Like Levain Bakery, and its early e-commerce focus, Singapore-based Aqua Expeditions’ initial bet on technology helped steady operations during both the Great Recession and today. Rather than build costly reservations and management platforms when it launched in 2008, “we outsourced most of these technology needs to cloud-based services,” said Francesco Galli Zugaro, founder and chief executive of Aqua, which operates small-scale luxury cruises in Peru, Cambodia and Indonesia.
Opting for cloud services was an unusual move back then. “Smaller-sized companies typically created their own systems, but we realized we could benefit from all that technological R.&D. as it came online,” Mr. Galli Zugaro said. “Today, cloud services are allowing our entire business to run remotely with automated mechanisms in place to clearly measure company performance and employee productivity.”
Of course, for most small businesses, managing — and, particularly, cutting — costs ultimately proves to be the most effective recession survival strategies. Leon Avigad, founder and co-owner of the Israeli boutique hotel chain Brown Hotels Ltd., said that when his firm started in 2008, costly staffing setups like numerous assistants and unnecessary deputies were simply not an option.
“We’ve never had ‘No. 2s’ or multiple managers at the company,” Mr. Avigad said. “Israel is the kind of place where every two years there’s a political crisis or mini-war, so beyond recessions or corona, businesses here must retain the ability to shrink or grow rapidly.”
Still, Mr. Avigad added that this did not necessarily mean simply hiring and firing at will. “Costs must be contained as cleverly as possible; for us this can mean combining jobs — perhaps having the front-desk manager also become a reservations manager.”
For Vivek Mathur, creative director and president of Indika Entertainment Advertising in Manhattan, cost management meant “replacing a culture of excess with a culture of thrift,” during the last downturn — a move which is helping to keep his company lean today.
Indika closed its Los Angeles office in late 2008, “because it involved not just the office itself, but also the cost of the travel, the cars, the digital connections between the offices in a pre-broadband world,” said Mr. Mathur, whose firm develops advertising and strategic marketing campaigns for movie studios, television channels and digital platforms. Indika’s New York office was also downsized, and unnecessary recurring expenses — multiple phone lines, special stationery, water delivery services — were eliminated.