In normal circumstances, my job involves… building financial services for people left behind by traditional banking. At Touco, we’re helping carers, families and older adults spend safely with a Care Card, a project that has been part funded by Innovate UK in response to COVID-19. So many people are used to using cash – taking it out, giving it to helpers and carers – but the pandemic has forced them to go cashless. Our Care Card is solving this problem.
In the past few months, the biggest change to my day-to-day work has been… going from back-to-back face-to-face meetings to back-to-back video calls at home. The first few weeks of lockdown forced me to rethink how I spend my time. I’m always excited to meet new people, but too many meetings can be draining, and it’s somehow more exhausting when you’re having them over Zoom. I’ve been trying to ration meetings recently; instead, I’m doing more old-fashioned phone calls, which means I can go out for a walk or sit in the garden – much better for my mental health.
I’m adapting to working remotely by… upgrading my work-from-home environment. Since lockdown started, I’ve been justifying the odd extravagant office purchase, such as a more supportive swivel chair and some posters for the walls. My new fern plant has been growing and growing, taking over my desk for the past couple of months! I’ve also been giving a standing desk a go, just to get a bit more variety during the day.
The recent innovation I’m most proud of is… our designs for our Care Card. We are talking to carers and those they care for every day to find out what they need. There are people who think that innovation is finished when it comes to banking, but when you speak to an underserved group such as carers, you understand that there’s so much more we can improve as an industry.
The most significant challenge has been… COVID-19. It has hit our business, like many others, making it harder for us to reach carers and others for feedback and testing; plus, many of the enterprises and organisations we were looking to work with have had their budgets frozen. It has also had an impact on our team, since several of us have caring duties that have become more intense during the pandemic. Luckily, we are very productive while working from home, and we’ve tapped into grant funding from Innovate UK to support our new project.
I’m keeping my team motivated by… being human – keeping my chin up, joking and laughing. We’re doing weekly team drinks virtually, where we play games and let our hair down, as well as having regular team meetings where we’re transparent about the challenges facing the business and include everyone in big decisions. We celebrate the small wins, and we pass on our thanks to each other, either on Slack or over a video call.
For me, leadership during a crisis means… stepping up and owning my decisions. I’m not going to get it right every time, but in any early-stage company it’s important to move fast and be decisive if we change strategy. I will always ask my team for their opinions, but ultimately the company’s direction is my responsibility. It can be strange to do all of this from my spare room, but it’s what has had to happen to keep us on track during lockdown.
My role model for crisis management is… the venture capitalist Ben Horowitz, previously the CEO of Opsware. I’ve read his book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things, several times – I really recommend it to any entrepreneur. He talks about being a ‘peacetime CEO’ versus a ‘wartime CEO’, and how different personalities and approaches can be strengths or weaknesses depending on where the business is at any one time. He tells a story about when he needed a certain deal to secure the company’s future, and reveals the extreme measures he insisted his team put in place so that their customer was satisfied. It makes you realise that in tough times, it’s vital to obsess over the details.
The three most important values that will see my business through adversity are… a laser focus on what users need and want, as well as communication and flexibility. We’re a diverse team and one that embraces communication and asking for feedback; we’re good at having tough conversations and assessing where we could improve. We had also always embraced flexible working (even before the lockdown, everyone worked at least one day a week from home), but now we’re figuring out how to do it in a way that means we can all work overlapping hours, depending on our needs outside of our jobs. We trust the team – we want them to own their own schedules and workloads.
The biggest change I hope we’ll see in my industry post-crisis is… a greater focus on helping customers on the margin. The crisis has shone a light on the experiences of people who are vulnerable in various ways, and the recession that we’re heading into is likely to result in increased vulnerability across society. The tech and financial-services industries have never been known for their altruism, but I hope Touco can be a part of a wider change and that many more inclusive products and services are brought out post-COVID.
The one thing I can’t wait to do when all this is over is… sit round the table with my family, eating my dad’s Thanksgiving or Christmas feast. He is an amazing cook, and I’m jealous of my mum, who has been able to eat ‘chez Kursar’ every day of lockdown!
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