Call for Leaders – 3Q is a new category where Business Review features our 3 questions with some of Romania’s top business professionals, bringing a positive, insightful, or otherwise constructive view of their markets in the context of the current crisis.
Current conversation: Miriam Constantin, Founder of Inceptional Services Inc.
What measures have you taken to protect your business during this period?
At Inceptional we were flexible working remotely anyway, so nothing has changed in the software company, we’re at an early stage where all we can do is work. From anywhere. We work with an outsourcing company who develops our app, and they do a brilliant work coding from home and asking questions on a collaborating platform we all join.
Legal services businesses on the other hand are harshly disrupted, as consultancy in general revolves around the concept of trust and closeness to your clients. Not until long ago this was translated into physical meetings and business lunches.
As such, in my legal services firm I’ve implemented 100% remote work, and moved all business meetings on Skype for business. Part because of my own absence from Romania during this time. Some projects, like a transaction we’re currently working on, used to require face to face negotiation meetings and on-site presence from my colleagues to analyze documents and ask questions on the spot. Not being able to do that anymore, made us change our way of working into a more “programmer-like” routine, so we started working in tasks. We all meet online two times a day to see how we’re doing on each task, ask questions from the client and set up new tasks. This keeps us on track and keeps everyone, both the client and us, up to date. This new approach to deliver constant project progress and have daily contact helps alleviate the fact that we’re not all in the same room and also the inherent distance from the client. Clients feel safe and at ease to know their project is going on as each day passes by. It’s particularly challenging for legal services since we traditionally work with deadlines and, until those are reached, we do not have the habit to report progress. This period made us get inspired from the way technology companies do their work.
But the best way to protect our legal business is by keeping our clients informed and optimistic. And not forcing services on them that they do not need right now. The least that people need these days is being sold and charged stuff they do not consider a priority. We make additional efforts to constantly be on the lookout for financial and tax measures out there that our clients too can benefit from. We also help them mitigate their contractual risks by providing what we came to call “preventive legal guidance”. There is no other way to guard your business better than genuinely helping and keeping your clients happy, now more than ever.
Also, we transformed one working day into personal branding day. During that day, my colleagues and I do not have meetings or technical work, we just focus on writing articles, making “opportunity researches”, and developing our online identities. This is how the Business Optimism Review actually came out.
What is your advice for business leaders for this crisis?
Far from being an advice, since businesses are so different and being challenged in complex ways, my experience is that the ability to take decisions quickly enables faster recalibration. It is far worse to not take a decision than taking a bad one. With bad decisions the good news is that, once you tell it’s bad, you can proceed to the next better one. And, in times of trouble, decisions have a way to see their outcome really fast.
Also, crisis times are a test for teams. And the most reactive way in the face of a crisis is to hit your colleagues or employees very hard. I’ve heard someone say a month ago, at the very beginning of things in Romania, that they wanted to know how they can fire people. The people which they made a million dollars company with. It was their first reflex, instead of trying to find alternative solutions for the business to keep on going. Happy to say they took this decision, went with it further to top investor and advisor, and changed their minds. In the Baltic countries, where I’m currently based right now, a big restaurant owner, who used to serve Swedish buffet in his restaurants, told me he would rather close the business and fire everyone than change the concept to table service. This crisis tests a lot of things altogether, and, in order to be able to resist its worse consequences, people need to make a good mix of being informed from a lot of sources, not take decisions alone and zoom out of their situation a bit, in order to see the bigger picture and how they stand in it. And work from there on.
We’ve seen on social media, long before this crisis, a lot of wise thoughts coming from great thinkers, philosophers or science men. Two of them seem more appropriate than ever right now:
One is Theodore Roosevelt’s say on decision making: “In any moment of decision the best thing is to do the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”
The other is Ernest Hemingway’s way of being an optimist: “Before you react, think. Before you spend, earn. Before you criticize, wait. Before you quit, try.”
What is the most positive business news you have read today and want to share it?
I really roam the internet in an effort to find good news these days, and I must say it’s very difficult. Not impossible though, so I read a couple of positive things today. One is that technology companies are booming, as it results from Nasdaq’s website and most recent stock analysis. Apple is still on a growing trend, and cryptocurrencies likewise.
As an entrepreneur in the software automation segment, I am very interested to see how these times shape technology, and, in this way, our future. The forecast of the International Data Corporation (IDC) looks more than promising, saying that, when taking a broad historical view of European ICT spending across the past decade, the impact of the COVID-19 crisis has not reached the levels of the 2007–2008 financial crisis yet. The IDC therefore projects that European ICT spending will still grow this year, by 1.4%.
The other news I read is on the European Commission’s commitment to invest heavily in the EU economies in the period to come. On March 26, EC President, Ursula von der Leyen announced the launching of the EUR 37 billion Response Investment Initiative in the midst of the Coronavirus, in order to save lives, jobs and businesses. This is a great step ahead and brings a great amount of positivity to me from two perspectives. The first one is related to the medical system in my country, which I remember 3 years back, when doing a report for an European institution, we calculated having an investment gap of almost 14 billion at that time, with a lot less than necessary national and EU funds coming our way. This crisis has pushed very much the modernization of healthcare systems, and has forced the funneling of more money into this sector, which otherwise would have been distributed elsewhere.
Also, the European Commission’s Response Investment Initiative makes it a lot easier for states to grant state aid. In simple terms, companies in distress can get guaranteed loans, grants and other incentives (including fiscal relief). This means more businesses with great products and services, which travel a rough time, have the chance at getting financing they would not be allowed to under regular conditions.
Lastly, though not a news at large, it is a news to me and it is worth spreading too. I’ve learnt that Jed McCaleb, the former CTO of Ripple (the best performing cryptocurrency right now) has financed also the Machine Intelligence Research Institute (MIRI), which is an organization keen on identifying and managing potential existential risks from artificial general intelligence. Their goals is a positive one too, as they powerfully affirm: “We do foundational mathematical research to ensure smarter-than-human artificial intelligence has a positive impact.” In short, there are people responsibly taking care artificial intelligence is developed and used wisely and for the good, so to me that amounts to pretty good news too.