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Entrepreneurs have to walk a tightrope. Every day we focus on keeping customers happy and making sure our business is running smoothly. (I share daily tips in my newsletter on my website.) But we need to balance this day-to-day life with looking ahead. Imagining what customers might need in the future – mostly before they even know what they need – is the secret to sustainable growth.
The COVID-19 pandemic has got thousands of companies in different industries in trouble. Nobody can be sure how or when the economy will recover, and according to the Washington Post, more than 100,000 small businesses have closed forever. Today it is more important than ever for founders to be flexible, willing to pivot, more daring and a little more visionary.
I recently heard about SimplePractice's story of product vision. Howard Spector's foresight is one of the reasons the Electronic Health Record (EHR) platform has seen growth spurt during the pandemic. Spector, co-founder and CEO of SimplePractice, was studying to become a therapist when he saw that the EHR systems on the market were complicated, incomplete, and poorly designed. He built SimplePractice to combine the solutions practitioners need, such as planning, documentation, billing and customer communications, on a single, beautifully designed and affordable platform.
Related: Technology as the Way Forward: The New Normal
Telehealth was on Spector's radar, but demand was low. He and his team visited it regularly. A few years ago, more standalone telemedicine apps came out and decided to add them to the platform. "I realized we should face it, so we prioritized it on our roadmap," says Spector. "If we didn't, we'd be suffering now."
SimplePractice encouraged its customers to use the video-enabled feature to ensure continuity of care for patients in rural areas or for patients unable to make an appointment due to traffic, storms, and the like. Around a quarter of SimplePractice customers used the SimplePractice service – until the pandemic.
Since then, nearly 90 percent of customers have adopted telemedicine. SimplePractice customers used five million telemedicine minutes per month in January to 144 million in April. "We also saw a massive increase in new customers from March onwards, and we believe this is mainly due to the fact that we have integrated telemedicine into our platform," explains Spector.
SimplePractice continues to expand its offering and recently added a waiting room and screen sharing features. "Our job is never done," he continues. "We always look ahead to what's next, what features our customers want, and what features our customers need. We have purposely created a very entrepreneurial culture that recognizes the individual's ability to be adaptable and to solve creative problems."
In this lesson, you will learn how to identify industry trends and invest time and energy in those trends, even if you just want to test them out.
Related topics: Telemedicine sets the roadmap for the future of health care
Bring disruptive models into new industries
Visionary founders sometimes come up with the idea for their company by transferring the thinking of disruptive companies in other industries to their areas, which is especially the case in economies of desperation. Think of 2008-09 when Uber took over the taxi model and combined it with technology. Or when Venmo took the PayPal approach and made it more user-friendly and mobile. This adoption is paying off for the founders of Jurny, a smart technology solution in the hospitality industry, and Vooks, a streaming platform for children's animated books.
Watching companies like Airbnb, Uber and Postmates use technology to enable the move to on-demand services inspired Jurny co-founder and CEO Luca Zambello to bring this business model to the hospitality industry, an industry where new Technologies were slow to adopt. When I interviewed the two of them recently on my Entrepreneur Podcast, I learned how Zambello and his co-founder developed technology that helps hotel and apartment building owners increase the efficiency and profitability of vacant units while streamlining operations to provide guests with a easy way to plan and enjoy their stay with limited interaction.
For property owners, Jurny acts as an end-to-end managed service that includes interior design, procurement and installation, marketing, cleaning management, customer care and security. Guests use the Jurny app to find available units, select dates, book their stay, check in, check out and access everything they need during their stay.
Both founders are frequent travelers who loved the idea of going from booking to check-in in seconds without having to wait or interact with anyone. This minimized contact solution was ideal for travelers during the pandemic, and Jurny's sales were four times the industry average. The company's tech-first experience enables them to take social distancing measures and reduce potential points of contact. The lesson here is that you don't have to create a revolutionary new business model to disrupt an industry. Disturbances can be copied from other rooms. Find outdated industries and apply a proven model to that industry.
The timing was great for Vooks too. CEO Marshall Bex, former creative director of Nike, came up with the idea for a Netflix platform for children's books after noticing that his daughter didn’t like to read, but enjoyed watching videos. Bex and his three co-founders – including Shannon Bex, a multi-platinum recording artist (Danity Kane) and TV personality (Making the Band and So You Think You Can Dance) – introduced Vooks as the world's first streaming platform about two years ago Storybooks brought to life through animation.
Related: Hotel experiences will be completely different: Ritesh Agarwal
Vooks was quickly gaining fans from educators to celebrities – a recent reputation came from Michelle Obama. It has really started since the beginning of the pandemic. Vooks saw record monthly growth in subscribers and daily users. It now has approximately one million registered users in 175 countries. Educators at 95 percent of elementary schools in the US and Canada use Vooks. The lesson here is to look for problems that people are having in your current sphere of influence. This requires the ability to pay attention and develop skills to find solutions to existing problems.
While the growth of all of these companies has unexpectedly accelerated in the last few months, it's a good bet to assume that they will continue to thrive. Its founders have proven that they can react quickly to changing circumstances and identify opportunities. Their products' loyalty to customers is unlikely to end when the pandemic hits. The new normal for entrepreneurs is that there is no such thing as normal. You need to stay agile and pivot as needed.