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Finding Your Purpose During COVID-19


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There’s no doubt that COVID-19 will define 2020. For years to come, we’ll remember the lockdowns, the fear, the frustration, the Zoom calls, the masks, and the drastic changes we made to our lifestyles. But right now, what’s tormenting most of us are the endless speculations on why, how, and when… [fill in the blanks here] …it happened, it will end, we will feel safe again, and we will regain our economic footing.

The world is divided into many camps—the optimists, pessimists, and all variations in between. It’s hard to find two people who fully agree on the right strategies to address the epidemic, including the necessity for massive lockdowns and economic near-paralysis on a global scale. We’ve all read so many articles on the subject matter that it feels like we can’t absorb any more information or opinions without losing our minds. Yet, it’s human nature to seek answers and solutions, so the debates are likely to continue until we receive some kind of closure.

Most of the time, when we face a challenge, we each have options to deal with it using our personal resources and abilities. However, this time, we’re presented with a dilemma that no one can resolve on his or her own as we’re dependent on the rest of society to subdue the epidemic and resurrect the economy. Since most of us are neither healthcare specialists nor economists, we often turn to people whose opinions we trust and we “crowd-source” advice on important matters. Yet, it’s rare to find trusted individuals who can provide both spiritual and economic advice. To receive that kind of unique perspective, I reached out to someone that I’ve always admired for the way he straddles the spiritual and business worlds.

In the late 1990s, Dave Gilbert was a Christian minister leading a very fast-growing church in Orange County, CA, called Coast Hills Community Church. During a meeting on business ethics with some local businessmen, Dave accepted a friendly challenge to join the business world and experience first-hand the moral dilemmas business people face on a frequent basis. Soon Dave started his own company, SimpleSignal, which became a highly successful hosted IP telephony and UCaaS provider, and was later acquired by Vonage. Today, Dave continues to provide spiritual advice to his community while also staying involved in the IT and telecom space, including a leadership role at the Cloud Communications Alliance.

I reached out to Dave to get his thoughts on the biggest concerns people experience today—how to stay mentally and physically healthy while avoiding financial ruin. More specifically, I urged Dave to brainstorm with me on how one can create his or her own “blue ocean” amidst the economic downturn—that is, how does one find creative ways to generate income by providing value to others?

Here is an edited version of the interview.


Elka: Dave, you continue counseling your congregation during these times of hardship. How do you do that under strict rules of social distancing?

Dave: Thank God for cloud technology! Back in the early 2000’s, I founded a company with a few souls that were willing to risk joining a start-up in the emerging cloud services space.

Nearly 20 years later, we were forced to distance ourselves from our offices but not from each other. Now with video conferencing, we can see each other, share documents, and feel much like we are face-to-face. Virtual space cannot replace the human feeling of physical space, but it can keep us connected and productive. I’m joining my friends and colleagues every day for coffee hours, happy hours, birthday parties, even weddings, and funerals—all conducted in virtual space.

Elka: What do you usually talk about? I’m sure many people are looking up to you for comfort and advice.

Dave: We often talk about how we are happiest when we know our lives revolve around people. Most of us are at our best when we are with someone who encourages us and who really “gets” us. We smile, we are more positive, we have more energy.

I’m telling people that it’s very important to stay in touch and maintain our relationships even though we are encouraged to wear a mask and “social distance.” So be intentional and pick up your phone or computer and call a couple of people every day. Keep the call short. Make it just a quick check-in so that it’s not intrusive. It’ll put a smile on both of your faces. Communication is 80% visual so make the call on video and let them see that smile of yours.

Elka: It’s hard to stay positive when times are hard. What advice have you been offering to your congregation to help them stay sane under these unusual circumstances?

Dave: Everyone reacts to a crisis differently, but we can control our state of mind. We don’t know when this will pass, but we can look for ways to comfort others even from six feet away. A smile, a thank you, even an encouraging text goes a long way toward helping us all hang in there.

I find that holding on to a routine helps me. Maybe you’ve needed to shift from working from the office to working from home, but you can maintain your routine. Get up at the same time, go for a walk, exercise or get in your car and take a short drive (like you did when you were commuting). Then jump into your work. Continue to grow yourself with podcasts, documentaries, books and talking to interesting people. A word to the wise, limit your time with social media and the news. Watching those will unsettle you for sure. Spend that time in constructive conversations where you have influence rather than being affected by problems you have no control over. Look for people you can help and problems you can help solve. Remember, your words matter so make sure to encourage others with what you say and do.

Elka: What keeps you going, Dave? Nothing inspires people the way other people’s personal experiences do.

