When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down businesses across the country, Rubin Stack decided it was the right time to start a new one.
It was an idea the independent-minded entrepreneur had been mulling over during the crisis: a functional workspace desk, called WorkWall, was meant to offer a solution to modern students and work from home employees.
Stack experienced how his kitchen table morphed into a multi-use zone that encapsulated a home office, dining area and video conference center — often all at the same time. He understood there was a “better way to do this” as employees continue to work-from-home.
“I tried to embody that design and create a Murphy desk if you will,” said Stack, who continues to work as an associate for Sandfox Advisors, a boutique advisory firm in Santa Monica, CA.
“It was a way for people to be able to have a comfortable and professional set at home while not having to sacrifice just your general work set up,” Stack told Yahoo Finance in an interview.
Pooling together funds from the past three years working in investment banking to get his business off the ground in July, Stack decided to take the plunge — becoming one of the growing number of entrepreneurs hanging out their shingles in the COVID-19 era.
“I could have listed a hundred reasons why it wasn’t the perfect time to start, [but] if you believe in it, you just have to go for it,” Stack added. He referenced the lumber shortage and high prices that hit the market this year, which made it harder for businesses to address surging demand.
The 26-year old who continues to work full time, is part of the surge in U.S. start-ups. According to a Goldman Sachs analysis, the number of active small businesses is only 4% below its pre-pandemic level after being decimated in 2020, while the number of total small businesses has actually risen.
'Where were we the whole time?'
To be sure, surging COVID-19 infections fueled by the Delta variant are a threat to the outlook. At least for now, however, about 4.3 million new business applications were filed in 2020 — almost 1 million more than in 2019, according to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Meanwhile, a study released by payroll and benefits provider Gusto showed that more new businesses were created by women and people of color. Last year, 11% of new business owners were Black or African American, and 49% were women.
“I think it's great but where were we the whole time? What were we doing?” asked Ana Valle, in an interview with Yahoo Finance. “Maybe the pandemic just really pushed everybody.”
When the 42 year-old opened her storefront, Abanico Coffee Roasters, in San Francisco, California, in May, she had something many other entrepreneurs do not: Flexibility in rent from her property manager.
The mother of one formed her business in 2013. but the following year she had a baby, so her “big” plans of roasting coffee beans were put on hold. In late 2019, she signed a lease for her coffee shop, expecting to open her doors in March of 2020.
But that plan took another turn, the pandemic hit. The location, a building with open spaces, in the city’s most vibrant neighborhoods. She’s now operating there with the support and accommodations of her landlord, Valle said.
“I am all for just risking everything because otherwise you’ll never know if you don’t take that risk and really just go for it,” said Valle. She spent years in unfulfilling jobs before opening her coffee shop, which also sells coffee blend subscriptions.
Still, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. The planning department in San Francisco delayed her permits due to layout concerns. Plus, she needed to find a loan as her personal savings wasn’t going to do it.
Ultimately, she took out $50,000 and a $12,000 zero-interest small business loan to pay for equipment and supplies.
Already, Valle is fully staffed and looking to serve more customers as workers head back to the office. But when asked about extending shop hours or hiring more — even with COVID-19 surging anew and workers still scarce — the entrepreneur declared she was not the type to worry.
“For me it almost feels like it was the right time because it has been slow and I am still learning every day, you know?,”said Valle.
“I just figured out that I didn’t set up [my staff] their paid sick leave requirements on the paychecks like all these little things that I am learning right now.”
The support Valle received is one example of aid that new business owners often lack, especially when trying to survive the post pandemic phase.
And with new business applications soaring, the playing field could provide a substantial boost to employment. Data shows that most new businesses often fail, but for those nervous to try, Valle had some sage advice.
“Give it a shot, if it fails, so what? You move on, “ she said.