Innovate, Adapt, Persist: How Businesses Survived Financial Crisis in The Past
By ClearCycle Team
A crisis creates upheavals but it also necessitates change and innovation. As millions recuperate from the initial shock of COVID-19 it is obvious that the “great lockdown” of 2020 will change some things forever just as the Great Depression, the Global Financial Crisis, the 9/11 terror attacks and numerous other recessions did in the past. As Americans, we have all been adversely affected by these events yet in the face of each of these calamities, we have learned resilience.
For many organizations, these events have proved to be fatal, yet the story of their perseverance and a turnaround is an inspiration for all of us. So what are some of the things that helped these companies survive and thrive over the years?
Domino’s Pizza

Since its humble beginning in 1960 by brothers Tom and James Monaghan, American multinational pizza restaurant chain Domino’s has not only survived multiple recessions over the years but the brand continues to stand strong in the face of yet another crisis.
From the early years of serving pizza to Eastern Michigan University students till finally selling off the company in 1998, Tom Monaghan’s 38-year journey of smart decision making, innovative marketing strategy, willingness to stick on despite all odds and fast-paced adaptability to market demands created a strong foundation for the business and gave it the niche it continues to retain till date. The company has seen some radical changes over the years owing to various challenges and critical moments yet their willingness to adapt, innovate and change not only kept their revenues growing but also helped seal their credibility as a brand.
Here are some of the key features of Domino’s success story:

  • From DomiNick’s to Domino’s Pizza to Domino’s the brand has been specific about their purpose which is not just about selling pizza but delivering it as well. People need to eat even in a recession and Tom Monaghan chose to meet this realistic problem with the simple yet unique solution of pizza delivery that makes them a reliable and convenient option even today.
  • Rapid franchising along with acquisitions and mergers with other Pizza companies was a brilliant marketing strategy that led to a steady expansion as well as the introduction of several new operational measures that significantly contributed to their growth.
  • Brilliant and gutsy marketing campaigns like the “30 minutes or it’s free” campaign that lasted for almost two decades before being finally shut down due to safety issues and rising legal costs helped them stand out from other competitors.
  • Acknowledging their weakness, positively responding to bad reviews and willingness to reinvent their primary product was a risky move indeed but it was great decision making which reflects the brand’s transparency and accountability as a business as well as laudable teamwork.
Walt Disney

One of the most severe global economic crisis of the 20th century, the Great Depression was an era of banking and financial crisis in the US. While it was closure for most industries and businesses, it was a different story for the entertainment industry. This was a time of transition, and in Hollywood it was momentous. On one side there was the introduction of sound and technological innovation combined with a very strong marketing strategy and on the other, it was the affordable availability of various genres of movies that strongly appealed to the disheartened public, thus making it a highly sought escape. 

Pioneers of the animation genre, Walt and Roy Disney started their animation studio in the 1920s and introduced something completely new to the public. The first-ever animation movie with fully synchronized sound and a fully post-produced soundtrack “Steamboat Willie” featuring the timeless favorite Mickey Mouse in 1928 followed by their first full length animated feature film “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves” had a tremendous influence on the public.

While the studio initially struggled financially, they eventually overcame this with their continued innovative approach. In 1947, Disney stepped into the genre of nature documentaries. The second film in this genre “The Living Desert,” earned them $5 million, which was ten times the production cost. Following this, the arrival of the amusement park “Disney Land” (a long cherished dream of Walt Disney) and a weekly one hour TV program in partnership with ABC television network sealed their success financially and in terms of the brand’s popularity.

Here are some of the key features of the Walt Disney success story:

  • Disney’s innovative approach and the zeal to try new things weren’t financially successful initially but it led to many path breaking landmarks in the history of American cinema.
  • The strong pursuit of his passion, the commitment to quality and the technological breakthroughs reflected an indomitable spirit and this strongly resonated with people in those days.
  • Adaptability to the existing mindset and presenting an alternative to solve an existing problem with a unique approach. Walt Disney stepped beyond the competition of the movie industry through his dedication and different approach.

Economic downturns like a recession create serious shifts but also witness the birth of new ideas. Many of today’s big names like IBM, Microsoft, FedEx, WhatsApp, and several others are a testimony to this. It’s ironic that factors like unemployment and credit crunch while being challenging also become a catalyst in their ability to unite talented minds who are searching for fresh opportunities.

It was in 2009, right around the time of the Global Financial Crisis (2007 – early 2009) that Brian Acton and Jan Koum aided by a few of their friends launched their startup, the instant messaging app “WhatApp”. It was not a smooth beginning with both being jobless, savings running low and competition being tight and to add to this, the first version faced some critical flaws making even Koum doubtful about his ideas.  A few months later, he found the impetus with the ‘push notification’ feature that led to the final upgrade of the app to an internet-based instant messaging application with “no ads, no games, no gimmicks”. The additional benefit of sharing and changing one’s ‘status’ made it a highly preferred alternative to the SMS and saw a rapid increase in the number of users as well as revenue within months.

Over the next couple of years, new features were added, new team members were recruited and even the operating model, as well as business model, underwent changes. Eventually, the founders too left the company over disagreements regarding data privacy policy with Facebook and went on to pursue other interests. From its inception till the split, the WhatsApp journey has been immensely inspiring and is definitely one of the most significant technological contributions of the 21st century.

Here are some of the key features of the WhatsApp success story:


  • Innovative “no ad” strategy and internet connectivity based usage makes it a convenient and seamless experience for users across the world.
  • The founders chose to prioritize user experience over profit-making, thus increasing the reliability of the product and garnering customer loyalty.
  • Focus, determination and persistence made it possible for an idea to grow out of initial glitches and eventually become a super successful global solution.

The need to recover quickly from any crisis is as important as ever yet crisis management and business continuity isn’t always a linear movement of planning and implementation of programs. Sudden economic downturns and other unprecedented challenges call for impactful action, yes, but through flexible and adaptive practices as well as innovative responses that can transform a catastrophe into a catalyst for growth.

The current economic downturn is raising the serious question in everyone’s mind, and while the situation is definitely bleak and it may seem that only the big industries have what it takes to survive, one only needs to look at the past for a gentle reminder that this isn’t always the case. Every experience helps us learn and when we chose to persist with our passion and commitment, we do manage to go beyond all hurdles and failures and even change the outcome of a downturn.


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