“Entrepreneurs need to roll with the punches and pursue new opportunities presented by COVID-19,” says Aisha Pandor, Co-Founder and CEO of SweepSouth.
A trend derived from observations of past recessions and epidemics shows that these events have typically presented technology-enabled businesses, online players, and businesses that are innovative, with a real opportunity to grow. And while a definitive end to the current COVID-19 pandemic remains unknown, preliminary observations reveal evidence of the same trend now remerging.
We see evidence of this pattern when considering how the virus’ outbreak and subsequent lockdown forced several businesses to pivot and explore new areas of operation. In good form, most entrepreneurs are doing so within their capabilities and as their infrastructure and resourcing allows. These entrepreneurs are not doing something that is completely out of their reach and which does not make sense from a brand alignment and capability point of view. For example, the floral and gifting site, NetFlorist, expanded on its existing logistical capabilities to include the delivery of fresh produce. Similarly, the online food delivery app, OrderIn, partnered with the alcohol delivery app, Bottles, to cater for grocery deliveries in the wake of the initial alcohol ban.
More evidence can be found amongst companies like Ozow, which moved forward with strategic plans that were initially scheduled for further down the line, but which make arguably more sense nowadays: The fintech hastened the launch of its SMS payment option as well as the use of QR codes at point-of-sale. This has enabled businesses such as retailers to swiftly and safely receive payments from customers and continue their operations. Similar developments were made at SweepSouth, which implemented its SweepSouth Connect offering under lockdown level 4. SweepSouth Connect links customers to locksmiths, plumbers, electricians and handymen – a move the company was looking to develop in the future, but moved these plans forward when it was prudent with the core business being unable to operate.
Whether companies are pivoting within their capabilities or are pulling forward strategic plans, these are not simply short-term solutions to maintain cash flow; they also hold the potential to become core business pillars post-lockdown (although they would probably need to be developed with time to ensure good performance in line with each company’s overall strategic plan). Entrepreneurs should not be focusing solely on short-term, quick win opportunities. As recent announcements by government have shown, the current situation is always changing, and at some point, these things have to tie in with their longer-term business plans. Ideally, opportunities that present themselves now should not take entrepreneurs too far away from their core capabilities and mission. However, if there is good alignment with the brand, then it makes sense to utilise these opportunities, especially in situations where the entrepreneur’s current business is jeopardised.
That is not to say that businesses must navigate this uncertain period alone. Organisations like Endeavor are providing support to entrepreneurs in the form of global best practice, crisis management and South African-specific information regarding funding. They have also set up knowledge-sharing webinars and peer learning circles where companies can gain insight from each other’s experiences, share ideas, and provide support to one another. My own participation in these events has given me a wealth of information, which has helped to soothe the great deal of uncertainty that exists around current and future restrictions. It has also been comforting to be able to discuss with entrepreneurs from around the world, and to find solace in our familiar yet very distinct experiences.
With businesses now having to transition and scale differently, there may also be a need to consolidate and realign their brands to the wider audience and product range they now serve. To assist in this process at our own company, Endeavor organised a marketing workshop for our team featuring a national marketing expert to explore the ways in which we should look to refresh our brand messaging.
Fundamentally, entrepreneurs need to be realistic. This entails a good mix of pessimism in their planning and a healthy dose of optimism in their outlook. They need to act early, be prudent with their business and remember that there are people impacted by all of this, whether they are staff, customers, or other stakeholders. Entrepreneurs and business owners must try to be open and transparent but also as empathetic as possible. This time demands that we act with compassion and good morals.
With the crisis already prompting major budgetary and economic reorganisations, we can anticipate that new opportunities will emerge; however, their benefits will only be bared to those who are ready to grab them. And the end of the day, it will be those entrepreneurs who rolled with the punches that will thrive and not simply survive.
About Aisha Pandor
Aisha Pandor is the Co-Founder and CEO of SweepSouth, Africa’s first online end-to-end platform for the booking, management and payment for home cleaning services. Aisha is a leading black female tech-startup CEO both in South Africa and internationally, and has led SweepSouth to become one of the fastest-growing startups in the country, having won the SiMODiSA Startup SA pitching prize
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