The other day I saw an article that talked about which company would achieve a US$2-trillion market cap first. Apple is close, having reached $1 trillion a mere two years ago. 

When companies have valuations higher than the gross domestic product (GDP) of many countries, they barely seem like companies anymore. Even less when one factors in how far their influence extends.

And yet. There was a time when there was no Apple, no Google, no Amazon. But then there was a guy in a dorm room or a couple guys in a garage (choose your flavour of tech lore...) and lo, the seeds of capitalist supremacy and world-changing technology were planted.

No business started off as a global enterprise employing millions of people and raking in revenues so vast it’s hard to even comprehend. Every business starts at one: a single person, or idea, or location...

Now, let’s be clear, not all entrepreneurs – whether it’s mom ‘n’ pop retail or a multinational behemoth – start on equal footing. Some people come from privilege and have access to all the connections and capital they may need. Other people have to be scrappy every step of the way, and never get to a point of security where their life’s work is, say, pandemic-proof.

Which is, unsurprisingly, where my mind has been. What is business going to look like as we inch forward into reopening in a world where COVID is still very much a danger? Specifically, what will small businesses look like? Those that have survived, anyway.

Of course, tied in to this is my background in community building and customer experience. Who needs to be introduced to whom to make magic happen? Who needs just a bit of help to understand something new to get up and running?

We have already lost businesses, in Waterloo Region and around the world. One-person operations to billion-dollar enterprises. We’re not going to know how many for some time, and some industries can weather the storm better than others. I have started to see a few companies posting hiring notifications, which is a good sign, but we’re going to need to see a lot more of that.

The companies that have managed the best are the ones that acted quickly and decisively and figured out how to pivot fast, assuming their line of business was even pivotable. Successful pivots included everything from completely changing what they make, to how they sell to their customers.

Per that second link, Shopify’s Q2 revenue was almost 40 per cent above expectations, so it’s safe to say e-commerce has been important the last few months. I’m pretty confident in saying that will continue.

We have adjusted pretty quickly to ordering things online and arranging how to get them without in-person procurement. Or, rather, we’ve embraced getting more and a wider variety of things that way.

I know plenty of people who’d never ordered groceries online before March. And several of my friends have been loving trying beers from an assortment of breweries, which they can get delivered right to their doors. I’ve bought all kinds of stuff to support local businesses in the last few months, from art to chocolate, and being able to do so easily online has made all the difference. 

Of course, delivering all this stuff takes up a lot of time if you’re trying to run a business by yourself or with a skeleton staff, and delivery drivers don’t exactly tend to make huge salaries. Drone delivery isn’t a thing just yet. 

These survival-centric adaptations are a solution to problems introduced by the pandemic, but they’re not a panacea to stability and growth for small businesses.

Implementing what has worked for businesses through the pandemic – especially customer-oriented e-commerce – and remaining otherwise agile, will also be critical to new businesses launching in the future. 

I suspect it will be the norm to launch your bricks-and-mortar and online presence simultaneously, and that more businesses will forgo a physical location entirely. There will be additional challenges in how to appeal to and support these different customer experiences.

And yes, there will be new businesses. Some by people whose companies didn’t make it through the pandemic. Some by those whose businesses did survive. And some by those who are first-time entrepreneurs. War, depression, pandemics – they’ve never stopped people from dreaming and hustling before.

In the future, as in the past, many of these startups will fail. It’s as inevitable as the fact that new ones will continue to spring up. But we can always improve there and make new businesses more robust, help them avoid mistakes and pitfalls others have already learned from. 

There will be plenty of people with hard lessons learned from this pandemic and what it’s done to the business landscape. Imagine how valuable their knowledge and experience will be.

As places go where there’s access to mentorship, advice, education, capital and talent, Waterloo Region is no slouch. But we can always do better. We can work harder to ensure all new businesses get resources and support. Not just the sexy techy ones. 

We can also learn, and remember, that technology can be life- or world-changing even if it doesn’t make headlines or get lauded at conferences. We can also learn, and remember, that definitions of success may not look like an acquisition by a tech giant. 

It could mean being able to hire people who tend to get overlooked. It could mean having products or services that help people be more healthy and live more independently. It could mean bringing prosperity and opportunities to marginalized communities. 

Small businesses both drive and strengthen communities. The companies that have permanently shut their doors over the past few months will no longer be gathering spaces, providers of jobs, sponsors for kids’ sports teams, or a helping hand to other companies having a rough patch. They’re also no longer customers and sources of revenue for larger B2B companies. 

Small business did, does and will continue to drive our economy, and provide a foundation for our communities. They’ve needed tech partners to make it through these “uncertain times.” And I think that need and those opportunities to work together will only grow.

I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Jeff Bezos who delivered my last Amazon order. But I do know the names of the business owners from whom I bought my most recent coffee, book, dog treats, beer, watermelon, hamburgers, soap… and I look forward to doing more business with them well into the future.

M-Theory is an opinion column by Melanie Baker. Opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Communitech. Melle can be reached on Twitter at @melle or by email at