the founders of soona share their pandemic learnings

by | Feb 9, 2021

no one could have planned for 2020. businesses all around the world were forced to shut their doors in the hopes of being able to reopen quickly. but two weeks turned into a month that somehow turned into a year. before we knew it: “closed forever” signs were popping up like daisies. 

by april: soona had to close its doors. we hit $0.

how do you deal with something like that? for me: it was about coming together when we couldn’t be together.

soona’s leadership team spent a week rebuilding. rethinking. and reoptimizing for this new uncharted territory we all found ourselves in. there was no time to wonder about the what-ifs or the maybes. our leadership team met daily to discuss the game plan not just for the business as a whole but for each of our studios located in different states – which were experiencing and handling COVID-19 differently. we knew we had to focus on what we were doing that day but not ignore outside forces we couldn’t control. 

as we faced our studio closures: we had to have brutally honest conversations about what our core function was. what we provide that no one else does. what our customers cannot live without. we had to put the nice-to-haves aside or kill them entirely. once we decided to focus on our core offering of providing fast and affordable images: we stopped all product development and refocused our team toward developing a remote version of our core technology. it’s not easy to watch projects you love be cancelled but empowering your team — from the top-down — to pivot and make tough decisions is key when navigating a crisis

now that we had our new course of action: we tasked our operations team to identify photographers who could set up at-home studios and help develop remote training to launch new capacity. the overwhelming response from our ops team and our photographers proved one very important thing: your people want to help. our launching of a remote photoshoot experience could have only been brought to life by crew members who were willing to step up to the plate. some companies keep the planning and development behind closed doors before rolling it out to the wider team but the key to our pivot was involving more of our crew early on

while we felt like we knew what to do – it was impossible to ignore the overwhelming feelings of sadness for what was happening to the world. and to our company. we were scared of how uncertain everything felt. while the human instinct is to fix what feels wrong – this was something we couldn’t fix. we decided not to let those feelings consume us. we gifted ourselves with “one moping day” where we were allowed to feel overwhelmed and powerless and scared without judgement or trying to fix it. by the end of that day: we had to accept our new reality and move forward with the power of knowing what we could and couldn’t control. making room for our feelings and accepting them completely gave us the clear minds we needed to get down to business. 

we pride ourselves on the soona experience. we want every client and every shoot to feel special because it is. and they are. every client has unique needs and we want them to walk into the studio – or log into their soona dashboard – knowing they are in the best hands to have those needs met. we’ve all learned the importance of human-to-human contact. we knew we had to zero-in on previous clients who had already experienced soona in its original state and get them to try our new virtual experience. this was a big lesson in leaning on loyal clients and the need to prioritize retention. luckily this was already a big priority. we needed to test  and without that bank of clients we could test with: we may still be trying to figure out how to make the virtual soona experience work.

once we were ready to launch our virtual experience – we celebrated. every launch we had done prior to COVID was celebrated with champagne. dancing. and celebratory gifs. this launch was no different. we decided that going into survival mode was not an antonym to celebrating. launching our virtual shoots was a big feat. it gave soona a chance at a new life and that is always worth popping champagne for.

we were excited about getting our remote experience off the ground but the work was far from over. the experience was not seamless and we knew that. we met every customer with open minds and listening ears – especially the ones who had a less-than-stellar experience. every customer who had a bad experience got a personal call. we wanted — we needed — to know what wasn’t working and how we could fix it. it was obvious people wanted to give feedback and the bad feedback that felt like detractor turned out to be a gift. we couldn’t have worked out the kinks without it.

as we embarked on this new remote journey: problems we hadn’t faced before began to pop up. one of our biggest hurdles was figuring out shipping – which was now a major aspect of our business. we turned to a third-party tool for our solve. we could’ve taken the time to build this ourselves but why? this gave us an easy win and it kept our time free to work on other projects. learning that you don’t have to build everything yourself is a gift to your company and your development team.

since our business had shifted directions – our marketing needed to shift too. everything needed to be redesigned. this wasn’t the time for perfection; it was the time for workable solutions. we became queens of templates. we launched 12 types of ads in 3 different styles in 24 hours. we couldn’t have done this without finding something we could easily duplicate. 

soona has been big on investing in its people since day one. we’ve been reminded time and again that all businesses are people solving problems for other people — that’s why you invest in people. as we stumbled through our company crisis: we felt like it was time to renew our vows to the company. we sent our leaders to Leadership Camp with HeySue. we dove deep into our humanity and doubled down on our leaders and our commitment to soona. we invested in our leadership team. we watched how their newly lifted spirit trickled down through their teams and to our clients.

we gave ourselves 5 months to reach $2 million dollars. it sounds crazy — it felt crazy — but we were in it together and dreaming big is just how we do it at soona. we decided it was time to let go of the survival mindset and take on a winning one. winners think about winning and winners choose to see how they win every day. big wins. small wins. we celebrated. soon we would celebrate the biggest win of all: reaching our massive goal.

if you’re a CEO – ask yourself: how are you putting yourself out there? how are you going outside your comfort zone to lead your team? if you only see the meaning of CEO as Chief Executive Office then you’re not putting yourself in front of your team on a human level. CEO also means Cheerlead Every Opportunity. you are the leader and your people will follow the tone and attitude you set. simple acts of cheerleading them on to keep pushing can go a long way: go all out on dress-up days, make silly videos of you dancing when you have record sales days, write memos reminding your team why everyone is here and what they’re working toward. 

and the final lesson learned: be vulnerable about your dreams. we went big on believing in ourselves. our team. and the company they created. soona dreams of being a billion-dollar company. we don’t use the word “if” – we say “when.” being open and honest about your dreams will serve as a constant reminder of why you’re doing what you’re doing and help you and your team keep eyes on the prize.

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