A few months ago, I sold a company that I self-funded in 2017 for more than a billion dollars. The company in question is Byte, an at-home dental aligner company. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, everyone thought that the ensuing crisis would harm our business and for a moment, I thought so too. But instead of leaning into those doubts, my team and I worked even harder to find the advantages of the situation. We made a few quick and decisive moves and as a result, the company grew.
I have enjoyed a career as an entrepreneur. I have founded and sold several businesses, so to say I am comfortable in the start-up space would be an understatement. The quick, pandemic-inspired decisions we made at Byte were the culmination of decades of experience. I consider the working conditions brought on by the pandemic to be the ultimate stress-test, and I am happy to say that our methods more than proved themselves.
Here are the three startup lessons I learned after selling my company for a billion dollars during a pandemic:
- Do not sell yourself short I watched a lot of business leaders succumb to panic in the early days of the pandemic. All panic does is cloud your thinking. No business leader today has ever had to lead a company during a global pandemic before, and many assumed this meant that they couldn’t. When a scary or unprecedented event arises, crush the urge to panic and treat it just like you treat every other obstacle you encounter. Trust yourself to find a reasonable solution, even if it is a problem you never anticipated or planned for.
- Employees are your most valuable asset The employees make the company. It does not matter if you have the number one product or the most elegant software available – without people with a working knowledge of your business and a desire to see it succeed, you’ve got nothing. During the pandemic, I placed more trust in my employees than I ever had before. They delivered. My team came up with creative solutions that allowed us to still serve our customers, and they worked hard for Byte amidst all of the uncertainty we were experiencing in the rest of the world. Without my incredibly strong team, Byte would have been dead in the water.
- Take care of the marketplace and it will take care of you In early 2020 when lockdowns began and everyone retreated to their homes, my business partner and I sat down and really considered the weight of our global situation. We thought about how scary it must be for frontline workers, how emergencies still happen, and how desperate the need for personal protective equipment was. Instead of focusing on sales and profits, we decided to focus on our community needs instead. We pivoted our production and used our 3D printers to create face shields, and we opened up our nationwide network of dentist professionals for remote consultations free of charge. Our #1 goal was to have a positive impact during a time of crisis. Incredibly, people noticed. We became a brand that people supported and wanted to patronize. Our sales skyrocketed. We showed the marketplace that we cared about everyone’s well-being, and they showed us that humanity matters.
If you can apply these lessons to your next venture, success will be within your reach. Remember that the path to success is never easy. There will be ups and downs, unexpected obstacles, and on rare occasions, a global crisis to navigate. Remember that start-ups have thrived under any and every condition; so instead of conceding defeat when the road gets rough, strap on a helmet and keep going.
Blake Johnson is a Los Angeles (near Pacific Palisades) based entrepreneur who has successfully founded and sold a variety of businesses that currently exceed $1.1 billion in valuations. His most recent endeavor is direct-to-consumer dental aligner company, Byte. Previously, both Currency Capital and IM Capital Access (companies in which he was the Chairman and Founder), were named on the Los Angeles Business Journal’s Best Places to Work, and several of his ventures have landed him on the Inc 500/5000 list of fastest-growing privately held companies. In addition to his entrepreneurial undertakings, Blake participates in a variety of philanthropic endeavors. Follow me on Twitter at @BlakeJohnson1.