The Covid-19 virus is not politically correct

The Covid-19 virus is not politically correct. It discriminates against the old and the unhealthy. The biggest risk factor in dying from the virus is age. If you’re 60 to 70 years old, you’re 30 times more likely to die from Covid-19 than if you’re under 40. And if you’re over 80, you’re 180 times more likely. It’s not that the young don’t get sick or die, but the odds are dramatically different.

In the early days of the virus epidemiologists, who believed that the virus would equally kill the young and old, predicting a million or more deaths in the U.S., wanted everyone to shelter. The result has crashed our economy. Meanwhile, economists view 15% unemployment as an unacceptable and unsustainable cost of protecting everyone and want the economy to rapidly reopen, accepting that some additional deaths are inevitable.

They both may be missing the obvious. We’ve created an equal opportunity recession when in fact, the pandemic is not equal at all.

If the data about the demographics is correct, it may be possible to dramatically reduce cases and deaths if we shelter those at greatest risk and pay them to stay sheltered until a vaccine is available. This would allow those with dramatically lower risk to get back to work and bring a faster economic recovery.

Here’s how.


We’ve spent the last 50 years working to not discriminate for age or disabilities so it’s hard to acknowledge what, if these number are correct, or even in the ballpark, the data seems to say that people over 60 are 30-180 times more likely to die of Covid-19. And ~1/3rd of those U.S. deaths have been in nursing homes.

  Age           Relative Death Rate
18 <40             0.07%
40 <50             0.31%
50 <60             1.00 (reference)
60 <70             2.09
70 <80             4.77
80+                  12.64

Compounding the age risk factor are chronic health problems (i.e. heart disease, high blood pressure, asthma and other respiratory diseases, obesity and diabetes.) In addition, racial and ethnic minorities seem to have been at greater risk.

A good visualization of the fatality rates by age is below. It takes data from South Korea, Spain, Italy and China. The relative fatality rates by age in the U.S. seem to track these.

For COVID-19, data suggests that 80% or more of infections are mild or asymptomatic, 15% are severe infection, requiring oxygen and 5% are critical, requiring ventilation.  If you’re under 40, the data says you’re five times more likely to die from Covid-19 than the seasonal flu.

Today, federal and state plans to reopen the economy focus on reducing the density and duration of exposure to the virus equally, across all ages. But little emphasis has been on focusing resources to keep safe the actual people who get sick and die.

We Got it Backwards – Protect the Old Versus Everyone
The consequences of mixing young, largely asymptomatic and much lower risk, with the old who are at significantly higher risk seems like a deadly game of whack-a-mole.

As states loosen shelter-in-place restrictions, mixing young versus old as we reopen restaurants, live entertainment (theaters, concerts, sports venues,) crowded office buildings etc. guarantees unnecessary deaths.

20% of those over 60 work. 12.5% of workforce is over 60
What if we acknowledged that the virus (much like the flu) discriminates against the old. As a thought experiment, how would we design a recovery that protected the old but required minimal restricting of our economy and a rapid return to normal?  Here are some ideas.

