As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Cody Candee. He is the founder and CEO of Bounce, a tech startup that provides small businesses with ways to monetize their spare space and customers with the opportunity to be free from organizing their lives around their things. Cody started his career at Intuit as a product manager before leaving his job to travel the world. Cody founded Bounce in New York City in 2018 before launching across North America and, in 2020, across the rest of the world.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Growing up I was always playing with different ideas and even started a couple of businesses while I was at college. After graduation, I then joined Intuit as a Product Manager, which was a great opportunity to work on a variety of big and small products, as well as in several different countries, but my love of developing my own projects never went away and I knew I wanted to start my own business. Once I’d had the idea for Bounce I knew it was one that I wanted to develop further.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
One of the funniest stories from starting out was when I was walking down the streets of New York and into random businesses to pitch them the idea of storing luggage and becoming a Bounce partner.
There was one store in particular that I’ll never forget. I walked into this sandwich shop and asked if the owner was in. They pointed to a van parked outside across the street. I told them I wanted to tell him about a business partnership, and they said I could just go up to the van and talk to him. I walked up to the van and he was talking on the phone, feet up on the dashboard. I went back in the store and said “it looks like he’s busy, he’s on the phone.” But they told me not to worry, to go back and talk to him. So, I walked up to the van once again and knocked on the window. He looked over at me confused, rolled down the window, and said “what?”
I asked him if he wanted to partner and store luggage in his shop. At this point, he looked very confused and asked me more about how it would work. So I did, and in the end, he decided to join Bounce — but not before telling me I should talk to his son. He said he liked my entrepreneurial spirit and wished his son was more that way. I didn’t know what to tell him but was excited to have a new partner on board.
My takeaway here is that in the earliest days, you just have to do whatever it takes even though you’ll find yourself in these hilarious situations.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There are so many people I am grateful for on this journey so far and I could write a book about all the amazing individuals and how they’ve helped me. I will dedicate this answer to one particular person, Nikhil Raj.
I didn’t know Nikhil before I started Bounce. But early on, I got a message from him on LinkedIn saying he used Bounce to store his luggage in New York, absolutely loved it and thought it was a really great concept. He ended up sending through a bunch of ideas and tips that he had which I thanked him for and started working on right away. He asked if I would be up for a coffee so we met up at a cafe in San Francisco where he lived and where I had just moved back to. We chatted for a while and then he asked if he could make an angel investment in Bounce. I said absolutely and the next week he handed me the check.
The story keeps going. Soon after, I was getting my materials ready to raise a full angel round and Nikhil offered to help. He made a few intros, including one to Vijay Ullal who ended up becoming our biggest investor in that round, putting in $300k. Then Vijay introduced me to a few more investors who were also excited about Bounce and ended up writing their own angel investment checks.
This was incredible. It allowed us to put together our funding round much more quickly and I got to know a ton of really inspiring ex-entrepreneurs really fast. I often think about how things might be different if Nikhil hadn’t stumbled across Bounce or reached out to me after trying the product.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Prior to starting Bounce, I had traveled extensively (40+ countries) and lived in a dozen cities. I had become obsessed with this idea that our stuff shouldn’t hold us down. It is far too common for people to plan their day around their “things”. You’ll hear people say “I’d love to go but I don’t want to carry my things with me the rest of the day,” or “we can’t do anything after we checkout because we’ll have all our luggage with us.”
Our vision was to completely solve this problem. We wanted to build “cloud storage for the physical world.” The idea is that you could deposit and access your things in the physical world as easily and ubiquitously as you do with your digital files. This is a multi-decade vision and will certainly take many years to fully play out, but that’s what gets us excited about Bounce every day.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
Being a travel startup in a pandemic certainly qualifies for experiencing a difficult and uncertain time. When the pandemic hit us, we went from 5x year over year growth down to a 99% decline in business, literally overnight. It was wild. We ended up closing all our open job reqs and cutting expenses wherever we could. We had to rethink all of our strategic plans, roadmap, and initiatives… basically, we had to hit reset on everything we thought we knew.
