How to Pivot Your Startup in the Face of the Coronavirus Crisis

Could one have imagined that the humble kirana store, which is rooted in traditional ways of doing business, would leapfrog into the digital age almost overnight? With the drastic shift in consumer habits due to the novel Coronavirus, the neighbourhood grocery store has been compelled to transform, adapt and evolve to survive the crisis. Noting this trend, several apps have come to the rescue of small retailers to offer customers a convenient online shopping experience without having to step outside the comfort of their home.

Alluzo is one such app that has helped brick-and-mortar grocery stores, dairy stores, bakeries and other small retail outlets keep running during COVID-19. The app allows customers to review catalogues and place their orders online. Kirana stores receive these orders and deliver to customers within a 2 km radius.

To combat COVID-19, retailers are also reassessing their value chain by leveraging the power of AI, machine learning and data analytics to study consumer behaviour and enhance customer satisfaction. The data generated by e-commerce companies through card transactions is a goldmine for retailers and AI (Artificial Intelligence) companies, enabling these organisations to refine algorithms to make platforms more customer-focused during the pandemic.

Ready, set, pivot!

Digitisation of physical retail is just one example of how COVID-19 has led businesses to pivot and innovate to stay relevant in the long run. Within days of the Coronavirus outbreak, India’s booming restaurant business came to a standstill. According to a research finding, the ₹1.5 lakh crore organised restaurant business in India will take over a year to recover from the adverse impact of the pandemic. However, not to be deterred by the setback, several players in the restaurant industry have become innovative to survive the effects of the lockdown and the pandemic. For instance, Noida-based dining out and table reservation platform Dineout is planning to launch a platform that facilitates online ordering and payment options that supports the new contactless business model seen across sectors.   

Moving quickly to where customer demand lies defines another aspect of the transformation phase seen across industries and organisations.

The pandemic is also speeding up the need to usher in technology in the wellness segment. Mumbai-based SARVA Yoga studio streams live online sessions to engage with users on body and mind programs, guided meditation and children’s stories, among other innovative content. The uncertainty over when brick-and-mortar yoga studios will reopen has prompted the yoga startup to switch to the digital space and invest in developing it. 

Building confidence in air travel through technological innovation defines the new travel economy that experts believe will persist even in the post-pandemic era.

Global aviation is one of the most severely affected industries in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is vital that airlines pivot quickly to regain lost financial ground due to the turbulence caused by the pandemic. In the initial months of the novel Coronavirus, large airlines such as Virgin Atlantic, Lufthansa, United and American Airlines, among others, opted to operate cargo-only flights, using passenger cabins to accommodate cargo. Taking a cue from the established airlines, startup players in the industry are also coming forth to showcase their innovation in times of need. For example, 30SecondsToFly, a provider of call centre automation technology for travel management companies, is currently offering its AI-led automated tool to help airlines solve helpline bottlenecks free of charge. The newly devised airline package is independent of the airline’s tech stack, and allows agents to chat with up to three travellers at a time. 

Need-based innovation spurred by COVID-19 has seen startups that operate in the travel industry come forward to offer unique solutions to customers. Airbnb, the home rental company, has been rethinking its product offerings in its newly launched portfolio of ‘Online Experiences’ that includes a wide range of monetised activities, such as meditation with sheep in the United Kingdom and a goal-setting session with an Olympic gold medallist, among others. The company has also introduced on its app and website longer-term stays that would help medical professionals to self-quarantine, away from their families. Thus, the pandemic has necessitated short-term stays to be shelved until such time things normalise. 

Innovation interrupted

It is not easy for companies to pivot in the era of COVID-19. There are a host of challenges facing organisations across the spectrum as they try to adapt to the new normal. 

Again, in the case of the airline industry, it remains uncertain whether airline companies will fully convert passenger jets to cargo-only aircraft. 

A challenge unique to the manufacturing industry, is how organisations would require to switch many of the roles from on-site to work from home. In this scenario, several factories have shut down and laid off workers. Declining demand and disruption to the global supply chain has resulted in liquidity constraints and potential bankruptcies for some manufacturers.

Cutting-edge digital technology is also being leveraged in imaginative ways to combat COVID-19. However, despite the customer-focused approach, technologies also come with their own challenges. For instance, AI creates ethical hurdles, invasion of privacy and job losses due to the heavy dependence on automated functions to conduct business. Security breaches are another concern as more data moves to the cloud. Thus, although the quantum leap into a digital-enabled workplace has empowered employees, it has also caused challenges for CIOs and business leaders—not to mention the overnight adjustments consumers have to embrace to the new technology-led normal.

In these difficult times, organisations should take decisive actions that will ensure business continuity even in the post-pandemic scenario. Business leaders need to shift gears and show resilience during COVID-19 and beyond. Providing strong leadership and pivoting on their heels will enable them to seize new opportunities for their business and survive in the new era of “normal” that is here to stay. 

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