  • Continue sheltering in place adults over 60 (or some other age that the data shows most elevated risk), plus those with chronic health risks as well as other affected populations
  • Open up the economy to everyone else
  • Offer everyone over 60 (and those with chronic health problems) whose job can be done remotely the option to work at home. Pay for their computer, network, etc. Offer their employer an incentive to compensate for lost productivity – until a vaccine is available
  • Provide Americans over 60 and those with chronic health problems whose job cannot be done remotely with a “personal payroll protection program” –pay to have them not show up at work – until a vaccine is available.
  • Focus our scarce testing tools first on nursing homes and their employees and front line medical workers, next to everyone over 60, then those whose illness puts them at risk and then to the general population
  • Provide this protected population with full health care
  • Provide resources ($’s for separate housing via empty hotel/airbnb rooms etc) to protect the elderly who live in multi-generational housing
  • Where possible continue wearing masks and distancing to reduce the risks to those under 60
  • Broadcast the comparative risk of getting sick/dying from Covid-19 to typical risks we lived with pre-pandemic. This would allow everyone to make comparative informed decisions.
    • For example, car accidents ~39,000 deaths in 2019 and over three-fourths of a million dead since 2000, ~70,000 drug overdose deaths in 2019 and over three-fourths of a million dead since 2000. All of these are avoidable, but as a society we decided that we are not shutting down our economy to solve these problems.
    • Understanding deaths from seasonal flu in 2018/2019 ~34,000 deaths (~25,000 deaths >65, ~8,000 <65) provides a reference to the current prediction of 150,000 deaths from Covid-19 this year (5 times the risk of dying with seasonal flu.) Just for scale Covid-19 fatalities are closer to the 100,000 died in the 1968 flu pandemic, and the 116,000 dead in 1957/58. We made different decisions in those pandemics. We may want to think about why.
  • Remove all business restrictions for workers and customers under a certain age. As a thought experiment, imagine restaurants serving only those under 40 (carding at the door). They would have no distancing requirements. Or that business rate themselves based on how age appropriate their virus safety is. Imagine movie theaters with special distancing showings for those over 60, nightclubs for under 30 or over 60. Same for sports and entertainment venues. Those who do attend will understand that the risks are not zero, but within the range of those they live with today.  Same with offices.
  • Create special hours and venues (stores, restaurants, workplaces, etc.) for those who need to shelter. Offer businesses who cater to them large financial incentives.
  • Create special mass transit options with over 60 subways cars, buses, etc.

This would do six things:

  1. We’d protect the most vulnerable at-risk population
  2. With those over 60 sheltering, jobs are now opened up for unemployed younger people
  3. Businesses can return to normal without the burden of significant additional overhead costs
  4. Businesses can make additional revenue catering to those who remain sheltered
  5. The potential burden on the healthcare system would be lowered by removing the vulnerable from risk
  6. And this plan would dramatically reduce the overall economic cost of sheltering and accelerate the recovery

We’ve spent the last 50 years fighting age discrimination, but the virus is the ultimate discriminator against the elderly. It’s unequal and unfair. But it exists. Let’s look for ways to move beyond the choice between exploding death rates and economic disaster by acknowledging what the data is showing. Shape a plan to protect the most vulnerable and let everyone else get back to work.

Note: the author is over 65 and willing to abide by these restrictions

Lessons Learned

  • We need to run some thought experiments about different ways we can protect the most vulnerable and restore our economy
  • We need to put the risks in context with other risks we’ve taken and accepted as a society versus the damage that sustained 15% unemployment would bring

Seven Steps to Small Business Recovery

What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.
Friedrich Nietzsche

The world is a different place than it was 90 days ago. Countries traded saving lives by shutting down most of their economy. Tens of millions who had jobs are now unemployed worrying about their future. Business owners large and small are struggling to find their footing, wondering what will be the new normal when the recovery happens. For the majority of companies, the business models of the past will not return.

Hit hardest were most small business service providers. Each day as they sheltered in place watching their bank accounts dwindle, they wondered: If I can’t perform my services, what will happen to my business? The reactions ping-ponged between uncertainty, fear, panic, anger and distress. But over the last month the reaction from a growing percentage has been resolve. Resolve to leave behind elements or services in their business that no longer work in the current environment, and determination to create new ones that do.

A company that has its finger on the pulse of tens of thousands of small businesses is Honeybook. They provide the software for freelancers and small businesses to manage clients and their business – proposals, billing, contracts, payments, project tracking, etc.

