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Dan Rosen, chair of the Alliance of Angels, and Xiao Wang, President and CEO of Boundless Immigration. (Alliance of Angels and GeekWire Photos)

For startup leaders accustomed to building their businesses in boom times, the economic impact from the COVID-19 pandemic goes beyond mere setback, into the realm of complete shock. But even in these unprecedented times, there are lessons to be learned from past downturns, and from the steps other startups are taking to navigate the current crisis.

“We have a whole generation of people who never went through anything that looked like a dislocation or a downturn,” says Dan Rosen, chair of the Alliance of Angels, an investor, biophysicist and veteran tech executive who has been through multiple economic cycles. “This is a change in mindset from, ‘I need to grow my business as quickly as possible’ to ‘I need to survive’.”

Rosen, who authored a widely read column on the topic, joined entrepreneur Xiao Wang, CEO of Boundless Immigration, on a recent webinar from the University of Washington’s CoMotion innovation hub in Seattle, part of its “Fundamentals for Startups” series.

“We’ve just instantly transformed from peacetime to wartime,” Wang said, detailing the steps the company has taken to extend its cash runway to 18 months. “The idea is, if we can get to 18 months, that gives us a year for the economy to recover, and three to four months to show dramatic growth at the end of this in some way. And then two to three months to raise our next round. And that became a north star.”

Ken Myer

As explained by Wang during the discussion, Boundless has approached the situation like a math problem, going line-by-line through its expenses, renegotiating and reconsidering past agreements and purchases, exploring government assistance programs, and doing everything it can to keep its team intact.

The company, which offers products and services to simplify and help navigate the U.S. immigration process, is now encountering even more uncertainty after President Donald Trump signaled plans to suspend all immigration into the country. Boundless is providing updates on that issue here.

The webinar, recorded on April 10, was moderated by Seattle-area tech and business leader Ken Myer, interim executive and UW lecturer and commercialization advisor, who urged startup leaders to see the crisis as an opportunity to grow.

“This is a phenomenal development experience for you as a leader,” Myer said. “Crucible moments in our lives are what shape leadership moments. If you can see it as a learning opportunity, you’re going to come out of this thing a much more effective leader today and down the road.”

The discussion, on “Negotiating Startup Life through a Crisis,” was full of specific guidance and long-term perspective for startups and their leaders. We at GeekWire learned a lot from the conversation, and we asked if we could share edited highlights on a special episode of the GeekWire Podcast.

Listen above, or subscribe to GeekWire in any podcast app, and watch the full archived video of the UW CoMotion webinar below.?

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