Nurturing hope beyond pandemic
Several swift switches, smart thinking and crucial modifications have helped many entrepreneurs to log better growth numbers during the ongoing nationwide lockdown, imposed to check the Coronavirus outbreak. They have not only managed to garner decent profits but have also helped their staff see through Covid times
It was March and four friends, sipping on their evening tea, were discussing a business plan and the new virus that had already infected over two lakh people and resulted in more than 8,000 deaths in 166 countries.
They had gathered to fine-tune their idea but there was considerable anxiety about its prospect as there were growing cases of Coronavirus in India as well. Nevertheless, they decided to take the plunge. Four months later, there was no way they could regret it.
Economies have collapsed worldwide and at a time when hundreds and thousands of small and medium businesses, employing millions, are looking for a ventilator to exhale, some entrepreneurs have not only found new ways to survive but have also made considerable profits.
From PPE kits, masks and sanitiser manufacturers to home delivery services for food and groceries, from wellbeing trainers, physiotherapists to content editors, bloggers and even bike sellers, thousands are trying to set new standards in entrepreneurship over the last couple of months, when much of the world was still busy getting used to the "new normal".
Saurasanta Biswas, Atrick Mukherjee, Manish Singhania and Abhishek Roy Chowdhury conceived Rozmart that quickly became a true alternative to physical grocery shopping. Initial days were challenging as the Coronavirus had just begun in India with the Centre going for a complete lockdown to check the spread of the pandemic.
But with national food supply chains being badly affected, local markets running out of stock; the adverse conditions created an opportunity for Rozmart to grow. Offering an assortment of food items at affordable prices and right to the customers' doorstep, the retail outlet has catered to at least 5,000 customers in two months, generating a gross revenue amounting to Rs 35 lakh.
Nuthan Manohar, an international corporate wellbeing trainer based in Kerala, says: "Early January was a bright and happy month as I returned from Europe, all set to start off with workshops and personalised Ayurvedic perfumery across The Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Malta and Austria by May. As February rolled in, we had to consider the possibility that the launch may not happen as planned. Once the inevitable was accepted, we decided to focus on creating happiness and bettering sleep for the community and increasing our social capital."
A trainer, primary researcher and TEDx speaker on wellbeing, her start-up is backed by IIM Bangalore and Prof Sunil Handa. 'Me Met Me' offers science-backed, effective and practical methods using concepts from Vedic wellness and behaviour to help people overcome stress, insomnia, grief and anxiety.
As the lockdown began, Nuthan and her associates went on to train over 2,000 students online on inspiration and happiness, on behalf of Kerala Police. They also set up international online workshops with influencers and corporates, increased impressions from 3,000 to 20,000 on Instagram, curated a LinkedIn of 1,200 contacts from scratch, with their sleep audios clocking 20,000 hours on various apps.
"We have also created various high-value collaborations with corporates, professional associations, apps and communities, especially in Europe for workshops. The team has grown significantly and we are now poised to operate from The Netherlands and launch perfumery and training on improving sleep quality. Compared to last year, we have had a 100 percent increase in revenue," she adds.
Needless to say, the post Covid world will witness many unique habits and practices, patterns and penchants, words and phrases to fit our altered reality.
From strumming the old guitar to honing new skills, from picking up new hobbies to spending more time with oneself, we are slowly learning to live in a 'world of our own' — finding fresh ways to distract ourselves from the everyday discomfort of living under restrictions.
With fitness junkies unable to visit gyms and yoga classes, fearful of public transport and people going stir-crazy inside their homes due to the ongoing lockdown, bicycle sales have seen a boom throughout the world.
With car-clogged streets literally empty, public transport downsized, people restricted to their homes, the urban thoroughfares seem to have a new look and feel.
The Bikestore, in Kochi, was preparing to design and test a high-quality city bike and just before they could launch their brand bicycles, the pandemic struck.
"We shifted our marketing efforts and community building through webinars, Instagram and Facebook. Customers started booking and as soon as lockdown restrictions were eased, sales started pouring in. Currently, we are almost out of stock and advance bookings are taking place for our store brand Szel," says Abraham Clancy Ross of The Bikestore.
"People have started taking up cycling to stay physically healthy and mentally happy. Gym members have dropped and cycling is definitely considered safer these days. In the last few months, we have seen a 40 percent rise in monthly sales and a much higher engagement on social media," Ross adds.