Honeybook CEO Oz Alon has had a front-row seat to how their members have pivoted, providing their services in new and creative ways, and are sharing these in a special Rising Tide feature on their website. Here are a few examples:

Pivot from In-person to Online

  • Jill Johnson, owner of The Paint Mixer, used to offer painting parties and creative adventures in her Salt Lake City studio. She started offering paint-from-home kits and hosting private parties via Zoom for team building, social hours, and birthday parties. “Our clients are loving the experience and are very grateful. I receive emails and texts, as well as social media posts daily, and it is inspiring,” Jill says.
  • Regina, owner of Silly Sparkles, is a children’s entertainer offering magic/puppet shows, face painting and balloon twisting at events. Since she can’t perform in person anymore, she’s switched to virtual party packages with customized entertainment for each client. “People still have birthdays, and they still want to make them special!” Regina says. “Virtual parties are a great way to serve those clients, and they’re willing to pay for it.”
  • Jordan Edelson, co-founder of Chic Sketch, reimagined his events business as a virtual events business. His goal was to create a similar experience to their in-person events where guests are sketched live by their team of talented illustrators. Their team now does live sketching during virtual events over a video conferencing platform.
  • Melissa Rasmussen of Catering By Chef Melissa normally offers custom catering with a farm-to-table approach, but in this current business climate, she’s pivoted to offer dinner meal kits. The menu is posted on social media and on their website; customers pay their invoice online; and the meal kits are available to be picked up at their commercial kitchen or delivered for a small fee.
  • Florist Robin Smith of  Rhapsody in Blooms started offering virtual floral design classes. She either ships class supplies (including the flowers and a vessel) directly to participants or arranges no-contact pickups. All students have exactly the same products to work with and join a Zoom call to attend the class.

The Seven-Step Small Business Pivot Process
Honeybook CEO Oz Alon observed that there was a pattern to these pivots. Regardless of the type of service they were offering or the kind of businesses they had, they took the same seven steps:

  1. Create an MVP, Minimal Viable Product or MVS, Minimum Viable Service—Assess your current business model. What capabilities and current services do you have? Then think about what the market needs right now and how you can adjust your services to meet those needs. What is it that people will grab out of your hands? Create an MVP or MVS to start.

Alexander Osterwalder co-creator of the business model canvas, suggests a playbook of business model moves you can make:

Shelter in place as a market opportunity
What new value propositions (products/services) can you offer to those stuck at home or to those who need to operate with new social distancing rules?

Resource pivots
How can you use/repurpose your existing resources for new offerings?

Delivery/Distribution Channel innovation
Can you move to digital/online, extending your reach and potential customers?

Opportunity to buy/acquire
Are there resources (people/physical assets) that others are abandoning that you can now get?

Jill Johnson, The Paint Mixer owner, suggests taking a look at the assets you already have. “Our pivot happened pretty quickly,” she says. “I knew as soon as our surrounding counties started to mandate closure that the business would be in trouble if I didn’t try something. After a good cry (and a glass of whiskey), I met with my team to talk ideas and short-term solutions. I looked around the studio and decided to use what we had. We offer painting parties and creative adventures. With the stock in our studios I took photos of what could be a potential ‘create-at-home kit.’”

Regina, owner of Silly Sparkles, seconds working with what you have as a starting point for a Minimum Viable Service. She says before you invest money in new equipment, it’s important to be resourceful. “When you use what you have, you’ll quickly learn what works for you and what doesn’t,” she says. “For my first virtual show, I only had magic props, green fabric for a green screen and a laptop. I didn’t need to invest a lot of money in a green screen because what I had worked just fine. I did, however, need to invest in a better mic.”

2. Customer discovery— While you might have come up with a great Minimum Viable Service, it’s just a series of guesses and assumptions. The next step is to validate the problem/need with customer discovery, by asking your existing customer base if they would be interested in your new service. You can do a poll on social media or send out an email blast to get a sense, then use video conferencing to do deep dives on real interest and intent to buy. Jill says, “We did a soft rollout with our mailing list to see if there was any interest, and there was!”

3. Rapid testing—Don’t spin your wheels trying to perfect your new service. Get it in the hands of your customers as soon as you can to test product/market fit. “Don’t spend energy building it. Create one, take a photo and try it with your current list. Then, when demand is apparent, build like crazy,” Jill says.

