The current pandemic continues to be a focal point for governments across the world. In India, with public health at stake, the country is engaged in intensive efforts to contain the virus with a 21-day lockdown. In this environment, startups face new challenges as they tackle a volatile market with drastically reduced demand, disrupted supply chains, and accelerated business transformation. Let us look at how entrepreneurs are leading the way as they steer organisations through these uncertain times.
Strategizing for tomorrow, today
As the startup community faces extraordinary challenges, founders have the additional responsibility of ensuring that operations continue seamlessly. Entrepreneurs must now think quickly and act decisively. The focus for organisations is on understanding business risk and managing business disruption. More than even before, startups are experiencing the importance of business continuity planning and providing for unexpected future events. Across the innovation ecosystem, we find that such plans are enabling entrepreneurs to navigate the turbulent seas of change.
Putting employee safety first
One of the first things Hyreo, a talent recruitment platform, did, even before the 21-day national lockdown was announced, was to put in place standard protocols such as work from home and cancelling of business travel. It also shared critical government-approved and scientific data with employees to keep them safe. Going a step further, it invested in the right tools to aid remote working and set up policies for employees to ensure cybersecurity. Talking about his company’s approach, Paresh Masade, the founder and CEO of Vaave, explains “We decided to take a proactive approach to remote working. Our team was well-prepared to deal with a possible lockdown even before it became a reality. This helped our team remain focused.”
Equipping employees for success
The shift to remote working brought a new set of infrastructural and procedural requirements. Now, working from home required investments in creating a proper work environment — a suitable desk and chair, high-speed internet, and cybersecurity. For example, eMpact, a unique mobile-enabled HR platform, shifted to working from home, but it also had to factor in the challenge of onboarding new employees who lived in areas that had poor network connectivity. Similarly, Scapic’s staff came together to help their colleagues virtually. The team at this SaaS-based cloud platform shared simple productivity hacks with each other, such as tips to purchase the right kind of chair, design a workstation to increase productivity, cook easy meals, and more.
Pivoting business development models
Entrepreneurs are also finding that the current crisis is presenting them with an opportunity to take on a more consultative approach with their clients. Alongside this, startups such as Hyreo are also changing their pitching tactics by identifying better prospects, looking at different geographies, and cross-selling with existing clients. For the first time, startups are also no longer expected to travel to client locations to pitch a new idea. Srikanth Nimmagadda, founder and CEO of eMpact, reveals, “Where earlier asking a client to do a pitch meeting over a Zoom call could have compromised our chances, clients themselves are now opting to have these calls over Zoom as travel is restricted. In the long term, this may turn out to be a boon for startups as they usually have to travel to different locations to give demos, and this is an expensive affair.” So, if the practice of initiating early-stage discussions remotely becomes the norm, with startup teams travelling only for final stage negotiations, this could prove to be a hugely beneficial outcome for startups in the long run.
Ensuring effective communication
When so much is uncertain, it is crucial to have clear communication with employees. At Vaave, the senior leadership and founders have been candid with their workforce and presented a realistic picture of the road ahead. At Hyreo, the senior leadership has taken stock of the situation and reassessed their goals. At eMpact, the team has daily calls to discuss work and other important updates. Alongside this, the organisation is also continuing its conversations with its clients to understand their most important needs in the evolving scenario and find solutions. But all team conversations do not have to be about work. Sai Krishna, founder of Scapic says, “We all make an effort to log in to a virtual space at the same time every day and talk to each other. We continue to take our water cooler and tea breaks virtually to break the monotony and connect apart from work, just like in the office. It is important to me that team communication is not exclusively work based.”
Managing a startup’s cash flow during a period of crisis is essential. This is not exclusively for startups with limited funds. Even those with sufficient cash flows will need to be judicious in the way they meet their expenses. Most startups within the innovation ecosystem are taking this opportunity to revisit expenditure and optimise operational efficiency in different creative ways. For instance, Hyreo is also using this as a motivation to negotiate better with clients and get better deals with vendors.
Preparing for a changing world
While the strategies discussed above take a macro perspective, startups are also taking more small-scale measures to drive employee engagement and build business value. As Hyreo’s co-founder Arun Satyan explains “We plan to use this opportunity to build our brand by leveraging social media through blogs and email campaigns. This activity will help us create a portfolio of our expertise and make us more relevant to potential customers in the future.”
This is also a time for reinvention. At a time when its regular products are not in demand, Scapic has quickly developed and launched a new product version, which helps retail and eCommerce companies keep track of inventory, using computer vision, augmented reality and 3D technology to serve customers. With this, it is helping India’s largest eCommerce companies keep operations alive. This is how Scapic has moved away from typical use cases, services and products to create a completely new offering. After all, as we know, necessity is the mother of invention, and the pandemic has given rise to different needs, all of which will need to be met, the opportunity for innovation and reinvention is immense.
Another trend is the shift in perspectives of key decision makers in companies. Srikanth says of eMpact’s HR platform, “I believe that under these excruciating circumstances, organizations will be more open to looking at our product. As more and more employees work from home, there is a need for talent management and employee brand building, and while companies were not thinking of this need earlier, it will now become necessary.”
While these are challenging times, these are also times where businesses can explore new opportunities. Plans may change, and hurdles may arise, but it is also at times like this that a startup can differentiate itself and stand out from the herd.