The Coronavirus Crisis Might Actually Be an Opportunity for Your Business


It might seem counter-intuitive but there are some things you can do now to build your brand and secure its future. Urban Monks’ Nelio Leone has some tips you can’t afford to miss.

You can listen to my conversation with Nelio Leone on The Men’s Room podcast. It’s the closest thing to a free consultation with one of the Middle East’s most knowledgeable growth marketers.

It’s a crazy time for all of us, but if you own any kind of business, the coronavirus crisis might seem quasi apocalyptic. But it doesn’t have to be that way, according to Nelio Leone, a growth marketing expert and the founder of Urban Monks, a consulting agency based in Dubai.

“There are companies that will get wiped out by the monster wave and that will disappear, and some businesses that get the surf of their lives,” he suggests. As examples, he points to companies like Airbnb and Uber. Both grew out of the financial crisis of 2008, exquisitely timed digital solutions that created new ways for everyday people to generate additional income for themselves. Is it time for another similar bullseye? Probably. As commerce slows down and jobs get cut, there’s a massive need for creativity here, and the possibilities are endless.

But there are already some big winners and those are the media and content producers. As a result of social distancing and self-quarantine, streaming services like Netflix can barely keep up with demand and Facebook has reported a 50% increase in the number of people in the US watching live-streams via Facebook Live since January, according to the head of Facebook’s main app, Fidji Simo. The takeaway?

There is no greater creativity killer than spending time on Instagram or Facebook.

“People are browsing a lot, so now, it will cost you a lot less to be discovered and to entertain people. And the most interesting thing is that now you have all of their attention because we’re all stuck in front of screens all day, every day,” says Leone.

According to Leone, now is also the perfect time to develop your customer’s habits. “It takes about a month to build a habit,” he says. “The more you induce those habit creations right now, that’s when you’re winning,” he says.

But that’s not to say you should necessarily be in selling mode. Some companies, like F&B businesses for example, can make a small pivot and shift their attention to food delivery. But if you’re selling say, jewelry, you’ll have to strategize and optimize your marketing for a long term plan that’s more about entertaining than selling.

Nelio Leone, Founder and CEO of Urban Monks

“Now is the time to double down on communication and the time to give back, and not with the expectation of getting back in return. It boils down to building and curating long term and healthy relationships,” advises Leone, previously a growth marketer at Careem, the UAE-based vehicle for hire company that was sold to Uber in April 2019 for $3.1 billion. The goal is to position yourself so that once things settle down, you’ll be better positioned to fast-forward into selling mode.

If your startup’s goal is a hockey stick curve, consider this period the stick’s toe.

It’s not an easy wave to ride, to be sure. Income losses are expected to exceed $220 billion, just in developing countries (which make up much of the MENA market) according to the United Nations Development Programme. The social ramifications of that are huge, including the impact this will have on things like education and basic human rights.

However, from a business economic perspective, COVID-19 has merely accelerated trends that were already in progress, like working remotely, the growing use of project-based teams in lieu of full-time employees, and most importantly, the rise of digital enterprises.

This last point is especially key, according to Leone, who spent time in Chiang Mai, a hotspot for ‘digital nomads’ in Thailand’s northern mountains. The ideal business now is location independent and one that can be operated from anywhere in the world, with only a laptop. No warehouse, office or employees needed. “The whole concept of ‘digital nomads’ is that it all boils down to finding a niche,” he explains. That’s the framework he’s built Urban Monks on, and a philosophical approach that will serve just about anyone trying to survive and possibly thrive in the current crisis. It is lean, focused and highly responsive.

And last but not least, collaboration is key. “Everyone is willing to take a shot at something that might not work right now. You might even want to partner up with your competitors,” suggests Leone .

Out of adversity comes opportunity, and success is all in the implementation. You can either watch Netflix or be Netflix. My personal preference is a healthy balance of both.