No crisis affects companies equally. But for one human connection consultancy, Covid-19 has been an incredible blessing.
That’s not to downplay the damage the pandemic has done. The U.S. Census Bureau’s Small Business Pulse Survey showed 83% of small businesses have experienced either a “large” or “moderate” negative effect. Entrepreneurs are struggling with everything from plummeting demand to supply line disruptions to employee fears.
For a sense of the other side, I caught up with the founder of a startup that’s actually growing: Chris Schembra, chief question asker of 7:47. Unlike Zoom and its ilk, 7:47, a relationship-building service, might not seem like an obvious winner. But after chatting with Chris, it’s clear why his company is thriving.
Why is that, and what can entrepreneurs who might be struggling learn from his success? Here’s what he had to say:
Q: Despite the economic downturn caused by Covid-19, 7:47 is actually growing. Can you give us a sense of why, and by how much?
A: The Covid-19 pandemic is, fortunately or unfortunately, the greatest thing that’s ever happened to our company. Thanks to technology, our clients can bring hundreds of people per experience for the same price as if they were only bringing 20 people to the session.
With in-person dinners, which were our bread and butter prior to the pandemic, we’d have to charge 10 times as much for 10 times the number of attendees in order to cover our costs. Now, we say, “Great, invite as many people as you want.”
That’s made a night-and-day difference for 7:47. In our first year, we hosted 54 dinners in 52 weeks. Before our business even began, we fed 808 people for free in our home. In the first five months of Covid-19, we’ve produced over 100 experiences, serving nearly 10,000 people.
Q: Readers might expect a culture consultancy to be first on the chopping block when funds get tight. Why do you think executives have spared 7:47?
A: There are good business reasons, but I also believe there’s a deeper, more human element. Years from now, when we’ve long passed on, history will tell stories of how people reacted when times were tough.When clients tighten their budget, show them gratitude. When teammates fail to meet a deadline because of work from home or other encumbrances, show them gratitude.
If you want to discourage your employees from jumping ship when times are good, you have to show them empathy and gratitude when times are tough. Research shows employees will take equal pay and position at another company that’s more empathetic.
Loyalty is cheaper than acquisition. Employers know that, and they see teammates losing motivation the longer they’re apart from one another. Productivity may rise in the short term, but that comes at the expense of inspiration.
Gratitude generates inspiration. An inspired employee is 225% more productive and a highly engaged team increases profitability by 21%. When you invest in engagement, you boost retention—and by extension, your bottom line.
Q: Surely, gratitude and empathy are valuable team bonding tools even in good times. Why is this so important during Covid-19?
A: As we’ve brought nearly 10,000 people together over the last five months, we’ve noticed what people crave most while quarantined is serendipity. They’re hungry for genuine, in-the-moment connections, which are a whole lot harder to have when we’re trapped at home.
We’ve taken for granted the simple joys of bumping into someone on the bus or chatting with the front doorman. Suddenly, we miss finding common ground with that person standing next to us in the coffee line.
When people are away from those they interact with on a daily basis, their lives become stagnant. Putting people into breakout groups and facilitating discussions helps them see that they’re not as alone as they thought. Through those serendipities, they can find commonalities that make them feel connected.
Q: How have you, as 7:47’s founder and CEO, leaned into that need for greater connection created by Covid-19? In what ways have you shifted your strategy or services?
A: We’ve shifted our whole business model toward democratized access. It used to cost a lot of money to bring us in for a short amount of time because we had to travel halfway around the world to perform our craft.
Now, our team can operate in multiple time zones. We can do multiple experiences per day, increasing affordability for the consumer.
Being able to serve more clients at lower costs has helped us infuse our service and our price with empathy. We can donate our services to the underprivileged, inner-city communities or Midwestern moms who are just looking for connection.
Internally, Covid-19 has also taught us that there are a lot of smart people out there who have an intimate understanding of gratitude and our craft. We’ve gained access to those people because of technology, enabling me to remove myself from the bottleneck of our company.
Our growth has made it possible for us to invest more deeply in young talent. An entire generation has had its hopes and dreams put on pause, and we were lucky enough to find a few of them. We’ve hired two interns—Jasmine and Monique—as well as four full-time employees from around the world.
One of those employees, our research director, Madeline, has been especially helpful in applying data to what we do. When her research points to better ways we can serve our clients, we run in that direction. Our other hires include facilitators, who’ve enabled us to replicate the model we’ve proven during Covid-19.
Q: While Covid-19 has been hugely helpful for your business, what’s your advice to entrepreneurs who’ve been hurt—including those who may not be able to offer their services remotely, as you now do?
A: Develop empathy for those you serve. Use this time to go on a listening tour to understand what your employees and customers are going through.
Throughout your life, invest heavily in showing gratitude. Whether it’s clients, partners, peers or family, that investment will pay off in the long run. Finally—and most challengingly—embrace the “suck.” Don’t pretend like this pandemic hasn’t affected you. Communicate your own fragility, and you’ll develop deeper connections with those around you.