Tess VandenDolder
Tess VandenDolder

In March, as the early stay-at-home orders began, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella encouraged his staf​f ​to adopt a “first responder” mindset—quickly assessing the situation, responding boldly, and ensuring no one is left behind. In a matter of weeks, Microsoft launched a new platform to help its enterprise customers disseminate the latest CDC recommendations, shared data repositories with nonprofits and public sector partners working to slow the spread of the virus and helped schools and universities adapt to online learning platforms.

But you don’t have to be a tech giant like Microsoft to be a “first responder” during this crisis. Thanks to smart, agile thinking, and a willingness to ditch their old playbooks and quickly redeploy their resources, midsize technology companies from Trello to New Lab to Daily Harvest to DraftKings are doing their part to help us stay safe and healthy, connect with our loved ones, and stay sane, productive and entertained while we continue to remain indoors.

We know that Americans want and expect more from technology companies—especially now. Since the crisis began in late February, we’ve learned that ​63 percent​ of Americans believe we won’t make it through this crisis unless brands decide to take on our current challenges. We also know that the majority of Americans (55 percent) have more confidence in brands than in the government to effectively manage the COVID response.

Mid-sized technology companies can—and should—use this customer confidence for good during this time by taking on a “first responder” mentality. This means providing trustworthy resources, supporting local communities, and pursuing a path toward recovery.

Be Someone People Can Trust—Even if it Comes at the Expense of Your Business

As digital leaders, all technology companies can follow the example of such Big Tech companies as Facebook, Apple and Google and use their strengths to drive information and data sharing during this time.​ Facebook for instance, through their ​Data for Good program​ has released a number of disease-prevention maps, showing where people are traveling and interacting between regions around the world. As John Brownstein, chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital ​put it,Facebook is the “largest public health communication channel we have.”

Smaller tech companies can have a similar impact by using their expertise to share resources consumers can trust. Our client CommonBond, a student loan refinance company, has built a student loan relief calculator​ to help guide consumers through the confusing maze of student loan relief programs available at this time. The tool offers refreshing honesty, going so far as to tell customers to choose federal relief programs over CommonBond’s own loan offerings.

By offering customers the best deal—even if that deal doesn’t involve their own products, CommonBond has positioned itself as a trusted source of financial advice, and a friendly brand to turn to for student loan help down the line.

Many technology companies have innate strengths in data an​d digital communications. Consider leveraging these strengths, and deploying your marketing and product development teams to bui​ld public data hubs or resource centers aimed at explaining what is going on in the world today. At a time when consumers are more skeptical than ever of the news they consume, being an unbiased informational hub is a surefire way for brands to show value.

Put Your Community Before Your Competition

No matter how big or small, brands stand to make a bigger impact by embracing shared goals. In California, Governor Newsom has built a coalition of tech leadership from industry rivals including T-Mobile, Amazon, Apple, Verizon, HP, Zoom, Microsoft, PayPal and AT&T. Together, these companies are donating services to ensure connectivity throughout the state and free access to the technology needed by families to successfully adapt to remote learning.

Other brands have been focusing their relief efforts in an even more localized way. Our client Audible, for example, has put ​$1 million toward launching a new food delivery service for vulnerable residents of Newark, NJ, where it’s based.

Showing community support doesn’t need to involve a big ticket donation, either. Gusto, the payroll and payments company, has added additional resources to its platform to help guide its small business customers through the process of applying for the Payroll Protection Program.

Lending a helping hand while putting aside corporate competition is a responsible and authentic way for growing tech companies to show customers—and the public at large—that their well-being comes first. Consider using this time to engage with industry coalitions or community groups. Poll your team and customers to discover their biggest pain points right now—you just might find that you already have the business infrastructure in place to help make a difference.

Retool Your Mission for the Current Moment, and Lay Out a Vision for How We’ll Get Through This

Today, 92 percent of consumers say ​they want CEOs to speak out on major issues. That number jumps to 95 percent of tech sector employees. Companies that thrive during this time will be those that stand by their commitments to responsible capitalism, putting purpose over profits” as BlackRock’s Larry Fink famously called for earlier this year in his annual letter to investors.

As the world looks toward recovery, consumers will be turning to CEOs and corporate leaders for a vision of what this world can look like. Already some innovative minds are stepping up. Microsoft’s Nadella has called for greater private sector collaboration with governments and healthcare infrastructure. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerburg has been publicly presenting solutions for greater data sharing to address public health needs.

Now is the time to schedule a strategic positioning brainstorm with your core leadership and communications teams, and spend so​me time thinking through how to intrinsically connect your company’s core mission to the current moment, and pave a clear and aspirational path forward.

Our client General Assembly, the originator of the coding bootcamp and a leading global skills provider, was already a thought leader on the future of work. With COVID causing record high unemployment, General Assembly immediately sought to develop new partnerships in cities like Louisville, KY and Shreveport, LA to help newly unemployed residents re-skill to fill critically needed roles in areas like telemedicine and cybersecurity. At the same time, the company is emphasizing the need for policies and programs that make digital skills and remote learning opportunities accessible to all.

As we transition into a period of recovery, tech companies have an opportunity to be at the forefront of helping to design what a safer world looks like. As legendary venture capitalist Marc Andreessen put it in a recent blog post​, it's up to every leader to focus on building a better world. “Our forefathers and foremothers built roads and trains, farms and factories, then the computer, the microchip, the smartphone, and uncounted thousands of other things that we now take for granted. There is only one way to honor their legacy and to create the future we want for our own children and grandchildren, and that’s to build.”

Simply put, entrepreneurs and investors need to think critically about what they are building and why. Tech for tech’s sake is no longer going to foot the bill. Rather, the technology companies that continue to thrive will be those that bring this first responder mentality to their day to day operations​building the solutions the world really needs.


Tess VandenDolder is account director at BerlinRosen.