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Coaching leaders during a time of crisis


Mar 18, 2021

For some, the pandemic has created time for innovation and creativity. One of those people is Dr Mark Dunwoody, co-founder of Missional Formation Coaching (MFC), a digital platform that provides coaching “for anyone who wants to make the world a better place”.

The company has flourished during the pandemic, and here at Xero, we love to hear and share positive stories, so we spoke with Mark about his experience:

The impact of COVID-19 – an opportunity to talk about leadership

Mark says the pandemic created an urgent need for leadership training. “Whereas pre-Covid, I would have had to persuade individuals and organisations about the benefits of a blended approach to training, all of a sudden people were coming to me in droves asking for help.”

Like many other start-ups during the pandemic, Mark says the lockdown gave him and his co-founder time to work on their offering. “The pandemic also gave me lots more time to prototype, reflect and adapt my business model as I was suddenly housebound for most of 2020.”

The need for technology

Mark has plans to incorporate more technology to grow the company’s offering. “The technology we use for our learning platform did not even exist a few years ago. This coming year we will be integrating new artificial intelligent (AI) and augmented reality (AR) technology to make our learning platforms even more fun and experiential.”

Making finances easy

Mark says there are many things he loves to do in life, but “accountancy is not one of them!” 

He was previously using an excel spreadsheet to manually track all transactions, which took forever. Now, he uses Xero and saves a lot of time. “Xero has been vital to me in the start-up phase because it effortlessly syncs bank transactions.

The simplicity of taking a photo of a receipt on my phone and loading it into the Xero app means so much. I also appreciate that Xero has a ‘local’ feel to it and that I can always speak to someone quickly. I have big dreams for MFC, and I know that Xero will meet all my needs as we grow.”

Working from home

Mark took the plunge and moved from a lovely home and a well-paid London job to self-employment and living on Ireland’s beautiful north coast. “From here, I can run a truly global business – my mind would not have been open to this possibility pre-Covid. Our society’s very fabric is changing as more and more people move out of city centre locations, and our whole notion of what a workplace is will be challenged in the ensuing years.”

For Mark, it’s never been a better time to talk about disruption and new ways of working. “In 2019, I was headhunted for a CEO role that included managing thirteen shops in city-centre locations. I told them that their business model was flawed in the initial interview because it was too exposed to the high street changes. I pulled out of the process because I saw no one in the room understood what I meant.” However, that mindset has started to change. “Some individuals and organisations still keep their heads in the sand and hope things will return to normal. Thankfully, most don’t, and it has never been easier to talk to our clients about radical innovation.”

Top three tips for starting your own business

Mark shares his top three tips for others thinking of starting their own business:

  1. Know your values. We are in a value-driven age, and people are increasingly only aligning themselves to businesses that mirror their values. If we want to live out our values through our company, we have to identify them. So, start off thinking about your values early and specify your top two or three values.
  2. Figure out what problem you want to solve. Forget about the money side of things and ask yourself what problem you are most interested in solving. Don’t worry if you don’t have the experience or knowledge – all you need to do is have patience and put in the hours to gain the new skills.
  3. Decide how to fund your business. We chose to ‘bootstrap’ MFC from zero. When I reached this decision, I had to ensure that my finances were enough to survive. This approach is not for everyone, but it gives me complete freedom to dictate my costs and expenditure. Last summer, my resolve was tested when an angel investor was interested in giving me cash to expand MFC rapidly. Yet, my instinct was to refuse because I didn’t want to answer to investors or bank managers. 

Check out our dedicated business recovery site for resources, webinars, and more inspirational stories to help your company emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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