If you want to get started testing your idea quickly, consider giving it away for free at first. “It’s easy to get overwhelmed,” Regina says. “Instead of complicating the process, just jump in and try something! Start by offering a free, live magic show to family and friends. You’ll learn so much from this test run and it will give you momentum.”

4. Refine your offering—Another key part of rapid pivoting is a fast feedback loop. Constantly ask for feedback and act on it—improve on what’s working and tweak what’s not. Jill says, “The first 6 weeks I hand-delivered every package in the neighboring areas. I would text to let [customers] know it was outside and that I would love feedback. This touch allowed direct contact with every consumer.”

While customer feedback is great, also consider getting feedback from your peers. “Once you’ve started simple and tried a test run, it’s time to learn about how to improve your process,” Regina says. “Send out a recording of your first rough performances to other performers who have already been doing virtual parties. You’ll most likely receive insightful feedback. With some minor tweaks, you can upgrade your show significantly.”

5. Market on all your channels—Share about your new offering everywhere your audience is, whether that’s your website, email list, or on social media. Jordan Edelson of Chic Sketch shares about his new business offering on Instagram, driving customers to a specific landing page to learn more. The landing page also includes a YouTube video of an actual live event to help potential clients see how the service works.

Don’t forget to keep both your offering and your messaging simple. “Make it fun, make it accessible and make it easy for your clients to buy,” Jill advises.

6. Rely on tried-and-true tools—While some parts of your business may need to be altered, others may still work just fine, including tools, processes and frameworks that help you run and scale your business. Continue to rely on these to make pivoting business easier.

7. Share with the community—If your new service works, be sure to share this knowledge with your community, whether that’s on Facebook groups or in virtual meet-ups. In case anyone else has tried something similar, you can get feedback to refine your service. If it didn’t work, sharing with your community is still valuable as you may swap stories that may inspire you to go a different direction entirely.

What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger
Shelter in place is a mass extinction event for many industries. Not every business will survive. But what will emerge are businesses that diversified their offerings better positioned to withstand future volatility by providing complementary channels and offerings. And they’re opening up new ways service providers can scale to more customers.

“I think our Paint Mixer business is changed forever,” Jill Johnson says. “For the first time we now have a service that allows us to reach a national audience way beyond our local area. It will also allow us to create more classes that people can join virtually. I don’t think this is a short-term solution at all, but an entirely new direction that we have to take.”

Jordan Edelson of Chic Sketch observes, “There has been a paradigm shift in consumer behaviors, especially in their adoption and emotional acceptance of virtual video conferencing. The world changed overnight, and it has opened a door for our new service.”

Lessons Learned

  • The Seven-Step Small Business Pivot Process
    • Create an MVP or MVS, Minimum Viable Service
    • Do Customer Discovery
    • Rapidly test your idea
    • Refine your offering
    • Market on all your channels
    • Rely on tried-and-true tools
    • Share with the community
  • Carpe Diem – seize the day

We’re going to be holding a series of 5-day Hacking for the Recovery classes for businesses searching for the new normal at Stanford this summer. If you’re affiliated with Stanford, find out more or sign up at https://h4r.stanford.edu

Hacking 4 Recovery

We’re holding a series of 5-day online classes at Stanford where teams will learn how to develop new business models for an economy that’s getting back to work and on the road to recovery.

 

Sign up at http://h4r.stanford.edu


The post-pandemic world will be a very different place. The Covid-19 virus has upended traditional ways of doing business, travel, education, entertainment, healthcare, etc. How do these institutions reconfigure and reinvent themselves? What new businesses and services will emerge? Hacking 4 Recovery provides students with the tools to understand the new normal and to build innovative solutions for recovery.


Out of crisis – Opportunity
Do you have a startup idea or new technology that you’d like to learn how to bring to market in the post-pandemic economy? Or perhaps you would like to join a team creating a new business, or reinventing an existing business, and learn the lean startup techniques that will be critical to our recovery.

