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INNOVATORS VS COVID 19

Try to look for the positives in any situation, and the opportunities for your business, Claire Alexander Group Vice President and GM at Capterra advises small companies and startups

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Claire Alexander Capterra

First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times? 

Claire Alexander: Well, outside of my husband unexpectedly coming down with appendicitis, we’re doing as well as you can hope for! That said, it’s a lot to manage working full time while also caring for a sick spouse and a five-year-old—I’m grateful that we live near family and that the weather has been decent enough to be outside a fair bit.

Tell us about you, your career, and how you joined Capterra?

Claire Alexander: I joined Gartner to be the GM of Capterra three years ago, and it feels like only yesterday. Time definitely flies when you’re having fun.

I knew this would be a good fit, though, because I was specifically looking for a few things in taking the role.

The first was a great cultural fit: Did the values of the organization line up with my personal values? The second was whether there was a big business opportunity out there, and the third was whether the role would allow me to keep growing professionally.

Capterra hit all three. 

The organization has an incredible foundational set of values—It seeks the good, does great work, is ridiculously helpful, and keeps on getting better. I think these values are keys to success, whether in work or life. And when I figured out that the company really meant what it said, it really resonated.

Number two: Was there a business opportunity out there? And the answer is absolute. Software is only becoming more and more important to every type of business. Capterra had a small share of what is a huge market, and a real opportunity to be extremely helpful to people building a modern organization. The opportunity to go after something that big was pretty exciting to me.

And then, third was professional growth. I met Gene Hall, Gartner’s CEO, as part of my interview process, and was very impressed. He’s so smart and deliberate; he thinks long term and places really smart bets. The opportunity to be a part of an organization with leadership who consistently delivers such tremendous growth, and generates real loyalty from the employee base, is awesome. 

Any exciting new initiatives that Capterra has started in the past few months?

Claire Alexander: Capterra is a marketplace, so I always think about both the supply and demand side (vendors being the supply side). The pandemic has given us an opportunity to leverage our perspective across the ecosystem and lean into educating our vendors about the broader market conditions and where they can find success. Many vendors immediately froze when this all began. We’ve been able to show them that, actually, there’s still global demand, and there are ways to keep generating revenue even in this crazy time. 

On the buyer side, we’ve been focusing our content on explaining the process of how to buy, because a lot of what makes software purchases end up not being helpful is a sub-par process for how the software is evaluated and purchased. When you’re strapped for money, the last thing you want to do is spend on something that isn’t the best fit for your needs.

Internally, we’re adapting our annual one-day hackathon to become a week-long “Impacathon.” This is an event that has traditionally generated lots of energy from cross-team connections, and I’m super excited about how we’re adapting the model to be more virtual-friendly.

What has been the most challenging aspect for your business when dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, and how have you overcome the hurdles?

Claire Alexander: I’m incredibly grateful for our business analytics capability because when COVID hit, I had the tools to look, in real-time, at the business in various ways and really understand what exactly was driving top-level results. For example, I could literally see the HR industry shifting its focus in the hours and days after the pandemic was declared.

We also saw demand surge in some different regions, like telemedicine and video conferencing, that hadn’t historically been big drivers of business for us. Because we could see that, we could help to map supply and demand by educating the supply side of our business about where demand was so that they could go after it.

Business-wise, our analytics was the difference between being sick and not having a diagnosis, versus being sick, having the diagnosis, and developing a treatment plan. We were in the latter category, thank goodness.

I’d say the hardest part of COVID is worrying about the people. Associates have gotten sick. We’ve got people who live alone, in apartments without air conditioning, or people who are extreme extroverts who are suddenly isolated from everybody. Of course, there are many of us doing the double-duty dance of working while parenting full time. 

All that makes it harder to figure out how to drive excellent results or create conditions for productivity, because it’s not so much that work is hard, it’s life that’s hard right now.

How have you seen small businesses leverage technology to shift strategies during the pandemic?

Claire Alexander: Businesses are definitely using technology to shift strategy because the “old thing” literally can’t happen anymore. That would be like my sister’s restaurant business—@PheasantNYC—which didn’t have takeout before because Uber Eats takes 25-30%, and it wasn’t economical to do that.

Now they have no other choice, so they’re figuring out how to deliver food that’s also beautiful when it arrives. The software doesn’t help with plating food, but it can help with the delivery side. Actually, we ran a survey in May that showed that 65% of small-business leaders are forced to buy new software to adapt to the current crisis.

I love the story of Drawchange, a nonprofit in Atlanta that works with children who are homeless or in poverty to use art to build self-esteem for a better life. After the pandemic, they had to rely on technology to create a website that gives caregivers a way to manage activities at home and launched their art day camps virtually.

Another business, an architectural firm in Liverpool, England, used to do only in-person design meetings and tours for clients. Now that it’s not possible, the firm’s director digitized her meetings and scheduling tools. She was even able to expand and take new clients from Scotland, which is possible with the latest technology she adopted.

How do you stay connected with your employees during this fully remote work environment?

Claire Alexander: Well, we used to have an hour-long monthly all-hands meetings. We’re now doing weekly 15-minute Monday morning stand-ups. It’s a quick and predictable check-in time to make sure people understand how the business is doing, flag any burning issues, and celebrate wins. That’s one very deliberate thing.

And then personally, I’ve just been trying to do a lot more check-ins and skip levels. Before, I could walk around the office and get a sense for how things were going, and I’ve lost that. I miss talking to people! And so what I’ve tried to do is just take the time to randomly invite people to talk to me, and do spot checks.

For meetings, you often spend the first five minutes shooting the breeze. So instead of just getting right down to business, taking a minute or two to have a bit of non-work interaction, and structuring that as part of the work of the meeting is helpful.

What advice do you have for small businesses and startups that are trying to seize opportunities during these difficult times?

Claire Alexander: It starts with a mindset, first acknowledging that this is awful. Nobody wants this. But then thinking about how we put one foot in front of the other. So the first thing is: Give yourself a break! And try to look for the positives in the situation and the opportunities for your business.

Also, take care of the basics right now—sleeping enough, eating well, and exercise. It’s really hard to be creative and to be optimistic when you’re exhausted.

And of course, there’s nothing like learning from other people. Reach out to friends and colleagues in your professional network to communicate and collaborate with those who might be experiencing the same challenges. We’re all in this together.

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