Remote Work: Coronavirus and an Abundance of Caution...

Reasonable Precautions for CEOs and Founders

Fellow founders have been asking me what they should be doing about the coronavirus. What follows is a Memo sent to my team at Royalty Exchange on Feb. 24th. You can agree or disagree with my approach. I don’t care. My goal is to make sure the conversations are happening. And I hope publishing this might help drive that conversation.

Hey team, 

By now you’ve heard some rumblings about the coronavirus that originated in Wuhan China. And, if you’re like the vast majority, you probably don’t think this is something that will affect you directly.  

I think any assessment that suggests this virus won’t result in a full-blown pandemic with major second and third-order consequences is flat wrong. The virus poses a real danger to each of us and we should do a few basic things to mitigate the near-term risks.

I’ve been following the coronavirus outbreak in China very closely since mid-January. And I’ve taken a number of steps personally to protect myself and my family.   I’ll share some suggestions on actions you should seriously consider in a moment, but first I want you to understand what’s going on based upon the best available information.

First, this is not like the flu.  It’s 10-20x more deadly and it’s 3-5x as contagious. 

The CDC is not a great source of real-time information on the emerging pandemic.  They have frustrating, but justifiable reasons (greater public interest) for not being totally transparent.  But, they do have a lot of useful resources on their website. The CDC publishes its playbook. If the disease does take root in the US they make clear how they’ll respond. 

It’s important to know that most - roughly 80% - of people who catch this virus experience only very minor symptoms.

The virus is bad and there are things we can and should do to reduce our exposure to it.  But, the bigger concern is the second-order effects. There will be a point where the general public all of a sudden realizes that this is serious.  That sudden realization can lead to panic. You will see panic buying as folks realize they don’t have more than a few days of food in their homes. 

This is normal.  It happens in areas affected by natural disasters.  And it happened a couple of weeks ago in the best-run country in the world - Singapore.  It happened this weekend in Italy. This might just be temporary, but you don’t want to get caught up in the herd when these things happen.  A little preparation goes a long way. 

Business Preparations:

The virus is a real concern, but the world won’t end. We still have important work to do.  So what do we do as a business?

First - From a public-facing perspective it’s business as usual.  Nothing changes. We keep signing deals, conducting auctions, reducing friction in the secondary market and dialing in the artist self-service tools. 

Second - “Social distancing” is the number one recommendation by public health experts.  Essentially that means avoiding direct contact as much as possible. And so, out of an abundance of caution, We are going to implement a remote work plan beginning this Wednesday, Feb. 26. . 

We have created a simple Remote Work Guidelines document to outline what this will entail. But I’d like to emphasize a few key components critical to this succeeding: 

  • Communication is Essential—The biggest challenge to remote work is its impact on collaboration. When working remotely, the tendency is to communicate with co-workers less. That’s a mistake. Instead, communicate more. In fact… over-communicate. 

  • Emphasize “Work”— I know I don’t need to say this, but while you will be working from home, you still have a job to do. We’re counting on you and you’ll be expected to remain available during working hours. 

  • Have a Plan—Discuss your operational plan with your team. Your managers will be in touch shortly to detail those specific next steps. 

As noted, we’ll begin an office-wide remote work policy starting this Wednesday. We’ll then review it on a weekly basis. The remote work policy can be unwound at any time based on the performance of the business and the state of the coronavirus situation.

Finally, we’ll have an all hands Q&A tomorrow (Tuesday 11/25) at 11:30am.   Please make sure you can attend and bring any and all questions you might have.  

Personal Preparations

I’ll break these down into three categories.  It’s up to you to do what you think is reasonable, but I implore you to at least execute on category 1.  There is zero downside to doing so.

