Reflections on Launching 12 Startups During COVID

And comparison with a pre-COVID cohort

Pete Lead

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Photo by Andrew Butler on Unsplash

We just launched 12 startups in ten weeks in a Masters elective subject at the University of Sydney Business School in Australia. As this semester was during a COVID isolation stage, how does it compare to pre-COVID performance and experience for the same class?

While I think the learning experience was better this semester, getting easy access to customers is so pivotal to the lean startup process that it hurt the startups’ progress. It made the process harder for the founders, which probably increased learning, but it forced them to expend more energy on ‘simple’ things like finding people to interview.

It also slowed their progress meaning that, in the same amount of time, fewer reached revenue and the average revenue was lower.

Statistics

Twelve startups did a final pitch. But in reality there were about 14 or 15 throughout the semester. Groups were allocated around one of the individual student “problem pitches”, and some groups chose to abandon that in the first few weeks and pursue something else. One group split up a month in, having somewhat invalidated their original problem space. Half of that founding team started again on something new, and the other half joined an existing group.

Seven startups out of 12 had revenue; that’s 58% of them. Between them they brought in $6429. One outlier accounted for the bulk of that, with the remaining six startups bringing in between $32 and $760 in sales — with a mean of ~$300.

Startups launched in the early days of COVID

The five pre-revenue startups all had traction of some kind: active users; informal letters of intent; email subscribers; expressions of interest via social media engagement. Of these I’m confident that two could get to revenue in the next month.

Comparison with a pre-COVID cohort

I ran the same class in the second half of 2019, where 16 out of 24 startups (67%) had revenue…

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Pete Lead

I work with startups, teach entrepreneurship, and freelance in improv and leadership coaching.