Picture of an empty FUEL studio during COVID-19 pandemic

Finding Calm Amidst the Chaos

April 22, 2020

Here I am, sitting alone in the solitude of an empty FUEL Studio.

Writing emails, texting to, or video conferencing with people whose faces I used to see in person on a regular basis.

Welcome to the new reality.

The heartbeat of FUEL has always been collaboration.

Close-in conversation, brainstorming, contemplation and critique. Hands-on from start to finish.

Driving home a few weeks back, reality began to sink in that FUEL needed to head in this direction. And, quite possibly, that our very survival was at stake.

Blaine and I have talked about doomsday scenarios in the past. We worked out how we would move to mitigate any kind of risk that could possibly be thrown at us, from a simple power outage to all-out global thermonuclear war.

Twice before our existence has been tested.

First was 9/11 in 2001.

Eight months after Bill and I launched FUEL, we saw newly won clients disappear forever. Other clients didn’t begin to spend a single marketing dollar for another year and a half.

We doubled down, stayed really lean and saved the few remaining pennies from our start-up dollars and were fortunate to have friends who also pitched in. Janet and I dug into our retirement funds and our personal savings and we stayed in farming a little longer than we’d planned.

With a lot of hard work, creativity and plenty of resolve, we made it through and were able to help our few clients of the day recover and go on to prosper.

Then there was the flood of 2008.

By the time 2008 rolled around, we had paid back most of our start-up and 9/11 debt. Janet had also ensured that we had some savings set aside for a rainy day. Little had we known how rainy it was going to get.

At the FUEL Studio in Hiawatha, we were treated to some gorgeous summer days during the flood event and afterward, while completely helpless to the horrors occurring just miles to our south.

Many friends, peers, colleagues and clients saw their lives and livelihoods washed down the Cedar River during those unforgettable days that June. Our only loss this time was our telecom services, only down for a number of days – which was easily overcome.

We were extremely fortunate that the impact to FUEL had been low. Thus we were there, ready and able again to help others who weren’t as fortunate to begin rebuilding their businesses and our community.

How much had this planning and preparation meant to the survival of our Agency?

Being an aviator who once farmed, risk mitigation has always been an integral fixture in my life. Back in 2001 when Bill and I were looking for a place to hang up our shingle, we’d looked at a few spaces down by the river in the warehouse district that would later be nicknamed NewBo. The problem for me was this nagging feeling I’d been there before.

Growing up, we farmed a piece of ground that had the blackest dirt, richest soil and the poorest drainage in Iowa. It was so flat that the water just sat there and didn’t drain, even with field tile.

As I had surveyed our options in the warehouse district down by the river, I began having flashbacks to a childhood of wet feet. So we had shifted our search further north…onto higher ground.

Our location was picked for practical reasons – it was just two minutes from the Interstate, the building was well designed, the landlord was a good guy and there was plenty of parking that came with the lease. But most importantly, it was high and dry.

Little did I know at the time, the significance of that decision. In the beginning, it seemed like a small one of many decisions that had to be made, but in the end, it might have been the most important one.

Fast forwarding back to today, FUEL has been “virtual” since the end of March.

In the days since COVID-19 forced our hand along with countless others, it turns out it wasn’t close proximity that made us a collaborative team. We’re a collaborative team by nature. It’s in our DNA here at FUEL.

Even miles apart, we’re still doing what we’ve always done, the way we’ve always done it. We’ve even learned a few new tricks with this current crisis, just like we’ve learned from each of the crises that have come before.

Trusting our instincts. Leaning on our experience. And most importantly, looking out for one other.

Like before, now is the time for us to roll up our sleeves and work hard to help others through this crazy stretch.

– John M