What do you do when, in the course of a week, a pandemic invalidates your business model and drops revenue to $0?
My name is Avital, and I’m the Founder of Avital Tours, a culinary experience company with a specialization in corporate team building. The pandemic affected our business early, and hard. But our team has done phenomenal work over the past few weeks and we’ve been able to address the crisis head on as we transition from an in-person tour company to a provider of remote culinary experiences.
While we will eventually return to in-person events after this pandemic is over, in this post, I’ll walk through how we’re managing the crisis and how we’ve used the last week to enact a Digital Pivot in order to adapt to the current state of the world. I’ve written this partly to share our journey but also to inspire you to keep an experimental mindset as you navigate the coming weeks.
*Edit: We also now offer Virtual Mixology, which was not part of our initial pivot. We launched this product 2 weeks later based on customer feedback.
Background and Early Planning
I founded Avital Tours 9 years ago, with the goal of creating amazing experiences using storytelling and food. We have 3 locations in SF, NY, and LA, and were projecting 14,000 guests in 2020, along with exciting products and partnerships in the pipeline. By the end of last week, our revenue dropped to $0.
We’re a small team but I run the company as if we were a large mature tech company with best practices and planning. At our annual planning session, in January, we ran a crisis exercise exploring possible responses to earthquakes and recessions. We didn’t anticipate a pandemic, so all of our contingencies weren’t relevant here. We’ve been monitoring the pandemic for weeks and have been quick to act as new information unfolds. When tourism and travel sectors started struggling and companies ordered their teams to work from home at the beginning of March, we immediately took action: closed any remaining deals and then switch to rapid experimentation for new products and marketing.
We were inspired by Coinbase to create a phased plan for each department (Sales, Operations, Finance, and Marketing), based on the number of local cases, sales pipeline, and restaurant closures. By Friday, March 6th we had a strong plan in place. However, we dramatically underestimated the speed of this crisis and by the next Wednesday, we found ourselves in the final phase, Phase 3, where inbound revenue is non-existent. Given the rapidly evolving situation, we needed a new framework to allow us to adapt quickly.
Here’s how my leadership team reinvented our company in 5 days.
Making Decisions in Chaotic Times
As of last Monday, March 9th, circumstances were changing on a daily basis. In order to navigate these chaotic times, we had to speed up our own decision making processes. Our first change was the implementation of a daily OODA Loop meeting.
For those of you unfamiliar with OODA Loop, it stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. This is the framework that militaries use to make fast decisions in uncertain environments. We applied this concept in our business to get tight feedback loops and adapt quickly. During our daily OODA Loop meeting, our team reports on our experiments, reevaluates our priorities, and evaluates what experiments are working and not working.
Major Experimentation Each Day
Here’s the steps we took as a company to enact a full Digital Pivot.
Each day last week we ran a new experiment — the initial days were mostly related to selling our existing product lines but that quickly changed as new information came in. By the end of the week we had fully reoriented ourselves to focus on digital / remote offerings.
Monday: We noticed continued inbound inquiries for birthday parties so we prioritized those deals and prepared an email blast focused on birthday celebrations.
Tuesday: Sell vouchers to allow our corporate customers to use their Q1 budgets to pre-purchase team building experiences before the end of the month. Begin developing Digital product pitches.
Wednesday: Focus on marketing Date Night (our all inclusive, self-guided culinary experience for couples) under the hypothesis that folks will still be dining without crowds. Choose digital products to build.
Thursday: Create marketing materials to promote our new digital / remote offerings, as the product team is busy building them
Friday: Launch two new digital remote offerings to existing clients : Chefinar and Remote Culinary Team Building
You can now book the remote culinary team building offerings and Chefinars on our website and we’re keen to hear your feedback on the products. We’re keeping our experimentation mindset in the chaotic weeks ahead and will keep sharing our learnings!
When your business is in crisis, start by recognizing that what worked yesterday may no longer work tomorrow. The faster you experiment, the sooner you’ll discover a path forward.
*** To read about the results of the virtual pivot, read our second post, How I (Re)Started a Million Dollar Company in a Pandemic and our third post, Doubling Down: Professionalizing and Scaling During a Pandemic.