Ten Reflections on 2020

To wrap up 2020, A.T. Gimbel shares ten reflections as we move into 2021.

A.T. Gimbel
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December 29, 2020

Looking back and looking forward

As we get to the end of one of the craziest years in memory, here are a few reflections as we move into 2021.

10. Life is not easy - be kind

Between health, economic, social, political or any other area, 2020 has shown us nobody is immune to challenges in life. You never know what someone else may be going through; take the time to be kind.

9. Leader empathy

Given the craziness of 2020, one of the best things leaders can do is show is empathy. Truly understanding what is going on in your employees, customers, or city’s shoes. Being understanding, listening, and learning not only builds stronger people relationships, but ultimately creates more loyal employees and customers in the long run.

8. Reading

I always love reading and applying lessons learned from people with different backgrounds and experiences. I particularly like books written long ago where the principles still hold today. Those principles tend to be more lasting than a current fad. One of my favorites this year was Bill Walsh’s - The Score Takes Care of Itself in which he describes some of his leadership philosophies and lessons learned while coaching football.

7. Power of compounding

By sheer math, doubling at $1M is nice to get to $2M … but doubling at $100M gets to $200M. With some industries seeing amazing accelerated growth post COVID, it is a reminder that if you get things right, scaling up quickly can really compound as you get bigger.

6. Acquisitions

Acquisitions are a part of the startup exit plan. But those are often hard to come by, are accompanied by a grueling process, and can take many years of hard work to arrive at that point. It was great to see our portfolio company Rigor get acquired earlier this year. Congrats to Craig Hyde and the team.

5. Market importance

We often look at businesses through the lens of Team, Stream (Market), and Not-a-Meme (Product). With COVID, we have seen certain industries explode (i.e. telehealth, virtual meetings) and others be extremely challenged (i.e. travel, events). This was yet another reminder how important it is to be in the right market, where the whole sea is rising and market tailwinds can really drive everyone forward vs. even the market leaders struggling to fight through difficult headwinds.

4. Change is hard

Through all of this, many of us have had to change our business strategy, working habits, home life, and many other areas. No question change is hard. But being open to change, testing ideas, and communicating with your team are critical to positively making it through any change.

3. Known unknowns

When looking at startup business plans and forecasts, they are almost always rosy and filled with hockey-stick financials. One thing I like to do (both personally and professionally) is plan for the “known unknowns.” Every year some negative things will happen that you don’t expect. While the events may be different each year, inevitably something negative does happen. If you already have a buffer/plan for that, I have found it makes the financial and emotional impact much easier to manage.

2. Be prepared

As with everything above, remember the old boy scout motto of “Be prepared.” Every forecast I have ever seen is wrong, but the planning process and ability to adjust to different scenarios pays dividends to help you more efficiently navigate the ever changing environment. If you have a plan to handle the best case or the worst case, everything in the middle can be solved.

1. Life at home

As many of us have spent more of 2020 at home than normal, I hope you have used some of that extra time to reflect on your purpose, family, and friendships. At the end of our time, most folks talk about joys/regrets with those people closest to them. While it is nice to be on any business list of the best XYZ, don’t forget that being the best mom/dad/brother/friend may be even more important. You can always be replaced at work, but not so at home.

Here’s to a positive 2021 and much needed change in the world!

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