Why Start a New Business During a Global Pandemic?

Recently I heard Michael Messenger, President of World Vision, speak and in his talk he made reference to a quote that’s been circulating within the organization:

‘It’s zero % business as usual, and 100% mission as usual.”

I couldn’t agree more.

I think we can all agree that the COVID-19 pandemic has created significant chaos for most, if not all, of our organizations that is quite unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before. In fact, in light of all the disruption we have faced and continue to face for the foreseeable future, it’s fair to say the road before us is not like the road behind us.

My History With Chaos

I feel fortunate to have the experience of a previous foundation-rattling disruption to draw from, albeit not one of a global scale. While this particular story happens to be about me and not involve disruption of a sweeping, global nature, I’d like to share a bit about the road behind to provide context.

In 2008 I found myself in a different time of chaos.

Seemingly out of the blue, I was informed that my employer was packaging me out after 25 years of service and that my division was being shuttered. It was a lot to get my head around: unpacking what had happened to get to this state of chaos, but of course, the more pressing question for me was, “what now?”

It was ten days after I received the closure announcement, on a trip to Zambia where a vision for what was to come was born.

This radical, unexpected, and most unwelcome disruption had presented me with an opportunity to integrate personal/professional/spiritual dimensions to maximize impact through my work. Upon my return, emboldened by this epiphany, I set out to create an engineering company, but somehow instead ended up building a recruiting and staffing company!

Bakker Tailored Staffing was born when I approached a prospective client about engineering services and asked if I could provide temporary vacation staffing. Given where we were at in the business-building continuum, I said, “of course!” but I have to say today that it wasn’t what I had in mind!

What Happens When You Step Into the Arena

This first opportunity was followed by a time of significant growth when we won a contract to support a major project with my old employer that allowed us to place separated employees, many into their old jobs, with us functioning as the employer. It was an unexpected path to building a lasting foundation for our business, the raw construction materials of which were chaos and disruption.

Over the next ten years, we continued to grow primarily based on our reputation for service and a commitment to developing relationships based on trust. We also grew in depth regarding a culture of ownership and high employee engagement, which allowed me to free up time to live into my vision by investing my expertise, influence, and resources in serving locally and internationally with several not for profit organizations.

This was also an important time of growth for me personally. As I focused on my vision, I found that my thinking began to change, and I began to see my role to be more and more that of a Steward as opposed to an Owner. The leverage I’ve been able to create through the opportunity to engage with this growth process consciously cannot be overstated, and there’s so much more I could say about this topic. But, that’s for another time or perhaps another post.

Thriving Within Chaos

In late 2019 the chaos began again. It started out feeling very concentrated on my little world, like before: First, we lost our largest client due to a cessation of operations that threatened to reduce our revenue by 50%. As the COVID-19 pandemic came more into focus, it was clear there was a bigger storm coming, and this time it was coming for everyone.

There is so much I could say about how proud I am of our team at Bakker as we stepped up to this chaos. Suffice it to say, we’ve become stronger, more unified, innovative, and surprisingly larger with an increase to our profit of more than 150% over the previous year.

That brings us to today and the road ahead.

In March 2020, Bryan Gillmore, executive director of Onside Athletics and now working in business development with the newly-formed Bakker Business Services, contacted me amid his own chaos at Onside. Bryan and I became friends on another trip to Africa and had stayed in contact over the years, and I could hear the tension he was experiencing from the chaos. The thing is, alongside that tension, I was hearing an opportunity emerge.

Right around the time of my conversation with Bryan, Praxis Labs published their compelling article and podcast, Leading Beyond the Blizzard: Why Every Organization Is Now a Startup. The article likens the COVID-19 situation not just to an economic blizzard or winter, but rather to a full-on ice age, urging organizations to “set aside confidence in their current playbook as quickly as possible, write a new one that honors their mission and the communities they serve, and make the most of their organization’s assets — their people, financial capital, and social capital, leaning on relationship and trust.”

With this call to action in mind, as Bryan and I talked, I began to ask myself if this was an opportunity to steward the expertise and skills we had developed as a company, to serve in a whole new way. I knew we were on to something when I shared this with our team and saw how pumped they were about the idea, and Bakker Business Services was born. Our mission is to help not-for-profits (like Bryan’s) and other SMBs thrive in their mission by providing them leverage. In most instances, that leverage looks like providing administrative and other business services with a delivery team of tenured experts for the cost of a junior/part-time employee, or often even less. The idea was that in order to thrive, the best people in each organization we serve must be free to focus on the execution of the org’s mission and that many administrivia and execution elements are better left to trusted partners.

What followed was the formation of a business development team to help us identify and craft a strategy that enabled us to serve small to medium organizations utilizing the expertise and workflows we had refined over the years. One of the first things that the team did, was to help us organize and articulate the way we hope to serve. We’ve also embarked on a learning journey, hosting brain trust sessions to hear from leaders in the types of businesses we hope to serve, asking them:

  • what’s keeping them up at night
  • what help they think they might need
  • and whether they believe we are on to something too

As we learn what’s needed, we’re finding validation for our founding hypothesis at every turn. Furthermore, as we’ve begun delivering services through the new entity, it has been an incredible thrill to start building a network of trusted service providers who resonate with our mission and values, and who can extend the scope of services to include the areas currently outside of our expertise. We’ve already branched into digital transformation, event execution, and even strategic advisory from our core competencies of back-office operations, bookkeeping, and staffing.

It has been such a tremendous personal and professional pleasure to find and navigate a path through the many challenges that the last year has presented, and I’d like to end this article with one more challenge. It’s a personal challenge, really – a thought exercise that has been at the core of how the Bakker Business Services team has been able to launch, get to revenue, and even expand our team in such a short time frame. It may not work for everyone, but it has undoubtedly worked for us and for me personally, so know that I am sharing from experience.

Here’s the challenge: if you find yourself or your business (or both) being disrupted, know that you’re not alone. But ask yourself this: how can you or your company steward the expertise and skills you’ve developed to create and deliver value in new ways? That value can be to your existing stakeholders (even including family; remember – this is a personal challenge!) or a newly-identified group of people or organizations you feel called to serve. If you’ve already made this type of change, are thinking about building something new, or have already identified new ways to thrive within chaos, I’d love to read about your work in the comments.


PS – The incredible photograph at the top of this article is borrowed from gravityglue.com with thanks and  admiration .

1 thought on “Why Start a New Business During a Global Pandemic?”

  1. As usual John you apply your expertise to causes that make impacts in peoples lives. Your teams success will be inevitable. Well done

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