We devised a new plan, executed aggressively on it, lost a teammate or two which was tough, and just kept charging towards the long-term vision. You could say the story is still being written because the pandemic is not over, but we landed in a place where we had a strong financial runway, outstanding growth on our partnership network, and appear to be well-positioned for a very strong post-COVID rebound.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Giving up never crossed my mind. The way I see it, we are building a multi-decade business (hopefully much longer). A tough one or two years on a 50-year journey is nothing. However, if we thought more short-term, 2 tough years out of 5 years, perhaps we may not have made it. We’re just so pumped about our vision and what we’re going to do that we can take a lot of punches.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
I think the most important role of a leader during times like these is to provide direction and transparency. With direction, people around you can stay focused and excited about their work. With transparency, you can have your team’s trust and even change the direction if and when you need to.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
Keeping your eyes on the prize — the long-term vision, in my opinion, is the best way to keep the morale high. If your team is on board for the vision and purpose of the company, and we can come in and make progress on that every day, then we will all be excited to keep pushing forward.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Right before the pandemic officially started I was lucky enough to have a call with Kenneth Chenault, the legendary business executive who was formerly the CEO of American Express. He told me that being a small team in times like these is a huge advantage. What I took from that was that I could communicate one on one with every member of the team, a luxury that the CEO of a large corporation doesn’t have. Whenever difficult news came, I took the extra time out of my week to talk it over with each teammate individually. I think that makes a world of difference.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Making assumption-based planning and having the flexibility to quickly adapt the plan is very effective. We won’t have all the information, but we can say that assuming X happens let’s do Y. You can take the extra time to make a plan for each different scenario. Then, as new data comes in, you can move forward with that new information by quickly adapting the plan.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
I think the best advice is really to trust your gut. Every situation is unique so while there may be some things that are generally good to do, I would still suggest asking yourself what your gut is telling you and let that guide you. Only you in your situation will have all the context and therefore you’re often in the best position to make decisions through uncertainty.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
- Waiting too long to make a decision — the absence of a decision is still a decision and sometimes that is a worse decision than choosing an imperfect alternative.
- Only taking in biased information. I can’t even count the number of times I saw travel founders echoing each others’ sentiments on a 3-month covid recovery when folks in industries that benefited from covid painted a much longer pandemic. People hear what they want to hear and that can be dangerous.
- Waiting too long to do something difficult. It’s hard to have to downsize your team or kill an initiative that made sense just a couple of months before. I see people delaying the inevitable far too often and it costs them quite a bit more in the long run.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
I think people often overcomplicate this. It’s really as simple as “will this money I’m spending today, pay for itself tomorrow or at some point in the near future?” If the answer is yes, then it’s worth it. If it’s not, then you’re probably wasting money. I think people would find a lot more wasted money if they asked themself this question for all their major expenses.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
Uncertain times are hard for everyone, especially when you aren’t the one calling the shots. If you don’t communicate, people will draw their own assumptions. I had a teammate tell me he thought he might not have a job when he hadn’t heard anything from me in a while.
2. Give Transparency
Transparency builds trust. Even if you don’t have all the answers, you can share what you know and what you don’t know and people will appreciate knowing where things stand as well as you do. In the middle of the pandemic, I told employees that our costs were a bit high and one of them offered to temporarily drop to a 4-day work week, which would then both ease the financial burden and give him more time to work on personal projects.
3. Give Direction
When things are uncertain, you still need to point the ship somewhere. Having a clear direction of where we were headed, everyone on this ship could keep rowing as best as they could. We decided on a certain few markets to expand into at one point and the whole team rose to the mission and made it happen.
4. Ensure Financial Stability
If you have financial instability while there is great uncertainty, it will likely only become a bigger problem. The sooner you can cut expenses, the sooner you can secure stability and not have to worry about it for a while. It goes a long way. At the beginning of the pandemic, we made cuts early on which allowed us to not have to worry about cutting anyone on the team after that. Since June, everyone has known that their jobs are secure for at least the next year, and now we know far beyond that. Had we hesitated, we all would have been living in financial instability every day. I think that would definitely be worse.
5. Stay long-term focused
I’ve talked about this a lot but I really think it’s the key. If you’re building a long-term company, a few bumps in the road won’t seem like much. When hiring new people, we intentionally spend a lot of time talking about the big vision and hire people who will become missionaries of it. This helps us think long-term and be excited every day about what we’re doing.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The day you plant the seed is not the day you eat the fruit.” I forgot where I heard this but it’s so true. The harder you work today, the greater your future will be.
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can find everything that Bounce does at https://usebounce.com and follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook at @bounceyourstuff. You can also follow me on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/codycandee