Episode 149
March 27, 2020

Bright Spots Amid Chaos

We point out some bright spots in the wake of COVID-19 and offer up our help to businesses needing to obtain grants from the SBA at this time.

this episode sponsored by

We point out some bright spots in the wake of COVID-19 and offer up our help to businesses needing to obtain grants from the SBA at this time.

Future Commerce is offering assistance to SMB eCommerce businesses who need help applying for Small Business Administration Disaster Recovery loans.

Drop us a line at hello@futurecommerce.fm and we'll do our best to get you the right resources.


Phillip: [00:00:00] Hey everybody, and welcome to Future Commerce and... I don't know what our intro is anymore. It's a little nebulous, but that's OK.

Brian: [00:00:09] Welcome to the crazy world that we're living in.

Phillip: [00:00:14] I want this to be a safe space. I don't want to inundate everybody with all the sort of gory details of what's happening in the world. I would love to highlight some bright spots. Maybe. Would that be...

Brian: [00:00:28] Yeah.

Phillip: [00:00:29] Would that be a great place to start?

Brian: [00:00:33] That's a great place to start. Bright spots.

Phillip: [00:00:35] So there's... This just came to my mind, and I didn't prepare you for this, Brian, but I thought I would at least take a moment and expound on some of the work I do outside of Future Commerce. I am on the board of a nonprofit called 1909, and 1909 is both a creative space for entrepreneurs and a startup accelerator for businesses in Palm Beach County. And we partner with both direct to consumer retail founders and folks in digital, traditional app, and in digital product development to help them build their businesses. And so we are seeing our members of our space and of our community being affected in a pretty dramatic way with the economic downturn as a result of Coronavirus and self quarantining here in the United States. One of the positive spots is that I've seen an incredible amount of collaboration coming through that space, particularly around members helping each other apply for Small Business Administration loans and bridge loans to take advantage of the money that's become available under the disaster loan program that came about from the passing of the CARES Act. So if you are a small business in the United States, you have the ability to at least through June, right now, to use a bridge loan and a Small Business Administration loan under the disaster loan program to fund your business and to fund certain things that are operational expenses and also employee expenses for salaries. And in fact, they're retroactively trying to figure out a way through some of... It's going to require a ton of paperwork. Don't get me wrong. They're finding out a way for you to be able to cover the cost of bringing employees back on who you may have already furloughed. So it's an incredible program and something that I wasn't aware of until 1909 kicked it up to help their members. And if you want more information about it, I've shared it with some folks on the Churn Buster Slack and some others, but direct to consumer businesses based in the United States who have five or more employees, you're probably eligible for this. And you should be looking into it because, here's the big kicker, money that you spend in certain categories are going to be converted to a grant and not be needed to be repaid. And at some other point, the bridge loan, if you pay back the bridge loan inside of a year, it's interest free.

Brian: [00:03:24] Wow.

Phillip: [00:03:25] So there's so much benefit to a small business owner. If you are an eCommerce business, you should seriously look into this. And if you need help from me, drop us a line at Hello@FutureCommerce.fm. And we'll do our best to hook you up with someone who you can point in the right direction. And it'll vary state by state. But you know, any resource we can point to to help, we will. So that's a bright spot.

Brian: [00:03:50] You know, there are actually a lot of bright spots in this. And I think that there's a lot of messaging out there, but there's a lot of businesses that are kind of putting their money where their mouth is as well. You look at what Sweetgreen did. They dedicated outpost operations and teams to support hospital workers and medical personnel by delivering free salads and bowls to cities that had high outbreak issues or were in lockdown. Like New York and L.A. and other places.

Phillip: [00:04:29] Yeah. There is a lot of that happening right now.

Brian: [00:04:31] Yeah. There is a lot of that. A lot of really cool stuff that's happening that I think show that certain brands, and I'm not saying this is everyone, but certain ones are actually investing a lot in helping. And I think that that's something really wonderful that we can step away from this with.

Phillip: [00:04:54] Yeah.

