With every new day comes new challenges and new opportunities. Every once in a while though, a crisis brings many great challenges to a head, and we are forced to confront the various shortcomings in our societies head on. And our success in negotiating the obstacles laid before us depends on how well we balance fear and optimism. But seriously though, what a time to be living in. Never have we seen this level of access to information, and to see that knowledge travel to and fro in real time around the globe is truly awe inspiring. It is something that most of us take for granted in our busy lives. Living in such an interconnected world, where human transactions and interactions have grown on a scale of exponential magnitude, it should be no surprise that we find the whole system feeling these major shocks ripple across all of humanity with such far reaching impact. But it is also for that very reason that we have the potential to get through this crisis more effectively than some may want us to believe.
Whether you prefer COVID-19, the Chinese Flu or simply the virus; and regardless of what you think you know about how this virus originated and made its debut on the world stage, I think we can all agree that it has thrown a major wrench in the gears of our social, economic and political systems. And of course, it is forcing us to do what we have always done throughout human history – improvise, adapt and overcome. Already, we are looking beyond this situation as best we can, with Goldman Sachs forecasting GDP to print a -25% loss on the second quarter but seeing an aggressive comeback starting in the third quarter. Other consensus on the street suggests similar prints. My former colleagues at PIMCO feel that the real buying opportunity will come around the end of the year. At this point though, I think most analysts realize this is all conjecture, and we will see even more revised estimates in the coming weeks and months. I am yet to hear anyone hold the opinion that the monetary measures that the Fed is, and will be, administering into the system will be anything short of monumental in its scope and impact. It will be no different than any drug commercial you see with the long list of side-effects. I always chuckle at that one that makes its way to the bottom of the list: “and in some rare cases, may cause death”. I think any rational person can see that we are all now entering a new chapter in history.
Speaking of history, we have seen some of our greatest leaps in innovation come out of major crises. There are a number of articles worth revisiting that were written during the great recession in 2008. One article in particular is found in The Atlantic titled, "Innovation and Economic Crises," and presents the case of how innovation has increased during some of our most challenging crises over the last 150 years. And with more people today having greater connectivity, the ability to be more responsive to information and to quickly mobilize, I would not be shocked to see markets stabilize quickly and new economic opportunities emerge. However, the precedence of what we are living through will result in major economic casualties for many industries with antiquated business structures and management processes that will struggle to compete with the more flexible and agile companies of our day. Areas that I believe will excel are technologies centered around mobility and connectivity. Big data, AI, vision computing systems, IoT sensor data, automation, are just some of the areas in which we will see big advancements – on the other side of this.
Our supply chains will experience transformations, our workforces will become more agile, our healthcare infrastructure will see improvements, and our financial institutions will undoubtedly add another layer of financialization and market mechanisms that will continue to buttress the economic world order. Fed backed digital currencies and helicopter money are taboo topics that are now becoming a reality. An area that peaks my interest is the way we will think about how we connect and engage with information, and with one another, through the use of our digital tools. And how will this impact the way we think about manufacturing and production? Does industry 4.0 come into sharper vision and speed up? Will we see a more distributed model of production? As certain catalysts throughout history have shown, the velocity of social adaptation and change through crisis speeds up. Whether for necessity, survival or to stave off the pain, we are doing what we can to increase our comfort and avoid catastrophe.
In the midst of this crisis each day is unto itself and we are still managing through this. What should really matter the most to us all is that our loved ones, our neighbors and others around us are happy, healthy and in good spirit. In my own community, people seem to take more time to connect with one another, albeit from the prescribed safe distance. There is a greater sense of respect and responsibility towards one another. I remember a similar dynamic taking shape following the Northridge earthquake in 1994 (we lived a couple miles from the epicenter) and again after the attacks of September 11th, 2001. In just about every crisis we experience, you see time and time again that it is the bold, the brave, the daring, the caring, and the determined that step forward and make the most out of any challenging circumstances. Resiliency and adaptability are byproducts of our faith in tackling obstacles of uncertainty and adversity. We are seeing it happen everywhere; from medical staff working back to back shifts in compromised environments, to people like James Dyson – the inventor and founder of Dyson Ltd. – and his team, rapidly developing a ventilator specifically designed to address the challenges of COVID-19 patients.
Like many businesses right now, Vusar is working remotely. For us though, this is not a huge issue given that we already had a flexible work model in place where 50% of our work was being done in-person, 40% was being done remotely and 10% was a mix of in-person teams meeting with remote personnel. And companies like Zoom and Slack are great examples of ways in which startups like ours can stay connected and on the move. Even my son’s school has done a remarkable job at adjusting rapidly to the change. The school's principal live-streamed their Monday morning flag assembly within a week of the school's closing, teachers are now holding regular Zoom meetings with their classes and are using Google Classroom to share assignments with parents.
As for our product, it is, at its heart, a connective technology solution in that it enables the visualization of 3D CAD data to anyone, anywhere using augmented reality on your mobile device. This enables our users to conduct design reviews more freely then with conventional desktop solutions in confined workspaces. And because we are building a solution that can provide flexibility in situations like these, our outlook and focus have become more finely tuned to the vision of the next innovation s-curve coming our way. Being that we are a software company, we don’t carry inventory or large amounts of capital equipment so our mobility is currently high. Of course, we aren’t without our challenges. Early stage startups like ours will face new obstacles in raising capital until markets get a better handle on just how severe the damage of the next few quarters will be. It is also challenging to get out and sell to companies right now until the shelter in place orders are lifted, so we are focusing more on furthering our product development and digital outreach.
This experience will continue to uncover many things about ourselves that will force us to wrestle with what is truly important. We are blessed to be a nation equipped to respond to these crises with all the tools, technologies and systems in place. It won’t be perfect. No crisis is ever without its failures – that is inevitable. But ultimately, the hardships will make our systems stronger and more effective as we continue to journey through this global pandemic. It’s amazing to see the work of so many within our community and beyond that are taking action and answering the call, informing and serving, and taking responsibility for the benefit of others around them. Sadly, we will lose some, but we will gain much through this crisis. As a wise man recently shared with me, an event like this is an opportunity to help purify and reveal for those that seek wisdom to discern. I have no reason to believe otherwise.
AARON ANDERSON is Co-founder and CEO of Vusar. Aaron left his undergraduate studies after the events of September 11, 2001 to serve in the U.S. Army as a Special Forces Engineer. After being traumatically wounded in combat, Aaron medically retired and founded a defense consulting firm where he conducted assessments of critical infrastructure projects in foreign countries. In 2009, he founded the Green Beret Foundation, a non-profit organization. Following his time in the special operations, he worked on the trade floor at PIMCO. He currently serves on the board for the Center of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Merage School of Business at UC Irvine. He holds a degree in international studies (summa cum laude) and an MBA, both from UC Irvine. Aaron was a Poets and Quants “best and brightest” for the Executive MBA class of 2018.
READ OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE:
An Interview with Dr. Frank Quiambao
by Dr. Gilles Gravelle
An Interview with Oli Thordarson
by Stephanie Rizzardi
by Yaron Gamburg