Page last updated at 23:45 GMT, Tuesday, 18 November 2008

How to survive a global downturn

Opinion
By Martha Lane Fox
Co-founder, Lastminute.com

Martha Lane Fox
Martha Lane Fox founded the online travel company Lastminute
As part of Global Entrepreneurship Week, Martha Lane Fox discusses what it means to be an entrepreneur in a downturn.

"An idea is salvation by imagination", wrote Frank Lloyd Wright.

Now, more than at anytime I can remember, we are looking for some salvation. Every day we all read of the turmoil in the world markets and for many, their worst fears have already come true as they lose their jobs or homes.

Although this is the first recession that I have worked through, the business I co-founded, lastminute.com, did survive a major stockmarket crash in 2001.

We were lucky back then as we had secured the future of the company by raising enough cash to see us through to profitability.

Our share flotation was probably the most last minute thing that we ever did as the markets collapsed days afterwards - and for the next three years we put our heads down and focused on building a great business.

In these unpredictable and unexpected times, I think that entrepreneurial businesses and, importantly, entrepreneurial behaviour need to be supported to ensure we come up with the ideas and boldness that will reinvigorate our economy.

Supporting new ideas

Lastminute.com office
Lastminute raised money just before the dotcom bubble burst

All the headlines talk of businesses cutting enormous numbers of jobs and scaling back investments.

Although much of this is sensible, new ideas must be supported and there are still opportunities to be found.

Web businesses are growing and the move from offline to online is continuing apace, you need only look at ASOS's excellent results earlier this week to have this confirmed.

The web gives power to customers in times where value becomes so important, as they can compare prices, build their own packages or get a depth of information that is impossible through other channels.

The web shakes up normal business models and any company ignoring this shift does so at its own peril.

For me, a pound invested online is far more effective than one spent offline in this harsh consumer climate where you need to be able to track impact carefully.

Making the most of these opportunities requires some flair and some risk taking.

I think that every company whether large or small can learn from some of the characteristics that tend to be associated with entrepreneurial web businesses.

Moving fast

These businesses move fast, test things constantly, put the customer at the heart of everything they do and are not afraid to reinvent an industry with bold new ideas.

Online businesses are constantly reinventing themselves and adapting and for me, this is key to surviving this downturn.

In my latest venture, Lucky Voice, we are looking at how to keep engaging our customers on a daily basis.

We are running special offers, member schemes and doing deals.

We have also adapted our predominantly offline product to an online environment, aware that people still want to have a great time but at the moment may not have the spare cash to go out so now they can enjoy our service at home.

It is this flexibility that entrepreneurial businesses can use to their advantage.

Just say 'yes'

I always challenge my team to think 'yes' before they think 'no' to a new idea.

Inspiration comes to me from the classical history and literature that I studied years ago. Even in the sixth century BC Heraclitus was offering advice about troubled times and saying that "there is nothing permanent except change".

I think entrepreneurs know this to be true and that is why they can play a vital role right now.

Enterprise Week (17-23 November) is a national celebration of enterprise with thousands of events and activities happening across the UK. This year it has gone global as part of the first-ever Global Entrepreneurship Week, an international focus on enterprise based on the UK's highly successful model.



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SEE ALSO
Lastminute co-founder steps down
25 Apr 06 |  Business
Travelocity seals Lastminute deal
12 May 05 |  Business
Lane Fox leaves Lastminute
20 Nov 03 |  Business

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