Brian: [00:04:54] Yeah, that's nice. It's good. It's a good thing.

Phillip: [00:04:56] There're too many to enumerate. One that I will call out that I was really blown away by is a direct consumer swimwear brand called Summersalt. And they...

Brian: [00:05:08] I saw this.

Phillip: [00:05:10] Yeah. They pivoted their customer service center into an emotional support hotline and in fact, a lot of it can take place over SMS, which I think is kind of interesting... Yeah, that's an interesting approach to how we can use that sort of customer centricity with the direct to consumer era. And, you know, especially a company like them who have raised 20 million in venture capital. What else are they going to do right now? Like this is the time where you beat your plows into swords. Right? As I said in our Insiders article this week.

Brian: [00:05:50] Yes.

Phillip: [00:05:50] And that's Insiders 31. It's literally called From Plows to Swords. And you should read it. Go check it out. Can we mention our sponsors? Because if we don't, I'll feel really bad because we're not doing any editing to this, Brian.

Brian: [00:06:03] This is just straight live.

Phillip: [00:06:05] Yeah. We're just we're rolling with it here today. And I'm sure everyone sort of...

Brian: [00:06:09] This is us in the flesh.

Phillip: [00:06:10] In the raw.

Brian: [00:06:11] In the raw.

Phillip: [00:06:11] Brian Lange's in the raw right now everyone.

Brian: [00:06:13] {laughter}

Phillip: [00:06:14] Speaking of...

Brian: [00:06:16] I'm always in the raw.

Phillip: [00:06:18] Taxes are probably an important part of running your business. You have a little bit of a reprieve on your personal taxes. I think we have a three month extension here in the United States that we've been granted. So I think it's something like mid-July now we have. Until mid-July to file your personal taxes, but your business probably needs to be worrying about and thinking about taxes and getting sales tax. All year long, you can do that best with Vertex. And so if you need a Vertex solution for your business, you can check out their cloud solution, which is purpose built for businesses that might classify as SMBs. But if you're an enterprise, they're probably correct for you with both on prem and cloud solutions. And so go check them out. They'll give you 15 months for the price of twelve if you mention Future Commerce when you do, and go check that out. Both links work vertexcloud.com And vertexSMB.com. But tell them that Brian and Phillip sent ya. Yeah. And then we'll mention our other partner Klaviyo in just a second. They're doing some really interesting work by the way. I don't know if you've been watching...

Brian: [00:07:19] Yeah. Some really interesting stats. Definitely. It's been interesting to watch that sort of live update, well not live, but you know, continued updates, yes.

Phillip: [00:07:26] Day to day for a sentiment analysis. Right? It's interesting. So I've been... Jake Cohen, who is I want to say Head of Product Marketing at Klaviyo. He has been doing these sort of daily digests and sort of daily check ins on sentiment analysis of not just their customers, but anybody who sort of anonymously answers these, you know, broad market surveys that they've been putting out. And it's kind of interesting to see a day to day change in sales volume and, you know, supply chain impact from...

Brian: [00:08:09] Yeah.

Phillip: [00:08:10] For eCommerce businesses. And that's been really interesting. If you don't follow, Jake, at least if you don't follow him on LinkedIn, go to Klaviyo.com and they have a banner at the top that actually will link you to a bunch of that data called COVID-19 insights.

Brian: [00:08:32] And you can contribute as well.

Phillip: [00:08:34] You can. You can take the daily poll. Are your sales being affected? You know, interesting. Some people are calling shenanigans on this data, which, you know, Ian Leslie kind of put out this open letter, who's the CMO over at Industry West, who we had on the show earlier this year. He's like, this varies so wildly category to category. And I tend to agree.

Brian: [00:08:58] It does. Yeah. It's interesting. Definitely. I've read a few different reports now of sort of live data streams. And some businesses are dramatically affected on both ends of the spectrum right now. And so it's really difficult to discern like aggregate data, or like to be able to read into results from aggregate data right now.