Dave: As I approach 65 years on the planet, some would think I would be thinking about retirement. No way! I’m all about pursuing my purpose and my life’s mission. In these unprecedented and uncertain times, I find that I’m most at peace and energized when I’m focused on my mission—which is to teach, mentor and encourage people to be more than they thought they could be.

Elka: For many, fear of the virus was quickly replaced by fear of economic hardship. With your business hat on, what advice would you give people about how to get their businesses back on their feet? How do you sell products and services beyond the essentials?

Dave: There’s little doubt that this virus is going to significantly set us back economically. But there’s also little most of us can do to avoid it. So let’s lean into it together and recover. For example, if you pick up food curbside make sure you leave a nice tip. That restaurant worker is likely enduring a loss of income compared to just a few months ago so appreciate their effort to come to work and feed you.

Stay productive and energized by taking frequent breaks from your work-from-home regimen. Just keep moving! Who knows, you might have a creative moment strike and you end up producing something awesome in your work.

Elka: This present crisis is different from the 2008-2009 market crash. However, I am sure we can draw some parallels. You owned your own business during the 2008-2009 economic downturn. What were some of the strategies that you used to stay afloat? How did you find the right value proposition for your customers?

Dave: Yes, that was a difficult time in the history of my business. The credit markets were a mess, and no one was lending money to small new businesses like mine that were burning $100k a month. Every day I hated to open my bank web page to check the balance because we took it down to the last dollar in the account several times, and I personally went without a paycheck many times. I was scared and worried. But I never let that show to my employees. I had faith that this team was going to help me fight on, and I didn’t want to risk discouraging them. Needless to say, it was a difficult time where my faith was tested.

During 2008-2009, we invested time and focused on refining our business processes and our culture to make our people more effective and competent in their jobs and built a great place to work. I also noticed that great talent became available as other businesses failed, so I was constantly recruiting better candidates and upgrading the skill set and talents of our team. We emerged from those years stronger and more committed to become a leader in the UCaaS industry. Because we took those years to build strength, we were able to sustain record growth every year after 2010.

Elka: The past few months have been a mixed bag for telcos. They saw a huge spike in voice and video calling, as well as other services that were required to set up and support a dramatically increased number of remote workers. However, some projects are already being delayed and new deals are often slower to close. What is your prediction about how the UCaaS sector will emerge from this crisis?

Dave: I’m inclined to think that when the dust settles, we’ll see there’s been significant growth in the UCaaS space.

Today, many UCaaS service providers can sell an overall solution that can contain all the elements related to a successful communications suite over the phone and online. The buyer’s journey has significantly changed. With a single call to a provider and a trained representative online, the buyer can choose what they need in a cloud-based communications suite.

Phones, SD-WAN, security, email, video conferencing, contact center, fax, text, voice mail with integration into software such as CRM and Slack, can create an overall solution that changes the way a business works. Cloud solutions can also augment a strategic plan for business continuity and work-from-home employees.

The world is moving to UCaaS at record rates, but the near future might be tough sledding.

Elka: I agree. It is likely that multiple trends will affect the UCaaS space in 2020 and even 2021 and will partially offset each other. It’s tough to predict yet which way the scales will tip.

What strategies can you recommend to UCaaS providers to make sure they emerge stronger whenever the crisis ends and thrive in the long run? A good business leader always looks to capitalize on opportunities, even in the most challenging times. That is not to say that anyone should take advantage of other people’s troubles, but more about finding the right type of value to offer to help others while helping oneself. How does one figure this out?

Dave: 2020 and 2021 could be a banner year for UCaaS providers. In the wake of this sudden pandemic, customers have learned their business needs a continuity plan that is largely made up of UC components. Those that had a plan when the pandemic hit were already set up so that their people could stay at home and remain productive and are currently in great shape. Cloud Communications is allowing businesses to thrive despite this adversity.

Avaya is reporting that there are more than 200 million of its landline phones out there that have none of the UCaaS features. Add to that the other brands of landline phones that need to be converted to the cloud, and you have an amazing opportunity for growth by just upgrading old equipment with new. Today’s buyers also prefer a subscription price that is paid monthly or annually like they’ve become accustomed to with SaaS products.

Elka: Dave, I want to go back to your thoughts around finding one’s purpose. How do we do that, and why do you

think it’s so important?

Dave: Spend some time discovering your purpose. If you’ve never read “The Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren, do it now! By the way, that book has sold more copies than any book in history other than the Bible. I’d also recommend you watch Simon Sinek’s famous TED talk on “Start With Why.” These resources will help you find and live your purpose and discover meaning in your life.

Why is it important? I find people who can articulate their purpose and have a personal mission statement are the ones that are the happiest and the most productive.