Act decisively and don’t wait. We were hit with both panic and shock when we saw what was happening not only to our business but the world as a whole. Taking time to process things was important, but as a leader, I had to be ready to respond and meet the challenges quickly; devise a plan and act decisively to accomplish the goals we had in front of us. This was utilizing the capabilities with our team as well as our assets, to reimagine our business as a service to WFH employees and businesses.
As part of my series about prominent entrepreneurs and executives that overcame adversity to achieve great success”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nick Chen.
Nick Chen has spent his entire career in startups and small businesses. His first startup was a distressed real estate investment company he built during the financial crisis in 2008, which purchased properties out of distress, cleared all encumbrances and restored the buildings for resale in the New York City area. In 2011, he relocated to San Francisco and launched a distillery and craft spirits wholesale business with his dad which is active in 20 states across the country, as well as internationally in Canada, Hong Kong and China. Most recently, Nick and his co-founder Drew Glover started a subscription box business (Welcome and recently, Snacks n Chill) that focuses on creating unique experiences for businesses.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was on a weekend trip with Drew and two of our best friends staying at a luxury Airbnb that had nothing in the way of amenities beyond a large communal body soap dispenser in the bathroom. The experience from an amenity and hospitality standpoint just didn’t match the quality of the space we were staying at. Drew and I started talking about how to improve upon this as we were packing up to leave, and that conversation and idea eventually became Welcome, a subscription-based hospitality box that allows short term rental hosts to provide snacks and amenities with a personalized welcome note to incoming guests. Over the course of a year, the business blossomed to include many notable clients like Equinox, Bungalow, Avantstay, among many others and we were able to help hosts deliver customized Welcome boxes to tens of thousands of guests around the world. However, our business became extremely challenging in March of 2020, when the effects of Covid-19 began to hit.
Can you share your story of when you were on the brink of failure? First, take us back to what it was like during the darkest days.
When all of the travel bans and severe public aversion to germ exposure developed in February and March, we saw over 97% of our recurring customers either canceled or put their subscriptions on pause. Beyond that, we had just signed our largest client to date, who decided to not honor their contract with us once the pandemic’s effects became more widespread. This was a huge blow as we had turned down many other opportunities in order to plan our business around executing properly for this client.
What was your mindset during such a challenging time? Where did you get the drive to keep going when things were so hard?
Panic was the first emotion, as it was for many across different industries when we first watched our sales go to zero essentially overnight. After the initial shock wore off, we knew that we had to reinvent ourselves. As an entrepreneur, the most important characteristic one can have is perseverance. It’s a simple choice: you can persist and persevere or you can give up. I have never liked the idea of giving up. So I chose to persevere.
Tell us how you were able to overcome such adversity and achieve massive success? What did the next chapter look like?
The pandemic gave us an opportunity to evaluate our strengths and weaknesses. We wrote a list of the attributes that worked for us in the past — that could continue to serve us well in a post-coronavirus world. Anything that didn’t make the list, we cut entirely from our business. We were left with three main components of our business: (1) we had a great team in place, (2) we had developed incredible brand partnerships across the healthy foods, lifestyle and beauty spaces and, (3) we had built a great infrastructure for efficiently producing and fulfilling direct-to-consumer orders from our warehouse.
We used these skills to steer our business toward a new market need: improving the work from home (WFH) experience. We dove headfirst into this market by starting our direct-to-door snack box delivery service called Snacks n Chill. The goal was to expand from snacks to include a menu of unique experiences for the remote employee, including craft cocktail kits for WFH happy hours, home workspace enhancements, assorted ice cream sandwiches, in-home massage appointments, artisan cheese selections, home gardening kits, among many many others from our acclaimed brand partners.
Based on your experience, can you share 3 actionable pieces of advice about how to develop the mindset needed to persevere through adversity? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Use adversity as an opportunity to get leaner and stronger. When Covid-19 eliminated almost 100% of our sales, we wrote a list of our company attributes that worked for us before that could continue to serve us well in a post coronavirus world. Anything that didn’t make the list, we cut entirely from our business.
- Act decisively and don’t wait. We were hit with both panic and shock when we saw what was happening not only to our business but the world as a whole. Taking time to process things was important, but as a leader, I had to be ready to respond and meet the challenges quickly; devise a plan and act decisively to accomplish the goals we had in front of us. This was utilizing the capabilities with our team as well as our assets, to reimagine our business as a service to WFH employees and businesses.
- Persevere. It becomes easier to do this when you consider that the worst-case scenario is only as bad as if you never tried at all. When we were faced with what seemed like certain doom, it was a simple decision to hunker down and figure a new way to serve consumers.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There have been so many people that have helped me and the team get to where we are today from the advisors at our company to the people I’ve worked with every day — that said, no one has helped me more than my dad. My dad has always set an example for how to lead both in good times and in bad. I remember when I was a kid and the margins of my father’s travel business shrank almost to zero due to changes in regulations. He saw the writing on the wall and decided to completely start over in a new industry. It took a lot of courage, foresight and determination to move on from a business he had led for nearly 20 years, but in the end, it paid off.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Aside from our new WFH experiences business, we have also built a donation functionality into our Snacks n Chill website. This allows people to donate snack boxes directly to frontline workers. We will both deliver and match all donations 100% to bring free snacks to hospitals and first responders.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
If I could inspire a movement, it would be to work to have everyone better understand the views and circumstances of those in our global community. If we could inspire this type of change, I feel the world would be a better place.
How can our readers follow you on social media?