Business continuity planning for your company

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Just shy of a year ago, Will sent an email to our direct portfolio CEOs titled “Only the Decisive Survive”. At that time, not many outside of China were concerned about COVID. We all worked really hard through this past year.

The last twelve months have been incredibly challenging for us and our portfolio companies. It took every ounce of ingenuity, hard work, and persuasive power that we could muster to ensure that our portfolio CXO’s took the right — often hard — calls in a timely fashion and steered their companies to safe shores. I am happy to report that almost every company has emerged leaner and stronger, and most are back to their pre-Covid levels of revenues and were just about witnessing healthy growth. The pandemic struck with a much heavier blow with the second wave.

I’m writing with a higher level of urgency this time, and I hope you will take a few minutes to read my thoughts and take a few precautionary measures. These are precautionary measures we all need to be taking, not just in light of COVID, but as a general means of ensuring each of our firms can continue to thrive when facing unexpected tragedy. Life works rough sometimes, and it’s not always someone else. It’s the “What happens if I get hit by a bus scenario?”. In this case the bus happens to be a global pandemic.

Vaccines are flowing in developed markets, but as you well know, the roll-out is not so fast where we all operate. Even younger entrepreneurs are not immune to this scourge. And while developed market infections and deaths are trending down, India is seeing a surge that seems out of control.

Ask yourself this question:

“What would happen if I or my co-founder(s) checked into the hospital TOMORROW and had no phone and/or was too sick to call anyone, and that went on for two or three weeks (or longer)?”

If the answer is “I’m really not sure”, then you don’t have a business continuity plan. This does not have to be complicated or long. But it needs to tell you / your senior team how to keep big things moving forward, what things you / they need someone else to take over, what decisions can they make without you, and what decisions need to wait until you / they are back online. You don’t need to address every little detail – you have smart partners and smart people on your team. But you need to address the big topics, like continuity of fundraising discussions, business development efforts, progress on tech building, cheque signing authority etc. You know what things depend on you and your leadership team day to day. Write them down, discuss, and then be sure that all co-founders plus one or two trusted senior team members are familiar with the continuity plan as well. You will sleep better. Your team will sleep better. Your investors will sleep better.

Here are some concepts your team could try:

  • Establish a “work buddy” — someone who can be depended on to fill in for an absent buddy
  • Establish documented “leave cover” — who (one or more people) are known to be able to cover responsibilities when someone is on leave (or sick), and they have the info they need to do it well. This info should be documented in detail, accessible to all that need it, and updated regularly.
  • Think about “DFNO – Design For No Ops”. Wherever possible, design workflow that can be automated, and if not automated, handled by systematized, well-documented processes.
  • WFH – the pandemic has already ensured that staff has the ability to work from anywhere if / when required. Are there any problems that arise if person X is working from home and person X and her / his home are not reachable at all
  • Take whatever you’ve done for BCP and test it, to keep the team on their toes and ensure you can continuously refine your processes.
  • For a small company, recognize that having more than one responsible partner as signatories is a good thing. Three is a good number for big ticket decisions, large transfers, etc., for if one is out, at least you can still make payments on a “2 to sign” basis.


Testing your business continuity plan

One firm that I know not only has a BCP — they have actually tested it! How? One of three founders took a one-week offline vacation. He could have been reached, but his partners and his team respected his being offline and looked to move things forward including closing a deal and finalizing a report. Making it work required having internal approval processes right, getting powers of attorney signed and ensuring that the two other partners could approve wire transfers. Now they know that any two of them can “keep the trains running” if one is out.

Have you seen any other best practices that we can share with other founders? Please send my way and I’ll update on this blog post.

Be prepared and stay safe, and let’s all hope this last gasp of the pandemic passes soon.

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