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What the world termed wrong COVID-19 proved right for us. And the world will be different after the pandemic, but we are confident we’d emerge stronger.
Last year in April, when COVID-19 would appear to be a Contagion-like Hollywood fantasy, I was pitching for investment to VC funds. MedSamaan, my fourth startup had started to show healthy traction and I was confident that I could scale my award winning startup further with external investments. Turns out, it didn’t fit in to the normal scheme of things – potential Investors, pointed out the wrongs
Wrong one was that we were literally shamed for simply ‘trading in medical devices.’
The second thing was that we didn’t direct our full efforts into building assets online, and our offline component was an obstacle to quick scalability.
Wrong three was that ‘working from home’ was no replacement for ‘working on-field.’ I preferred to WFH while my team worked from office and the field.)
The fourth thing was not having an ‘innovative product’ but distributing others’ innovations. Even though data showed that most product innovations rarely made it to mass-scale production and remained limited niche products. It was difficult to prove the service-innovation in our pitch deck.
Wrong five was focusing on adding value to Supply Chain and inventory management, when we could get delivery partners to do everything for us
Not manufacturing was the sixth wrong. Few VCs suggested we ‘pivot to manufacturing instead of marketing and sales.’
The seventh wrong was not Outsourcing or having a hiring spree. Why should we try to do everything on our own?
And finally, the eight wrong was that our growth chart showed a linear trajectory as opposed to an exponential curve. This was a put-off for certain large funds that were looking for ‘disproportionate growth.’
But fast forward to a year later and I found out that every wrong they mentioned turned out to be the right thing for me! Here’s how that happened.
COVID-19 managed to give birth to a new generation of traders I call ‘Covipreneurs.’ These are clever and cash-rich opportunists who have jumped the #FightingCoronavirus bandwagon by becoming overnight distributors of masks, gloves, IR guns and even PPE Kits.
From the local kirana store guy to the Coca Cola distributor, to a photo studio and the guy next door, there are enough entities who are ‘trading’ in medical disposables. My grouse with this is, where is the shame in trading now? Would investors still be upset about a startup ‘trading’ or is it being called smart and resourceful?
Having faced the industry as a healthcare researcher, corporate worker and a recovered cancer patient, I know that most healthcare needs are met offline and in person, (I am yet to hear about online surgeries) Hence they require a strong offline support and presence.
We, as business, have worked hard at ‘meeting, knowing and understanding’ our customers instead of only focusing on online channels, that have higher scalability. COVID-19 has amply demonstrated that the support we are rendering to our customers has won many hearts (and hopefully, more business)
As a startup owner, I feel a leader needs to be free from the mundane encumbrances of daily office functioning so she can think strategically and out of-the-box. Having a trustworthy team that functions on auto has helped me remain independent of my corner office. There are days when I work from a café or a park, just to soak in the energy or serenity of a place.
While others have started using the benefits of WFH (Zoom meetings and webinars) only now, my team has had that flexibility long before COVID.
A lot of people were surprised to find that automated and AI enabled supply chain processes were an integral part of our Value Proposition. Yet COVID-19 has shown, inventory management and supply chain continuance are the keys to the survival of a business.
Instead of rushing to fulfil export bulk orders, and hoarding by profiteering agencies, we rationed our Masks to supply on a Risk-based priority system. As a result of this, we today have been able to maintain a steady supply of protective gear to those who need it most- doctors, hospitals and clinics.
When the national lockdown was enforced, most logistics services were severely affected. Since our supply channels were not overly reliant on external resources (or outsourced), we were able to tide over the crisis almost immediately. We did so by simply augmenting our existing offline resources.
Our sales force on their bikes and bicycles (and the top management in their personal cars) supplied items to ensure delivery to hospitals, pharmacies, doctors and even the aam aadmi.
Mask manufacturing machines became costlier by 80 percent, and deliveries are staggered by three to four months. And to add to it, raw materials are in short supply too.
I didn’t invest crores of rupees in becoming a manufacturer, neither did I take the added pressure of monthly loan repayments. These decisions to stay financially unburdened helped me reap dividends and focus on the a more enhancing customer experience.
Contrary to the industry trend, I had to lay-off zero people during COVID-19. Leanly manned, each team member has unambiguously assigned roles, but is expected to multitask and remain cross-functional.
March turned out to be the month for distributing bonuses and incentives for fabulous and extra work that my staff performed day in and out.
Disproportionate growth or not, we did not have to worry about cash burn rate. We paid our rent on time, vendors in advance and learnt crucial lessons about managing working capital. And also about the weaknesses of our business model and that of our channel partner’s. We have slowly created a lasting impression in the minds of our customers who use our products without spending a dime on marketing.
What I learnt the hard way is “everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth. And hence everything we do should be out of our own judgement, not by herd behaviour.”
COVID-19 has shown that a startup’s flexibility to adapt and embrace processes that are unconventional can actually be its strength in times of crises and beyond. What the world termed as wrong COVID-19 proved right for us. While there is no doubt that the world will be a different place after the pandemic is controlled, we are confident of emerging stronger.
The most important lesson that I can share is:
Do things as you think is best suited for your business; assess risks but don’t get influenced by the NORMS; and let the time decide whether it was Right or Wrong.
Picture credits: Pexels
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