Phillip: [00:09:24] If you want to see an interesting trends site, and I know that this is just one business, one shipping and logistics business, but Ship Bob published a trends page called trends.shipbob.com And they are showing shipping volume by business category. It looks like baby products up through the 23rd. It doesn't look like it's quite updated just yet. Baby products and food and bev were trending up. Beauty and personal care was about flat. Nutrition was about flat. And most all other categories trending downward. So, yes, it is heavily category dependent, but Klaviyo is putting out some great data and Klaviyo is also a good partner of ours. And now, you know, coming into our sixth month of a sponsorship with them. We love Klaviyo. And you will love Klaviyo, too. You should go check out Klaviyo, and let's see if the links to works, because I don't know if it does. Klaviyo.com/futurecommerce ... Question mark? Does that work? Yes, it does. So yeah.

Brian: [00:10:32] In the raw. Ah, yeah. I think this is so important right now. This kind of technology is so important in getting your messaging right. It is so important right now. And so I think that...

Phillip: [00:10:48] It's probably the most important thing that you do as a marketer right now is get that message right.

Brian: [00:10:53] Yes.

Phillip: [00:10:53] You only have one shot. Like you have many shots to have great impressions, and you only have one shot to lose like the trust of a customer. You can blow it all in one bad email, you know?

Brian: [00:11:04] Yes, that's true.

Phillip: [00:11:06] So no pressure.

Brian: [00:11:10] {laughter} Is marketing like dying?

Phillip: [00:11:14] No. Are you... No. What?

Brian: [00:11:16] No, I mean in the traditional sense.

Phillip: [00:11:20] I think there're a lot of marketers who thought that they were really freakin smart, and they were sort of just riding this wave of consumer growth.

Brian: [00:11:29] Yes. Do we need to rebrand marketing? That's sort of what I'm thinking.

Phillip: [00:11:36] What does that mean? I don't know.

Brian: [00:11:37] I don't know. I don't know. I feel like we're living in an age where we eschew people that feel... Or we eschew messages that feel like they were crafted. You know what I mean? Too heavily crafted and don't come out of like a sense of the way that you actually are. If that make sense. And I'm not talking about just authentic because I think that craft messages can be authentic. But oftentimes they position, you know, a lot of where you want to be as well. And so it's interesting. I don't know.

Phillip: [00:12:14] But a lot of marketing, especially brand marketing, is really aspirational.

Brian: [00:12:18] It is.

Phillip: [00:12:18] And I think a lot of people just aspire to just be outside and living their normal life right now.

Brian: [00:12:23] Yes. Totally.

Phillip: [00:12:24] And so I think that probably the best brand messages, at this point, are probably those that try to tell you like, "Hey, it's gonna be OK. We're gonna get through this." Did you see what Chick-Fil-A is doing, by the way?

Brian: [00:12:38] I didn't see what Chick-Fil-A is doing. What are they doing?

Phillip: [00:12:40] Chick-Fil-A, at the stores that are still open and the ones that are, you know, that have drive thrus, they are writing inspirational messages on the bags. And they're like handwriting, like "It's gonna be okay," or "You can do this," or "One day at a time." And I think that that's just so great. I know there's a lot of feelings and sort of conflicted feelings in the world about Chick-Fil-A as a brand and their values. You may not agree with them, but they sure do try. They do try to be more positive than your typical fast food chain, and they try to give a better experience than most. And so that's a nice bright spot. There was another one, too, that I thought was really inspirational. And it's escaping my mind right now. It was a trending hashtag that was like... I think it was Adidas that had a trending hashtag around "We're united together." And there was this idea of "You need to take some time off." Like take some time off being a consumer right now and just worry about you and your family and who you are right now and everything else will sort itself out, and eventually you can kind of go back to real life.

Brian: [00:14:17] Right. Yeah, I think that's a really interesting message. I think if you actually... Another thing that I've... This is actually a real need that I saw in the marketplace recently, which actually it goes back to second hand commerce. So a lot of charities are actually supported by second hand commerce stores. I have a local charity in my town that serves the whole like sort of set of a few towns in my area, and they get a lot of their revenues from their second hand store. And now people aren't going there.

