This week Nic sits down with CookiesHQ co-founder and MD Nathalie. Covid-19 has had a huge impact on businesses up and down the UK, and CookiesHQ is no different. They reflect on the period of uncertainty triggered by lockdown, the impending sense of approaching a ‘doomsday situation’ and the management challenges that arise from having the whole team working remotely.
This is the first in our Behind the Screens series. Read below for some of the key learnings from this Tough Cookies episode, or if you want to listen to the whole podcast you can on Spotify, Apple podcasts or on our website here.
Who is Nathalie Alpi?
I’m currently MD at Cookies. It’s a role I’ve self-evolved into. If we go back to the origins of CookiesHQ to explain what we’ve been doing over the last nine years: I joined you. You were freelancing at the time and doing web development for a lot of clients. At some point you had a few too many clients on your hands, and you got me to help with the client management and the project management. So, you offered me a position to join you. I had a very long hard think about it, because I wasn’t sure and I was looking for a job at the time. And then, well, I said yes. We got married a month later, we had a child a year later, and we grew the agency together.
So, I started as a marketing person and project manager, doing a bit of everything here and there. And then as we grew the team, I became less hands-on on the projects and started managing the staff, being project owner more than project manager. So, doing less of the day to day and growing into a strategic role with the company and the startups that we’re working with.
How have you found having to work from home and juggle homeschooling?
It’s funny because I don’t really need people around me. I think we’re completely opposite on a lot of points and this one in particular, where you need people around you and you need to talk to people, whereas I’m a bit of a hermit. I’m fine being at home with just you and the kids. Actually, I don’t really miss social interaction that much.
What I do need though is time to talk about work and the company, because usually we do that in the office or during working hours. We try to avoid that during family time, so morning and evenings. But we haven’t had a chance to do that because there is no working hours anymore. Everything is mixed. So, work, family, it’s all there all the time. But I think I miss that time where we can just talk about work and forget about the kids and family for a bit. At the same time, I miss the time when we are at home just as a family and not having to work at the same time. So, I think mixing the two constantly has been the hardest for me.
Lockdown triggered a period of huge uncertainty around the future of CookiesHQ. How did you feel about that?
I think I was really angry because it wasn’t anything that we’d done wrong. I get the fact that you have to close your company if you’ve done something wrong. If you’ve made a mistake. Even if you didn’t realise it at the time, but then you reflect on it, and actually you see it was your own doing and it is what it is. It’s fine. It’s just life and you get on with something else. But the fact is that it was completely not controlled by us and not controllable – and I like to control things. I think that just made me really angry that it felt a bit unfair. So, before the lockdown happened, we had work booked, as usual for the next 2 to 3 months. It was a healthy situation. We had a healthy cashflow. There was nothing wrong. And we had just closed a really strong year.
So, everything was really good and going according to plan. Then lockdown happened, and literally in 2 days we had contracts cancelled. We had leads just not going anywhere. Everything that was planned just fell through. If I remember well, we had work for April, which was still going ahead, and then a few small pieces of work for May. And then nothing, absolutely nothing, for June, July, August. Everything had stopped when we had at least half of these months already booked. It got really scary at that point because, obviously, we have 10 members of staff to pay at the end of the month. Even if you have a healthy cashflow and money to pay them for a few months, at some point you just can’t carry on like that. So, for me it was about understanding when we had to make the decision to furlough staff or stop completely. It did get really scary, and we had a couple of weeks that were less than enjoyable.