Launching A Company During The Pandemic

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When her ad agency shut down, CFO Sarah Roberts and her partners created Summer Friday.

The pandemic brought many challenges to organizations. For some, it even meant abruptly closing down. And when that occurred, key talent had to pivot quickly if they wanted to create something new out of the ashes.

That’s what happened in 2020 to Sarah Roberts, one of four professionals of a suddenly shuttered agency to launch Summer Friday, a marketing and advertising agency based in New York City. The pandemic made the launch difficult, to say the least, but CFO Roberts talked with StrategicCFO360 about how she and her three partners have been able to navigate the challenging times to create a financially sustainable company, why they’ve had no employee turnover and why CFOs need to pay attention to cryptocurrency.

What was it like to start a company like Summer Friday at the start of a pandemic?

Summer Friday was born out of necessity after the agency we had worked at for many years decided to close their doors in April 2020. My three partners and I had to make quick decisions on whether we were putting our resumes out there or attempting to retain and support clients that were left with broken contracts and work in progress and bring in staff that were left in a panic on how to support themselves and their families. We decided to at least see if we can continue to support those clients with the team that was willing to take a chance with us. What we didn’t anticipate was an overwhelming support from our clients and staff to support us in building this new agency. 

With kids at home and popping on screen in our many virtual meetings, we launched Summer Friday in a matter of days. It was another 14 months until my partners and I were able to meet together in person, but we had gotten so used to seeing each other every day virtually that we didn’t miss a beat.

How do you recruit and retain talent in the midst of the Great Resignation?

Our culture is our highest priority, and our people are our most valuable assets. We started with 12 employees that we were able to retain from the closed agency, adding a few more as we were able, and over the past couple of years, having the need to bring on another 20-plus employees with no turnover. We’re constantly striving to make work fun, but also to make deliberate actions to encourage personal time. Work and life are never balanced—or separate—in this remote environment, so it’s important to implement practices to put some boundaries around the two. 

The unanticipated upside to having this remote company is the ability to tap into talent across the country and we’ve been fortunate to find the best. Our team has provided input on what they like or would change about the interview process, the onboarding process and the overall experience collaborating with us. There are up to five interviews that happen when joining our team and that’s really about being able to gauge the cultural fit as much as the expertise we’re hiring for.

Based on feedback from our team, we’ve held a virtual retreat, when we were unable to have our planned in-person retreat. We’ve added guided meditation sessions a couple times a week, “Summer Friday swag” for new hires, birthday gifts, unlimited PTO and an enrichment program that allows us to personalize benefits to each individual rather than applying a blanket perk that not everyone has an appreciation for. The friendship and trust among our team is incredible and has much to do with the retention we’ve experienced throughout the past couple of years.

How do you build a financially sustainable company in these challenging times?

Maintaining and growing our relationships with clients, retaining skilled staff to support them and diversifying our investments allows for a financially sustainable company. We are proud to have loyal and longstanding relationships with our clients and an excellent team that loves working here.

We don’t waste our energy on opportunities that don’t feel like the ideal fit for Summer Friday. Our team appreciates that, and we encourage their feedback on all fronts. Our goal is not to be a huge agency—it would be impossible to retain the culture and values we’ve committed to in that environment. We are focused on maintaining financial stability at a boutique size and with that, stay focused on our team and our clients. 

Why is it important for CFOs to be knowledgeable about cryptocurrency? 

Understanding that there are ebbs and flows to any business, but certainly in the marketing industry, our goal is to establish enough financial stability that an ebb doesn’t result in panic or short-sighted actions. We’ve diversified our investments across traditional portfolios, seed investments and cryptocurrency. 

Besides the need to understand any investments and its associated risks, CFOs need to know about cryptocurrency simply because it is here—it’s a currency that’s being transacted across the world. Besides putting it on our balance sheet, we are responsible for staying up to date on the impact that it can have on our business and as a benefit, on behalf of our clients.

We are responsible as a marketing agency to offer strategic guidance to our clients and the digital landscape that is here is inevitably going to impact that—whether web3, the metaverse, NFTs or the foundational blockchains. We need to be informed in order to provide those insights. By learning all of this at the earlier stages, we also have an advantage to new business opportunities that are looking for expertise in this area. Personally, as a CPA, I’m focused on furthering my education on all of this in 2022, as it is as important as understanding the latest tax codes. 

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