Stanford’s Lean LaunchPad
Hacking 4 Recovery is a 5-day version of the Lean LaunchPad / Hacking For Defense / National Science Foundation I-Corps curriculum that’s trained tens of thousands of entrepreneurs and innovators. This class offers students a unique online opportunity to build the future with the Stanford University instructors who have inspired a generation of entrepreneurs.

The first 5-day class will be aimed at “Finding New Business Models” for businesses to adapt and pivot to find new customers, new markets, new products and new services to win in the recovery. Additional 5-day-long classes will explore Health, Travel and Hospitality, Food Service, Entertainment and Education.

Course Description
This course provides real world, hands-on learning on what it’s like to actually start a company or to find a new business model for an existing one. This class is not about how to write a business plan. It’s not an exercise on how smart you are in a classroom, or how well you use the research to size markets.

This class combines theory with a ton of hands-on practice. Our goal, within the constraints of a virtual classroom and a limited amount of time, is to give you a framework to test a business model.

You will be virtually “getting your hands dirty” by talking to customers, partners and competitors as you encounter the chaos and uncertainty of how a startup (or a restart) actually works.

You’ll practice evidence-based entrepreneurship as you learn how to use a business model to brainstorm each part of a company and formulate their hypothesis. Next, you’ll use customer development to virtually get out of the classroom and talk to 10-15 customers/ partners each day to validate whether your assumptions are correct, and to see whether anyone other than you would want/use your product or service. Finally, based on the customer and market feedback you gathered, you will use agile development to build Minimal Viable Products (incremental and iterative prototypes) to show prospective customers each day to see if customers would actually buy and use. Each day will be a new adventure outside the classroom as you test each part of your business model and then share the hard earned knowledge with the rest of the class.

This class is team-based.  (We’ll help Individuals without a team find a place on one.) Working and studying will be done in teams. You will be admitted as a teamTeams must submit a proposal for entry before the class begins. Projects must be approved before the class.

The teams will self-organize and establish individual roles on their own.

Hacking 4 Recovery Instructors and Team

Class Dates
Five Hacking 4 Recovery 5-day online classes will be offered this summer:

  • First session: Monday, June 29th to Friday, July 3rd at 4-7pm Pacific
  • Second session: Monday, July 13th to Friday, July 17th at 4-7pm Pacific
  • Third session: Monday, August 3rd to Friday, August 7th at 4-7pm Pacific
  • Fourth session: TBD
  • Fifth session: TBD

Find Out More – Info Sessions
We’ll be offering a series of information sessions describing the class, expectations and the application process.

May 21  4:00 PM PDT  Information session
May 28  12:00 PM PDT  Information session

Signup at the website at http://h4r.stanford.edu

Who Can Attend?
Hacking 4 Recovery is open to Stanford undergraduate and graduate students, as well as all Stanford faculty, staff and alumni. Students visiting Stanford for the summer are also invited to apply for this free course, (if they are registered for at least one Summer Session course (3-unit minimum).

The class is team-based. Priority is given to teams of 3 to 5. We will hold team formation mixers and help you find additional team members or teams to join.

June 4  4:00 PM PDT  Team formation mixer and Q&A
June 11  12:00 PM PDT  Team formation mixer and Q&A
June 18  4:00 PM PDT  Team formation mixer and Q&A
June 25  4:00 PM PDT  Team formation mixer and Q&A

Signup at the website at http://h4r.stanford.edu

Summer Startup Accelerators
Students who take the Hacking 4 Recovery class will have an opportunity to be apply for affiliated summer startup accelerators and incubators, including Pear VC, Stanford Venture Studio, H4XLabs and others.

For More Information
For more information or to apply online, please check out our Hacking 4 Recovery website at http://h4r.stanford.edu or email us at hacking4recovery@gmail.com

Join this class and help restart our economy.

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