Category 1: 

Go shopping today for 2-3 weeks of non-perishable food supplies.  This should be enough to support you and your family comfortably if ever needed. Here’s a decent list to help you get started

Please do it today. It’s always better to be early.  Or as Nassim Taleb said about this: 

Category 2: 

Most of our basic supplies come from a highly efficient but fragile global supply chain. That supply chain has been interrupted already as most factories have been offline in China for the last month and could be for much longer.  What does that mean? Basic things that you use all the time will be harder to come by. At the very least they will be more expensive, if only temporarily. Stocking up on a few of these things can’t hurt. You’ll use them eventually even if this whole thing turns out to be a non-event.  What kind of things am I talking about?

Things like…

  • Medications (Advil/Tylenol and any prescriptions you might currently take.)    95% of the active pharmaceutical ingredients of US-made drugs come from China.  This will cause problems. 

  • Laundry detergent and other household consumables like garbage bags, toothpaste, and other paper products. 

Category 3:

If this all blows over, you probably won’t ever use any of these next things.  Plus, it’s important to note that medical professionals still got infected while using some of this personal protection equipment. But, it’s a category worth considering...

  • N95 Masks (Very hard to find already)

  • Medical exam gloves 

  • Goggles

  • Denatured ethanol or Bleach for cleaning surfaces

The critical things I’ve done are listed above, but I’ve done a lot more because I like being overly prepared.  I’m happy to share other specifics with any of you if you’d like.


As I hope you can see, my primary concern is the health and safety of each of you and your families.  I want you to take practical measures today so that whatever happens tomorrow, you will be in a better position to thrive. 

That said, whether it’s next month or next year, the virus will pass. And, when it does, I want our business to be in a position to thrive as well.  

Here’s the thing… Our work requires a lot of collaboration and it’s much harder to stay focused and productive when we’re not sharing the same physical space. So, I’m asking each of you to please help.  Please be more proactive and more productive. Let’s leverage all the collaboration tools we have and let’s focus on pushing the business forward while taking reasonable personal precautions.

I’m happy to answer any questions tomorrow at the 11:30 all-hands meeting.  Meeting invitation details will be sent around shortly. 

Matt Smith

CEO @ Royalty Exchange

Supporting Data

Here are some underreported facts based on the best information I’ve been able to come up with.  This could change, but here’s what I know now: 

  • Very serious complication rate - 15% pneumonia and up to 5% requiring intensive care.

  • Much more deadly than the seasonal flu ~20x

  • Very high R0 (a measure of how contagious it is) Seasonal flu has an R0 of 1.25 which means that every sick person infects 1.25 others.  This virus has an R0 of between 4.5 and 6.7.  

  • Spreads asymptomatically.  You can get sick from someone who doesn’t realize they are infected because they have no symptoms. 

  • Spreads through droplets and aerosols.

  • Long incubation period - up to 24 days. 

  • It is an all-new virus so there’s no natural immunity in the herd.

  • No vaccine is available.  Nothing will be available for at least a year. 

  • Kids, especially very young children, seem to be spared. 

  • Men are affected 5:3 compared to women 

You can see the worldwide confirmed cases here: Here’s a snapshot:

Now if you look at the data, you can see that there aren’t that many cases in the US.  That’s true. There are very few confirmed cases.  But, that’s because the CDC is not testing.  So far, the US has tested less than 500 individuals.  Contrast that to South Korea which has tested more than 45,000.   Even worse, you cannot be tested for the virus even if you ask unless: 

A.  You’ve recently been to china And show symptoms or

B.  You’ve had contact with someone who has been confirmed as infected And have symptoms

It seems that the CDC and other health authorities are resigned to the fact that the virus can’t be stopped and instead are focusing on mitigation efforts.  I listened to a teleconference the CDC did with the press last week.  Here’s some of what was said… 

“This new virus represents a tremendous public health threat,” Dr. Messonnier warned. “We don’t yet have a vaccine for this novel virus, nor do we have a medicine to treat it specifically.”

“If you’re watching the news, you may be hearing about schools shutting down and businesses closing in countries in Asia to reduce the potential spread of this virus,” Dr Messonnier said. “The day may come when we will need to implement such measures in US communities. By next week we expect to be posting a new webpage focused on what CDC is already doing to mitigate transmission in communities.”