I came into 2020 knowing that I was up for election as a partner at Morris, Manning & Martin LLP. The confidence I entered the year with slowly eroded as I saw my practice nearly screech to a halt in April and May. Being physically disconnected from the team, and my firm delaying the partner election process, only added to the uneasiness.
Fortunately, I had others around me to help keep the relatively minor professional stress in perspective given the real issues others were experiencing. Between the pandemic, social unrest, the economy collapsing, and juggling work with home schooling kids, we all faced uncertainty like never before.
Speaking of perspective—the change of pace allowed us to slow down personally. We had fewer late nights at the office and more game nights at the house, less sports activities for the kids and more family dinners. But the Foreste household was a wild one at times: Adjusting from a quiet office in Buckhead, Georgia to working from home with four kids ages 4 to 11 and two rowdy dogs, we were making it up as we went. And work and home collided fairly frequently.
In May, my wife, Heidi, was home-schooling the kids, including our four-year-old son, Davis, while I presented at a technology conference via Zoom. He was an angel for the first 45 minutes until he heard my voice, prompting him to sneak into my office while my wife was teaching the other kids. Once he was in the room, there was nothing I could do but Heisman him offscreen for the 15 minutes that I presented on the state of venture capital and M&A in the pandemic (and of course, Paycheck Protection Program funds). He never stopped trying to get on camera, and, fortunately, no one noticed.
Better Contact With Clients and Prospects
With many of us going through similar experiences, I feel like I know my clients better than ever before. Our Zoom calls actually give us a window into each other’s personal lives that previously did not go beyond simple office pleasantries. They’ve seen and heard my kids and dogs, and I’ve seen and heard theirs.
Before, what used to be unprofessional, is now commonplace and an ice breaker. I hope that element of humanizing one another doesn’t change whenever things return to “normal.”
The slower pace also gave me the opportunity to proactively reach out to fill the pipeline with future deals by developing relationships with new prospects. Being unable to travel actually made getting in front of clients in other markets much easier. I found folks very open to scheduling Zoom meetings in the comfort of their homes. Whether it was people interested in seeing other humans outside of their home or wanting to hear what lockdown restrictions looked like in other cities, getting meetings was actually easier than ever.
Advising, Helping Tech Entrepreneurs Remotely
The pandemic also created significant changes within our market as well. I serve as an adviser at Atlanta Tech Village, America’s fourth largest tech hub offering entrepreneurs working space, mentorship, and resources. The Village unfortunately had to let go more than half its staff and find ways to make everyone feel safe in a place that was built around community. Their excellent leaders have done a heck of a job continuing to provide value to entrepreneurs in ways that go beyond the physical building, including offering classes, coaching and new programs virtually and safely in person.
For those reasons, they’ve been able to keep many of their companies while attracting new Villagers, even though the daily occupancy rate isn’t what it used to be. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and advise entrepreneurs over Zoom who are starting second careers after being laid off from other jobs, and their resilience is impressive to say the least.
I’m also involved with a number of other organizations that have adapted to the virtual world, including the Atlanta Technology Angels, where I serve as a board member. ATA meetings and pitches are now virtual, but the organization has continued funding early stage companies despite the changes. Other networking groups, such as the Technology Executive Roundtable, continue their regular cadence but do so virtually as well.
In some cases, the virtual setting has led to increased attendance, in large part because no travel is necessary. We’ve been able to leverage the easy ask of joining a Zoom meeting to feature funds from across the country at many of our networking events—helping to connect sources of capital from across the country to emerging companies in the Southeast.
Fortunately, my practice came back fairly quickly, and the firm as a whole had a very good year. The year ended with a crazy Q4 in deal activity and the affirmative vote for my election to the partnership.
Now that I’m on the other side of partnership, I’m looking forward to investing into the future of the firm. Recruiting is my passion, and I’m excited to get more involved in the hiring process to continue to build out our team. Having coached high school football and various teams over the years, I know that creating a healthy team culture is critically important to any organization’s success. You have to have the right people and instill a culture where people feel valued and part of a team.
We’re now navigating training and integrating new hires in a mostly remote setting. This new environment is certainly challenging, but I’m confident we’ll navigate this obstacle successfully in 2021. As I’ve seen in 2020, new challenges, if approached with the right perspective, provide excellent opportunities for growth.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.
Nick Foreste is a partner with Morris, Manning & Martin LLP in Atlanta. He works with growth focused founders and funds, providing strategic and practical advice to clients navigating the fast-paced technology landscape. He previously co-founded a technology startup.