COVID-19 has changed how we live. Going to office, meeting and connecting with people, working together – everything came to a halt as countries went into lockdown. Several sectors received a huge blow due to the pandemic, which hit operations of several enterprises, businesses, and startups.
According to the Impact of COVID-19 on Indian startups survey conducted by Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), jointly with the Indian Angel Network (IAN) in July, 12 percent startups had to close down their operations while 70 percent of the startups reported they were impacted due to the coronavirus situation.
Amid the pandemic, many entrepreneurs went beyond their business model to come up with innovations to help people stay safe. Several entrepreneurs also pivoted their business to suit the “new normal” and sustain themselves or adapt to changing consumer behaviour.
In an earlier interaction with YourStory, Deepthi Ravula, CEO of WE Hub, said, “Our advice to entrepreneurs is plain and simple. For startups in certain sectors a pivot is not one of the options to survive and sustain; it is the only option.”
As we ready to step into the New Year, YourStory brings to you stories of five startups that pivoted from their initial business model to survive, sustain, and solve problems amid COVID-19.
The hotel and hospitality industry is probably one of the worst impacted sectors due to the pandemic. The Confederation of Indian Industry (CCI) estimates a loss of five crore jobs, with the sector bleeding $28 billion.
However, Gurugram-headquartered budget hotel brand, FabHotels launched a new line of services to meet the crisis-led demand and keep the business afloat. In an earlier interaction, Co-founder Vaibhav Aggarwal explained that the hotel brand launched a Work-from-FabHotels campaign earlier in March.
This service allowed employees to work from the same place and ensure team productivity while maintaining safe social distancing. The company claimed that IT, consulting, BPO, and essential services providers had adopted this service.
Apart from this, FabHotels joined hands with hospitals such as AIIMS, Apollo Hospitals, RML Hospital, GTB Hospital, and Dr Lal PathLabs, among others, to offer a sanitised place of stay to the medical personnel.
FabHotels was founded in 2014 by Vaibhav Aggarwal and Adarsh Manpouuria to offer budget hotels, primarily focusing on business destinations. It operates on an asset-light model where it partners with small hotels under a franchise model.
FabHotels has more than 600 hotels in over 60 cities, including Mumbai, NCR, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, and Ahmedabad, among others.
The hotel recorded declining bookings in February and saw cancellations in March amid the lockdown. The team then decided to pivot the model to suit the new demands arising from the COVID-19 crisis.
“It was about exploring new demand channels after the usual business of travel completely dried up. We continue to pull out all stops to drive the highest occupancy for our hotel partners and have worked on multiple initiatives,” Vaibhav said.
The pandemic outbreak led to the need for sanitising surfaces, objects, and touchpoints to avoid infection. A report by 6W Research revealed that the Indian surface disinfectant market is expected to register high growth during 2020-2026 owing to the increased demand for the disinfection services amid the pandemic.
Apart from cleaners, liquid disinfectants, and sanitisers, UV-C light-based disinfection gained momentum in India after experts confirmed that UV-C light in a certain controlled amount could permanently damage the RNA sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Pune-based Padcare Labs, which was founded in 2018 by Ajinkya Dhariya for providing menstrual waste management services, pivoted from their model to provide UV-C disinfection products to keep people safe from COVID-19.
In an earlier interaction, Ajinkya said that the company launched two products, UVSATHI and UVHANDY, for disinfection of surface areas and inanimate objects
UVSATHI is a remote-controlled air and surface disinfection unit designed to sanitise areas from 50-500 sq ft. while UVHANDY is a handheld and portable sanitisation device for decontamination of inanimate surfaces.
The startup could pivot its model within a short period of time due to their experience with UV-based disinfection. The startup’s core product UVECO is a UV-based touchless sanitary pad collection bin installed in washrooms. The bin automatically opens its lids when one hovers their hand above the sensor. The sanitary napkins are then transferred to the centralised processing unit, SANECO, which disinfects and segregates the waste.
“We started getting calls from doctors who needed something to decontaminate surfaces at the ward level and N95 masks. We developed a basic prototype within a week since we had basic resources available,” Ajinkya said.
Bengaluru-based bike taxi startup Rapido had to initially suspend its operations in April temporarily due to the national lockdown. Later, the startup pivoted its model and began delivering essential items to sustain its business and help people get their needed items at their doorstep, reducing the need for them to step out of their homes.
The startup joined hands with Bigbasket, Big Bazaar, Spencer’s Retail, and local authorities in Delhi and Bengaluru to help deliver essentials.
Earlier in May, it launched Rapido Local, a person-to-person delivery service, to allow customers to request pick-up and drop off food, groceries, and medicines. After resuming operations post-lockdown, it also launched Rapido Store for businesses in June to help online and offline stores to deliver products to customers.
“This is how, with strong tech capabilities, we have innovated our way out of the pandemic. We are committed towards providing a safe riding experience for all our customers. We were able to implement various innovations for our customers and Captains within a stipulated time frame and maintained business continuity,” said Aravind Sanka, Co-founder of Rapido.
In the pre-COVID period, events required numerous things such as venue planning, designing, infrastructure, technical support among many others. Bengaluru-based Digital Jalebi, founded by Syed Fawaz Ahmed and Nikhil Joshi, was solving this problem for the event management segment.
Digital Jalebi, which assisted events across various sectors such as government, defence, aero, technology, pharma, and others, came to a halt amid the pandemic outbreak.
Understanding the accelerated digitisation in the event sector and the new normal, the founders pivoted and launched a web-based virtual event platform. In an earlier interaction, the founders explained that the platform could be customised to suit the clients’ needs.
The startup is focusing on recreating real-world experiences online from the comfort of homes. The virtual event platform can run on any browser.
“We took the hit, but then decided to stay afloat and bucked up for a pivot. Our clients can try virtual events, because at this time no one would complain that a physical one would have been a better option,” Nikhil said.
Mumbai-based commercial interior design startup Flipspaces pivoted their business model and launched a new vertical REBOOTSPACES, in May to focus on integrating social distancing, touchless automation, and home office solutions to transform the workplace.
After the national lockdown, offices have been opening up and it is essential for working spaces to ensure that proper measures are being taken to avoid COVID-19 infection.
In an earlier interaction, Co-founder and CEO Kunal Sharma explained that the startup aimed to provide intuitive, empathetic, and safe spaces with integrated solutions such as hygiene and sanitation, social distancing, touchless automation, among others. He added that the REBOOTSPACES home office solution was aimed at ensuring a seamless and distraction-free remote working experience.
Founded in 2015 by Kunal and Ankur Mucchal, Flipspaces is involved in interior design, products, and projects for commercial spaces. Targeting SMEs, startups, and co-working spaces, the startup uses technology suites powered by virtual learning and gaming engine-based tech. The company claims to have revamped over three million square feet of commercial spaces since its inception.
In April this year, Flipspaces also launched Design Product Offshoring to provide design services remotely to clients in the US.
“Since the launch of its new products, Flipspaces has been growing its revenue by 3x, month on month, and has served more than 150 clients for REBOOTSPACES, including Google, Incred Financial Services, and Freightwalla,” Kunal said.
Persisting amid crisis
The pandemic has indeed dealt a huge blow to the startup ecosystem. Many entrepreneurs had to struggle to persist amid the flailing economy, loss of jobs, and business shutdowns.
However, what sets successful entrepreneurs apart is their ability to innovate their way out of the crisis – this is what the Indian startup ecosystem saw this year. Using their technological knowledge and skills, several entrepreneurs innovated new products and services to create new demand and stay afloat.
Edited by Teja Lele Desai