Phillip: [00:15:00] Yeah.

Brian: [00:15:00] And so I think it's interesting how we don't recognize how a lot of charities are funded these days and how they're getting their funding and how something like this actually can affect... Retail closures affect charity funding.

Phillip: [00:15:17] Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. There is a knock on effect. Well and I would say charity just by definition, non-profits by definition, which 1909 that I mentioned before is a nonprofit organization.

Brian: [00:15:31] Yes.

Phillip: [00:15:31] You know we exist on grants, like government grants, and we exist on charitable donations by, you know, Knight Foundation and some charitable foundations. And from the donations of just normal people. And when the economy is not doing great, those things tend to... Charitable giving tends to take a dip. So, yeah, big time.

Brian: [00:15:58] Well, sure. Yeah. Not just... I think charitable giving is definitely one thing.

Phillip: [00:16:02] There is the retail componant is what you're talking about.

Brian: [00:16:03] The retail component I think is super interesting in that like a lot of these charities don't have an eCom play. They don't have a way to reach customers or people that are regularly shopping at their stores and supporting the charity as a result. And so I think that there're just these things like this that exist in our economy that we didn't recognize prior to COVID as a risk. That I think is what I want to call out here is we are not as far down the chain as we think we are in so many places. And I think this is true for, you know, what we're seeing this en masse right now. And we're relying more and more on larger companies that are investing in eCommerce. I think it's time for smaller businesses to take another look at what they have, and they are. And that actually brings me... Did you see that there's a huge group that launched a new website. I've actually joined it recently. And so it's a large Slack group that was across several different eCommerce ecosystems that was dedicated to getting some small businesses up and running quickly.

Phillip: [00:17:23] Oh Offline to On.

Brian: [00:17:24] Yes, correct. And that's not the only one of those that I've seen. There have been a few of these groups that have sort of popped up that are dedicated to helping small businesses get up and running online or taking care of like some larger problems as they have no presence or minimal presence online. I think that's huge.

Phillip: [00:17:46] We're gonna need a lot more than that. And it's going to need a whole lot more than, you know, than just the sort of moral support of people to help businesses to move online. I'm of the mindset that the businesses that... Right now, in this moment, is when we will see the greatest bifurcation of businesses that have the ability to exercise ingenuity and be creative and sort of, you know, pick them up by their bootstraps, pick themselves up and try to figure out how they can run their business in a time that they're not allowed to entertain business in person. I'm thinking about a local business of mine that I frequent that is now offering... They're a breakfast restaurant. And now they're offering a no contact delivery option. You just call them. I'm thinking of a coffee shop locally who decided they're going to fill growlers with concentrated cold brew and deliver it to your doorstep for $3.

Brian: [00:19:02] Incredible.

Phillip: [00:19:02] You're going to have to get scrappy. And, you know, we've said this in the past. I think it comes back to the you know what we kicked off the year talking about boundaries. Unfortunately, there's a lot of restraint that's being placed on businesses right now. And we will see incredible creative outgrowth. I know that it's been mentioned many times, but it came up recently on 2PM's newsletter about Jack Ma creating Alibaba out of the wake of the SARS epidemic in China. And I think that we can see incredible businesses that are born out of this time as people are going to be forced to reckon with the idea of using technology first rather than conducting business in person. And maybe there's a lasting opportunity here. But, you know, time will tell.

Brian: [00:19:52] Yeah, there's actually...

Phillip: [00:19:53] I'll give you the last word, by the way, because I think we're we're running out of time.

Brian: [00:19:56] Oh, yeah. I was going to say a great example of this, and let's be clear, one of the industries that was hit the hardest by this was definitely restaurants by far.

Phillip: [00:20:05] For sure.