Commercial photographer Rohit Singh says he was supposed to shoot for a number of Indian Premier League (IPL) teams in February and March but due to the pandemic, those got cancelled. "I decided to enroll for a video editing course online and gradually started getting a lot of product shoot contracts. Clients became more interested in no-touch business and I started getting good offers during the lockdown, managing a profit of approximately Rs 1.5 lakh in two months. I'm soon planning to launch my own production house and even hire a few photographers for the same. I have also started making brand identity films that are gaining a lot of popularity. I also sold three of my black and white nature photography prints online for Rs 8,000 each," he says.
Words-Worth Solutions, a service providing firm, founded by four friends — Arkodeepto Mukherjee, Soumodipta Karmakar, Prithviraj Karmakar and Sayak Mitra, completed a year in business this June but dealing with the pandemic has not been easy.
They have been closely working with many skill councils and other vocational institutes, providing learning management system (LMS) support as well. From ad shoots (products), promotional videos and company profiling for different organisations, besides translation services in all Indian regional languages. Being a start-up, the pandemic posed a huge challenge. However, these energetic, young men have worked extremely hard and made a profit of around Rs 2-3 lakh per month after meeting all their expenditures.
With work from home becoming the order of the day, most employees are ending up staying in one spot for a long period of time and even in one particular position, triggering an unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle.
Addressing this issue of relative physical inactivity in the at-home workplace, Dr Tuhin Sinha, senior consultant physiotherapist and co-founder of Rejuve Physiocare, says: "We came up with online video consultation sessions keeping in view the limitations imposed due to Coronavirus. Through such sessions, people could avail the services at the comfort of their homes, maintaining social distance and also achieving a healthy active pain-free routine with conservative treatment protocols. The response to online therapy, that was introduced just after Lockdown 1.0, is increasing day by day as the digital-age version of counselling services is more affordable, convenient, flexible and unique. We have had a relatively good response in these two months and have made a profit of close to Rs 30,000-Rs 32,000 per month. The outreach, however, is fast expanding."
Businesses providing services of everything from technology to travel and trade were the first to be hit when the Centre took unprecedented measures to lock down a nation of 1.3 billion.
Subhankar Dhar, the owner of Esplanade, a fine-dining restaurant in Bangalore, named after a quaint, historic part of quintessential Calcutta that has been a melting pot of cultures for many centuries, says: "When the lockdown happened, our revenue went down by almost 50 percent. Cash surplus was down to 10 percent from 25-30 percent. The lockdown came as a blow as we are primarily a dine-in place. However, it was important to adapt. We created a special menu, basically boxed food, that could be eaten at the desk while working. People also became very price-conscious and hence we did more combo meals where the pricing was extremely competitive. Our valet and waiting staff members started delivering food all across Bangalore. This meant we were not dependent on prominent delivery agencies and could find work for all our staff. This really helped us with positive cash flow. Soon, our revenue went up by 65 percent and the surplus too increased to 15 percent."
Today, facemasks and gloves seem to be an essential part of our physical get-up. Hundreds and thousands of doctors, nurses, health workers, police personnel and the common man have adopted this new look. The global scramble for these vital items has seen ordinary manufacturers become mask moguls in days. No object better symbolises the pandemic than the mask, and no object perhaps better explains the world into which the pandemic arrived.
In the middle of this crisis, for some, the primary objective was to keep going and help others survive.
Sujata Chatterjee, Founder of Twirl.store, a start-up fashion online outlet, says since the lockdown, they have sold hundreds of masks to social welfare officers and NGO workers. "We started improvising and added a dash of colour to the masks, even customising them with company logos, emblems and the like for office-goers who were slowly venturing out. We were the first to come up with cotton gloves till the elbows, including denim gloves and the 'twirl cover'. Our prices are reasonable and we have received a warm response with repeat orders flowing in."
When Corona is finally gone, when the streets are unwalkable again, when the air is heavy and Venice's canals are not filled with jellyfish and flamingos are not flocking to Mumbai anymore, when theatres are abuzz and schools are noisy, we are destined to commit to a change — an altered world order forever. Till then, chin up, reserve some giggles for a happy future when the pandemic's paranoia gives way to greater cause and strength, like many of these entrepreneurs, who simply refused to relent and outdared all challenges coming their way.