Beautiful Rock Bottom: Six Tips to Push Through When Your Business (or Life) is on the Brink
Days after the pandemic spread in March 2020, Flash Pack – the $55 million travel company I created along with my husband, Lee – was plunged into crisis. The venture capitalists who had been wrestling for shares in our company vanished without a trace, as bookings dried up and we were faced with the mammoth task of repatriating hundreds of customers stuck aboard.
Rollercoaster doesn’t even begin to describe what happened next. The impact of Covid was more like a gale-force wind, swooping in to upturn our tight-knit community of global travelers, and challenge everything we valued.
And yet, much like the entrepreneurs dusting themselves off for a post-Covid boom, we at Flash Pack found our way through the squall. With a huge lot of grind on our side, we were able to recover from a November 2020 collapse. And the euphoria of surviving that moment made us even more determined to thrive.
Only half of startups make it past the first five years, meaning that business is tough; even at the best of times. But failure doesn’t have to define you. For other leaders who are struggling, here’s how I navigated my way through my toughest career chapter yet.
Lean into the problem
Denial is a natural response when your business is plunged into a crisis, especially if you’re dealing with something unexpected. But at Flash Pack, we quickly decided we had to own the snowballing issues we were facing as a result of Covid.
Instead of stonewalling customers, we wrote open letters to them explaining why – as a startup company with no external investors – we were unable to issue refunds straight away without going insolvent.
We were honest about the fact that the pandemic had caught us off-guard, and held our hands up to mistakes we had made. This honesty was repaid by clients who could see we had nothing to hide. Our community includes lots of business owners, so they appreciated our openness and responded with empathy to a situation that was all too familiar during those early days of the pandemic.
Prioritize your mental wellbeing
Self-care is the first thing that goes when you find yourself at the eye of a business storm. After all, it’s hard to think about getting enough sleep, or eating veggies, when you’re working 18 hours out of 24 – moving from one fire to the next.
But that wired state of hypervigilance is exactly why you need to ring fence your mental health, and make it one of your highest priorities. It’s no coincidence that worker burnout has soared during the pandemic. Stress and anxiety have both come to a head, tipping the scale of that unseen balance that navigate us all.
Even during the worst days when I put staff on furlough, or spoke to one of our guides in countries with no tourists, I always made time for a walk in my local park. This simple routine kept me grounded and gave perspective. Lee and I also worked hard to stay positive – envisaging a future where everything was back on track.
Seek impartial advisors
Would-be investors and stakeholders will always have an opinion about the future of your business, and their advice can be invaluable. But it’s also worth surrounding yourself with a group of neutral advisors who have zero skin in the game.
Much like the benefits of mentoring, these impartial onlookers can give you solid guidance and ideas minus the emotional investment of loved ones, or the financial input of your official backers.
For me, these people came in the form of two other female founders whom I connected with over the past year. Like me, they worked in the travel industry and had been hard-hit by the pandemic. They were able to give some brilliant insight and support when Flash Pack needed it the most.
Divide and rule through the toughest times
My first instinct when the pandemic struck was to buckle down and take on as much work as I possibly could to save our much-loved brand. This approach was fine in theory, but it became increasingly untenable as the weeks continued – especially after we were forced to put most of our 55-strong team on furlough.
The tougher things became, the more Lee and I doubled down on a system of teamwork. He focused on helping our community members who hadn’t secured refunds get their money back. This painstaking process involved multiple phone calls a day, along with a dizzying amount of red tape and international paper trails.
Meanwhile, I focused on pitching to investors, re-mortgaging our house so that we could buy back our business assets when Flash Pack entered administration and later, raising a significant Series A. Throughout this time, Lee and I also split childcare for our toddler under lockdown.
To say it was challenging is an understatement, but by sharing the load and clearly delineating our tasks (as well as making time for family, even on top of everything), we could at least start to tackle the mountain that lay ahead.
Act decisively and openly
Making financial cuts in a business facing collapse is a bit like ripping off a plaster: you have to act quickly and decisively to do what has to be done. That doesn’t mean you should lack compassion. We were as open as we could be when we had to make staff cuts, but we knew that procrastinating would only make the situation worse. I had to rise above the emotion of it all, rather than be pulled under.
18 months on, and we have already rehired many of our key team members for Flash Pack V2. I like to think those employees returned because we were direct and honest with them, even in the hardest of situations.
Never give up
Your business will inevitably take a knock or two along the way; it may even be swept aside completely. But it worked for a reason, so you have to keep faith that it can survive – even if it’s not in the way that you expected.
I never once anticipated that a global pandemic would knock Flash Pack for six, decimating our 200% year-on-year growth, along with a vision of group adventure that people truly loved.
Yet I also couldn’t have envisaged making my way back out of administration for a new, more refined version of the brand. It was a rock bottom, yes, but one I came back stronger and better from – remember that you can, too.
This guest post was authored by RADHA VYAS
Radha is the co-founder of Flash Pack, an award-winning travel company that has revolutionized tired old clichés associated with group holidays. Flash Pack connects like-minded professionals in their 30s and 40s, and sends them on epic adventures around the world together. With a growing movement of solo travelers, Radha took her business from bedroom start-up to a thriving global brand. In 2020, the pandemic forced the business into administration but through sheer grit and determination, Radha and co-founder Lee fought for their business and relaunched in November 2021.
With the mission of facilitating 1 million friendships and helping solo travelers reconnect after more than a year of lockdowns and isolation, Radha seeks to empower others and spread the word that, regardless of age or gender, it is never too late to live an adventurous life.