Brian: [00:20:06] And we're seeing like the coffee shop delivering a growler at the doorstep. There's a restaurant in Seattle, which is like one of my top restaurants in Seattle. It's an incredible restaurant. Very, very high end, classic Seattle restaurant called Canlis. And they switched, they totally mixed it up very early on as they realized that they needed to mix things up quickly. And so they converted a fine dining restaurant into a home, family dinner delivered. And then for a while, they also had community supported agriculture. So get a box of the best ingredients direct from farmers. And they also did like drive up, take out bagel and lunch like taco stand.

Brian: [00:21:07] Wow.

Phillip: [00:21:07] Yeah. And so they took something that was like one of the highest end experiences in Seattle, and they flipped it into something that we would not consider like traditional high end luxury dining experience and gave it their own twist. And I think that's what we have to do right now as an industry is look for ways to take our businesses and apply them in completely different ways that we've never thought of before because of restrictions.

Phillip: [00:21:38] Yeah, there's a an interesting adaptation of the way that we're seeing marketing emails being crafted right now. You know, I don't know what the solution is for restaurant. I think that that's gonna be a real particular challenge. So I certainly as a child of a parent who had food service... My mom ran bakeries. She actually owned bakeries, and my parents ran and operated bakeries throughout my whole life. I understand that business and it can be incredibly challenging. So I don't really have an answer there outside of you know, I really hope that this changes very soon for that industry. At the same time, you know, the businesses that supply those businesses aren't always big food service either. And they can be hit just as hard.

Brian: [00:22:36] Yes.

Phillip: [00:22:39] Like you mentioned, there's certainly a supply chain, especially in higher end dining, that supports local farm industry and agriculture. And that can be every bit as damaging and devastating for those businesses as well. And I don't know... Other than having an operating local fruit stand or trying to find some way to get product direct to door, that also sounds like a pretty dire situation. But listen, on a positive note, we're getting all kinds of really interesting messaging from businesses who are donating across the board, Allbirds having donated what sounds like tens of thousands of pairs of shoes to hospital workers. Everlane...

Brian: [00:23:26] Crocs as well.

Phillip: [00:23:26] Who is it?

Brian: [00:23:27] Crocs.

Phillip: [00:23:29] That's correct. Yeah. Crocs Yeah. Tens of thousands of pairs. Now, Allbirds being hit with such demand there, is actually moving to a one for one model just like TOMS was. You buy a pair, they give a pair. There's also an interesting story out of Everlane who had a product launch that they're donating 100% of proceeds for Food for America or Feeding America for lunches. You know, locally, school districts here recognized that, at least Palm Beach County School District recognizes that there's a real need because some students eat two meals a day at school, and they don't have a meal to eat at home. And so they've partnered with local food banks to provide meals to families every day in a drive thru style at each school. And so there's a lot of stuff that's happening. I know there's a restaurant here locally that you've been to with me. A breakfast place called Howleys, and their owner has repurposed their kitchen to feed... Because they can't be open, and they don't have a drive through, so they've actually created a space for workers and health care right now to come after their shift and eat for free. So listen, we're all stepping up. You know, we want to be of help. Shoot us an email at Hello@FutureCommerce.fm, and let us know if there's a way that we can help you or offer you some encouragement. And certainly looking for your involvement and your feedback at this time, because we're trying to figure out how the show is messaged and how we create the right kind of content in this time that would be useful for you in eCommerce. Other than that, Brian, anything else?

Brian: [00:25:22] That's it for today. Thanks for listening.

Phillip: [00:25:23] OK. Yeah. Hey, chin up. You're beautiful, and you got this. And we'll see you next week. I think we're going to, actually next week, just to kind of foreshadow a bit, we're gonna have Stephan Ango from Lumi, co-founder of Lumi on the show.

Brian: [00:25:40] So excited.

Phillip: [00:25:41] And we already recorded one with him that was sorely out of date, considering that it was only a week ago. And every week feels like an eternity now. And we'll be talking a little bit about this and sort of impact a supply chain. But also we'll be talking about a new product launch they just landed called Lumi ID, and that should land Monday or Tuesday. So hopefully, you know, watch it on your podcast feed. But thanks for listening to Future Commerce. Stay safe out there.

Brian: [00:26:06] Bye everybody.

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