools to improve efficiency for when activity came back.

Although it was challenging to get started, we found that staying active and coming up with projects that would set us up for success in the future was very motivating, and great for team morale.

We responded to market changes accordingly

In the summer of 2020, travel restrictions were lifted which gave us the opportunity to resume some of our marketing activities.

This led to a significant uplift in activity—from our low of 5% back up to 40% of pre-pandemic levels—which was enough to give us confidence that we had taken the right decision to not shut down the business.

Once the second wave hit, we took another big hit back down to 15% of our pre-pandemic activity, so we had to go back into survival mode. This time, we knew it would be temporary as we had just witnessed a swift recovery a few months earlier in the summer.

We changed our fees and diversified our revenue streams

As weeks of crisis turned into months, it became clear that while we could survive, we wouldn’t be growing for the foreseeable future and would need to tap into our cash reserves. This led us to make two important decisions.

First, we decided to increase our fees, which allowed us to cover some of our losses and provide the necessary support for long term continuity and growth.

Second, we seeked other revenue opportunities and diversified some of our earnings through consulting to help bridge the shortfall due to Covid-19.

These measures helped to ensure that we could keep our team together and continue to invest in some of the projects we had started during Covid-19.

We acknowledged our vulnerability, and checked-in with each other regularly

It was important that we acknowledge and accept that it was OK to feel badly living through all of this, and that it was OK to tell others how we felt. To this day, we continue to do regular check-ins with our team and encourage them to express their fears and anxieties.

We also encourage non-screen (safely distanced) outdoor one-on-one interactions, which gives us a chance to support each other with positive energy and goodwill to see things through.

We continue to think long-term and stay positive

Throughout this time, it’s been really hard to avoid getting caught up in the short-term due to the morosity of the situation and the never-ending news cycle. Covid fatigue is real!

Covid-19 will eventually fade away; it’s just a matter of time. Once it does, travel will come roaring back and our resilience and perseverance will all be worth it. 

We just have to remind ourselves of this regularly, find time in our day-to-day to make connections with one another and remain human by laughing, playing and sometimes even dancing. 

As Dr. Bonnie Henry would say, we ultimately found ways to be kind to one another during this pandemic, and that is one of the most important lessons I have learned from this experience.

How have you lived through the pandemic?

We consider ourselves very privileged to have had so much support from our team, our friends, our family, and of course, the Canadian government, to help us get through this crisis.

That being said, we realize not everyone has been so fortunate. Let us know in the comments below about the challenges you’ve experienced in getting through Covid-19, and if what we mentioned in this post may help you.