‘Do not give up easily’: What startup founders learned from the pandemic

July 15, 2022, 4:15 PM UTC
FORTUNE Brainstorm Tech 2022
Michelle Zhou, cofounder of Juji, tells founders to 'not give up easily' during Fortune's Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colo. this week.
Michael Faas/Fortune

From navigating their companies—and their employees’ physical and mental health—through the COVID-19 pandemic to responding to the ensuing political landscape in the U.S. to dealing with decades-high inflation, it’s been a challenging two-plus years for business leaders, startup founders said during a roundtable discussion at Fortune‘s Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colo., this week.

But these founders have few complaints. If anything, the past few years have proven their mettle and prepared them for pretty much anything, said Adena Hefets, cofounder and CEO of rent-to-own platform DivvyHomes.

“It was a real test of nerves in March 2020 in a way that reminds you that you’re going to have many of these moments,” Hefets said, adding that all business leaders need to prepare their companies for sustainable through all different types of macroeconomic environments. “You have to pull yourself back up.”

That involves some creative problem-solving. Amy Spurling, founder and CEO of employee benefits company Compt, was initially resistant to working completely remotely, for example. But the pandemic proved that the setup could actually be a boon to her company, as other business leaders noted throughout the conference.

“The shift to remote has been really positive for us and allowed us to hire in a lot of places,” Spurling said.

Bill Mann, CEO of cybersecurity firm Styra, said the unique times call for unique solutions. As the world continues to evolve, and employees and customers have evolving expectations of businesses, leaders must evolve too.

“All of the political things that have happened over the past 24 months have just forced us as CEOs to…have opinions about certain things,” Mann said. “This is the first time I’ve stood up and stated what I believe in. This is not something I’m used to.”

And while all of the changes can be scary, the best leaders are ready to take them on.

“I seriously thought we weren’t going to make it. [But] challenges are actually opportunities,” said Michelle Zhou, cofounder and CEO of artificial intelligence company Juji. “The pandemic helped us not only survive, but actually thrive.”

“Founders, do not give up easily,” she added.

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