21 for ’21: Toby Corey rallying small businesses to ‘adapt-or-die’ in a post-pandemic world

Toby Corey is trying to help small businesses adapt during what he believes is an 'adapt-or-die' moment.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

The former Silicon Valley entrepreneur/executive is adamant that consumer behavior has changed and will never go back to what it once was pre-COVID-19. His mission is to help them adapt.

The pandemic of 2020 will forever change American daily life in ways that have nothing to do with public health.

At least that’s what Santa Cruz’s Toby Corey has been telling anyone who’ll listen.

The former Silicon Valley entrepreneur/executive and long-time lecturer at Stanford University believes that consumer behavior has been permanently altered by months of shelter-in-place living, with profound implications for Main Street small businesses, including those in Santa Cruz County.

From Corey’s standpoint, the remote, no-touch experience of buying goods and services online or for curbside pick-up marks a “transformational change” in the economy.

Lookout's 21 for '21

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re profiling 21 individuals who made a difference in pandemic-and-wildfire-ravaged Santa Cruz County in 2020 — and how they’re looking toward recovery in 2021. Have suggestions about others we should pick? Email us at news@lookoutlocal.com

“I’m not saying people are never going to go to a restaurant or a store again,” he said. “What I do see is a much more hybrid approach where consumers are going to take advantage again of a typical consumer buying experience. But that’s also going to be augmented by online and virtual, even after everyone has been immunized.”

Convinced that small businesses are facing an adapt-or-die moment that few of them are prepared for, Corey has taken the pandemic as a mandate to help. He founded a new service called GetVirtual.org that provides retailers, restaurants, and other businesses free assistance in turbo-charging their online presence, with e-commerce tools and online marketing strategies.

At the beginning of the pandemic, local small businesses would often have little more than a photo and a Google map on their websites. They didn’t have the time, budget, or wherewithal for a massive investment in getting up to speed online.

So Corey teamed up with Nada Miljkovic, who teaches entrepreneurship courses at UC Santa Cruz, to form a kind of strike-force team of IT warriors, composed of students from Miljkovic’s classes, as well as from Cal State Monterey Bay and Santa Clara University. The GetVirtual teams would provide to businesses, free of charge, a bolt of energy and expertise on e-commerce.

Toby Corey
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

Corey is an evangelist for the need to create “a compelling virtual experience” in the post-Covid world, with easy-to-use “no code” software and minimal investment. GetVirtual provides its services to gyms, studios, retailers, restaurants, non-profits, start-ups and other businesses across the county.

The upgrade allows businesses to better engage with consumers increasingly accustomed to online commerce. There’s currently a waiting list for businesses, but “we’re churning through them,” he said.

The program is also offering students real-world practical experience in being part of the business world. And it’s helping consumers connect with friction-less choices online. But the primary clients are small businesses struggling to say afloat in the pandemic and uncertain about what the future looks like.

“Our focus is to teach them how to fish,” said Corey. “We’re not here to displace small consultants who are doing some of this work for a fee. We’re here to get businesses set up with a modern platform that, if they wanted to update it themselves, it’s very easy to do. That’s the goal: a good platform that’s effective, easy, and scalable.”

Santa Cruz Salutes: Shoutout someone doing good things in the community


The Santa Cruz community comes together in hard times, which was especially evident in 2020. Do you know of someone who volunteered, donated, or helped the community in some way this year? To give someone a Santa Cruz Salute, fill out the form below with a photo of them and a short description to describe how they are trying to make the community better.