Editor’s note: The following is part of Startland News’ ongoing coverage of the impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on Kansas City’s entrepreneur community, as well as how innovation is helping to drive a new normal in the ecosystem. Click here to follow related stories as they develop.
What the mid-pandemic launch of Stenovate lacks in revelry, it makes up for in entrepreneurial spirit.
“I admittedly am eating chips out of a styrofoam container with guac and cheese and salsa. I took a picture and sent it to my mom and said, ‘Look at our launch party,’” laughed Lauren Lawrence, the company’s founder.
A collaborative transcription platform 18-months in the making, Stenovate launched Thursday — doning party hats on a Zoom call — greeted by a healthy wait list of 1,052 customers, a new angel investor (Dave Dillon, former CEO of Kroger), and a world that’s completely pressed pause on its target market in recent weeks.
Click here to read more about Stenovate one of Startland News’ Kansas City Startups to Watch in 2020.
“Court reporters and collaborators have never experienced anything like this before,” she said of the platform’s most likely users, noting a halt in court proceedings because of COVID-19 social distancing rules might seem like a blow to Stenovate — but in the long run, could sustain the startup for more than a half decade.
“There’s not very many things that spike during an economic downturn besides alcohol and cigarettes and court reporting,” Lawrence joked, noting tough times typically typically manifest into courtroom visits.
“When times are bad, people start suing each other more and there are more court cases because of economic downturns — which increases court reporters’ workflow.”
With proceedings on hold, cycling through a courtroom backlog brought on by COVID-19 could take six years, Lawrence said.
“There’s going to be large quantities of work coming through the door for court reporters and so we’re going to see a massive spike as soon as things lift — and that’s not including the backlog that was already postponed,” she explained.
“We’re just really trying to help the community get back on their feet and also have the efficiency tools that they’re going to need to be able to reach new levels.”
To keep up with demand and ease the financial burden on users, Stenovate launched with an extended free trial, added Lawrence.
And while launching a product with an organically-grown user base — and having no guaranteed revenue amid a global health crisis — might seem scary, it’s a gritty move that’s true to Stenovate’s values, added Lee Zuvanich, COO.
“We want to encourage our community during a difficult time,” Zuvanich said of the decision. “We had a lot of mentors and investors help us make the decision. We ran the numbers and we can stay above water. It’s the right thing to do.”
Less affected by the pandemic’s hold on the U.S. economy than many other startups — and recently welcoming three teammates in support roles and a significant investment from Dillon, the former Kroger grocery store executive — Stenovate has been able to focus more of its energy on the role it can play as an agent of impact, Zuvanich added.
“Our user base is majority women. A lot of us have been faced with working from home while caring for our kids and it’s been extremely stressful,” she said, referencing a partnership with Kansas City-based Vision Pursue, a performance mindset training and technology company, to provide customers with mental health support and resources.
“If it weren’t for everything that’s happening in the world right now, I don’t think Stenovate would have taken a step back and said, ‘How can we address the mental health needs of our communities?’ but we were able to do that and we’ve gotten a really good response to it so far.”
As Stenovate reaches its first development milestone, support from mentors and investors has been encouraging for both Lawrence and Zunvanich, who are eager to continue building the company despite an age of turbulence.
“I was shocked that people wanted to invest still. I thought we would see investors close their pocketbooks and wait things out,” Zuvanich said.
“[Dillon] came to us out of the blue and he sat down with us and asked a lot of questions to make sure that his investment was going to help other women-owned businesses and women and minority entrepreneurs. He was looking for a place to put his money that would do the most good.”
Such an act has served as inspiration for the Stenovate team as they try to approach an uncertain future with hope and positivity, they said.
“I think that’s really telling too. If you’ve got a service right now that can help the community, there are people who are willing to invest in that. And that blew me away,” Zuvanich said. “That’s the true definition of an angel investor.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.