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How To Scale Up Your Startup During The COVID-19 Pandemic

A critical driver of startup success in turbulent times is your company’s ability to pivot your business model

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

Author, Rina Neoh

During this unprecedented global health and economic pandemic, many startup founders and entrepreneurs are eagerly waiting for things to get back to normal so they can start selling their products or services again. I think this is wishful thinking and probably a non-productive approach to the crisis.

Post-COVID-19 business environment will be so dramatically different from the norms and routines we are used to before. Experts have predicted that many startups will probably disappear or die unless they learn to pivot their business model at the height of this crisis, not when it’s all over. The few that will survive will be those that learned to be agile, adaptive and gritty in the midst of uncertainty, anxiety, volatility, and ambiguity.

I believe the key to business success in times of crisis is to shift your focus from selling your product to selling your value. Since it’s impossible to achieve your revenue targets under the current economic climate, you can focus on rebuilding your relationship with your customers so they know you care about their deepest concerns today. Focus on making a difference now and your business viability will naturally follow later.

Here are five ways you can continue to sell your unique value to your customers during this period of lockdown, forced isolation, community quarantine, and stay-at-home orders.

Reaffirm Your Core Mission. This is the time when you can differentiate yourself from the rest of your competition by being visible and authentic to your customers. Let people know about your company’s aspirations and dreams, what values you stand for, and how you want to make a difference in their life’s journey. Show people how your vision connects with their pain today in a direct and purposeful way. Be an ally to your customers by showing them how you are addressing their deepest concerns today.

CurioCiti (a partnership between RXR Capital and ThingsPH) launched its new vision to build a “human city powered by smart technology” by offering its services to support the anti-COVID community quarantine program of the Philippine government. Through its Project GreenGrass Community Watch, it offered its AI-driven “Street Activity Monitoring System” (SAMS) for FREE to local government units, with the goal of helping them monitor and manage home quarantine and social distancing measures under the Enhanced Community Quarantine program. Two cities immediately volunteered for the pilot, with many other cities signing up quickly in succession.

Reboot Your Business Model. A critical driver of startup success in turbulent times is your company’s ability to pivot your business model in response to rapidly changing market realities. The key approach is to offer an enhanced value proposition that addresses directly and significantly the customer‘s pain points while remaining true to the essence of your service or product offering. Take the opportunity to project your brand as a solutions provider, instead of a typical product provider.

A progressive international preschool franchise in the Philippines developed and launched its first Online Distance Learning Platform to provide its students with an alternative learning platform to classroom-based education when classes were temporarily suspended due to the lockdown measures of the government. In less than 48 hours, the school turned its creative classroom teachers into online curriculum designers and virtual teachers, saving many grateful parents from the stress of dealing with their restless stay-at-home kids.

Refresh Your Brand Identity. When you’re unable to go out to promote your product or service due to the lockdown situation, you can launch a new social media marketing campaign to reposition your brand by communicating the unique features or benefits that are relevant to the needs of the COVID-focused market. Sell your core expertise to the market and show them how you are making a difference in various market situations. The market leaders of tomorrow will be those who are seen as game-changers and adaptive to new market realities.

Smarter Robotics, the developer and distributor of AI-powered humanoid service robots, launched its new social media campaign with the introduction of its first Anti-Pandemic Humanoid Robot, nicknamed CRUZR. They unveiled a new service robot that functions as a health assistant, health information officer, brand ambassador, and friendly anti-epidemic chatbot. Equipped with new thermal sensors and enhanced facial recognition capabilities, CRUZR can read body temperature and scan people for facemasks and transform itself into a virtual health screener that can be easily deployed in hospitals and airports.

Recharge Your Sales Channel. In times of social distancing and stay-at-home measures, you can offer your customers something that builds on their innate need for social connection, engagement, and networking. You can tap on people’s desire to help others by using your product to connect with their friends during this quarantine period. Offer them tangible rewards for helping your company reach out to their social networks in a meaningful and sincere way. Increase the value of your product by tapping on the goodwill and personal thoughtfulness that goes with the sale of your product.

Love18, the first artisan chocolate startup in Malaysia, helped beat quarantine blues and social distancing stress by inviting people to encourage their friends to order their popular handmade chocolates online with free delivery, as a stress-relief and self-care remedy. Friend endorsers earn referral commission for every sales order fulfilled, resulting in a145% increase in online sales in just 3 days after the online promotion started.

Re-educate Your Customers. When you cannot sell your product or service due to the financial difficulties faced by your target audience, find a way to reach out to them by giving them an opportunity to up-skill or re-tool themselves through relevant resources or tools that you can offer during the home quarantine period. Focus on your customer’s aspirations and demonstrate how relevant you are in their lives today. Remind them that enforced isolation can be a good opportunity to invest in their own self-development and teach them to adopt a “growth mindset”.

In summary, startup and scale-up companies can learn to thrive, not just survive, in times of crisis by learning three important “agile mindsets”:

First, don’t wait for the crisis to get over before you start selling. Find immediate opportunities to promote your unique value proposition, reposition your company as a solutions provider that understands the customers’ pain, and highlight your core value and competence during the economic downturn.

Second, don’t spend too much time worrying about how bad the market is. Accept the new reality of “business unusual” and realize that the good old days will not happen too soon. Find ways to add value to your customer’s situation and show them how relevant you are in meeting their needs, both in good times and bad.

Finally, don’t wallow in negative thinking and avoid indulging in self-pity. Too much social media and the proliferation of fake news can make you believe that the world is coming to an end. Learn to improve your agility and adversity quotient, connect with like-minded individuals, and stay away from losers (the worse type of virus!) who give up easily when faced with daunting problems.

Get better, not bitter. Take on the Startup Mindset!

Rina Neoh is the Founder of RXR Capital & School of Agility, Grit and Entrepreneurship (SAGE)

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