three S’pore Entrepreneurs Share Classes Learnt From COVID-19


Most of us will probably remember 2020 as a year marked by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Although some companies faced an unfortunate decline, others continued to grow and even raise funds despite the economic downturn.

Running a business is not an easy task, and it’s even harder to keep it afloat and thrive in the midst of a pandemic. This can provide many valuable lessons and insights from business owners and founders.

Vulcan Post speaks to three well-known local entrepreneurs about their biggest takeaways and considerations this year:

Look out for opportunities in any emergency

Lucas Ngoo, Co-Founder of Carousell / Photo credit: KingSleeve

A common theme across the three business leaders we spoke to was the need to react quickly to situations and identify new opportunities when previous business models were disrupted.

During the height of the pandemic, which saw lockdowns around the world, Carousell users in many markets were unable to meet for transactions.

For strangers, Carousell is a hypermarket for buying and selling new and used goods.

The pandemic caused significant disruption to the user experience when it came to completing items, but the team used it as an “opportunity to catalyze efforts to make buying and selling as smooth as possible”.

According to Lucas Ngoo, co-founder of Carousell, they have accelerated their efforts and partnered with several local delivery partners like GOGOX, Lalamove and Morning Express to offer simple shipping solutions and reduced shipping costs that users can take advantage of during these troubled times.

In fact, Carousell played a huge role in helping people make ends meet.

Lucas told Vulcan Post that more than $ 1 billion in used items were processed through the platform between February and June 2020.

Like Carousell, the local boutique hotel Lloyd’s Inn faced a major operational change when the borders suddenly closed.

lloyd's inn singapore The Lloyd’s Inn boutique hotel saw a sharp drop in sales / Image credit: Lloyd’s Inn

Without tourists, income fell sharply. The Singaporeans were also not allowed to stay during the breaker.

Joan Chang, director and co-founder of Lloyd’s Inn, told Vulcan Post that in the meantime, the hotel needs to move to a wholly stay-based approach and look for other potential sources of income.

The hotel then implemented various marketing campaigns and staycation packages to adapt to the changing needs of consumers.

Agility is essential

Stuart Thornton, CEO and Co-Founder of HoolahStuart Thornton, CEO and Co-Founder of hoolah / Image Credit: hoolah

Acting quickly to respond to change is an important quality that leaders should possess.

Being operationally and mentally agile is absolutely essential. In addition to realizing the challenges and having the courage to call for change – ultimately not to panic despite the noise around you – are all lessons we have learned.

Stuart Thornton, CEO and Co-Founder of Hoolah

Stuart Thornton, CEO and co-founder of Hoolah, told Vulcan Post that during the pandemic, they “quickly moved to a virtual team environment to protect themselves [their] People.”

They then quickly renewed their plans and made decisions on key areas the startup should focus on, leading to the formulation of an omnichannel solution.

Singapore-based start-up “Buy Now, Pay Later” had the team focused on executing the plan so they could schedule their in-store solution to launch when the stores finally opened.

In September of this year, a unique buy-now-pay-later solution was introduced in the store. Since then, they have outperformed over 1,500 retail partners.

In addition, Stuart mentioned that the use of technology can greatly aid a company’s pursuit of efficiency and agility, especially during the pandemic.

Despite the lockdown, the Hoolah hasn’t stopped expanding, and the team has grown from 30 to well over 100 in three to five markets.

Stuart said it was possible because the team “uses technology efficiently and effectively to drive our productivity and growth.”

Collect donations despite the pandemic

Hoolah teamImage credit: Hoolah

Despite the pandemic, both Carousell and Hoolah managed to raise funds.

In September this year, South Korean tech giant Naver completed a $ 80 million (S $ 108 million) investment in Carousell.

The latest round of funding brings Carousell’s total valuation to $ 900 million (S $ 1.22 billion) after acquisitions in 2019 to accelerate growth in Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

“Naver’s investment in Carousell, especially at this very challenging time, signals a vote of confidence and strengthens the relevance of our mission,” said Lucas.

The founder also believes this is an endorsement of the opportunity Southeast Asia offers for Carousell’s growth.

On the flip side, Hoolah closed an eight-digit Series A investment round earlier this year.

“Raising funds is more of a journey than a sprint,” said Stuart when asked what factors made the investment possible.

The company, the team, and the advances the startup made in terms of trading and metrics were key components to gaining the support of strategic investors.

Expect possible problems that may arise

Joan Chang Lloyd's InnJoan Chang, Director and Co-Founder of Lloyd’s Inn / Image Credit: SMU ISE

Joan has learned not to take times before Covid for granted, be it being able to walk around without masks or making sure that she stays “covered” for “rainy days”.

As a business owner, another option for Joan is to make sure companies always anticipate future problems and create multiple sources of income to best manage the unknown.

She also believes in the importance of having a holistic view of the various stakeholders influencing a company’s decision-making.

For example, looking at macro factors like the global economy, government transitions, and local government support can help a company determine which direction to turn.

On the other hand, microfactors like team members, their roles and motivations also play a role as the team ultimately supports the business.

Adaptation to the new normal

For Carousell, “having an ear on the ground and being nimble as an organization” played a major role in the 2020 organization, as it allowed them to strategically develop initiatives that were tailored to the needs of their community.

The startup has repeatedly proven to be more important to people staying at home by focusing on categories such as household services, furniture and electronics this year.

In the coming year, Carousell will continue to establish itself in the region, removing the barriers to selling and buying second hand.

Likewise, Hoolah is preparing for Series B funding, which will help the company continue to meet its goals of geographic expansion, hyperlocalization and product growth.

Joan believes travel will resume at some point and therefore Lloyd’s Inn will continue its expansion plans.

She also stated that there is likely a need for hotels as they offer an experience of 24 hour service, hygiene and daily housekeeping.

Despite the challenges faced this year, these founders still managed to prevail and they are well on their way to greater growth next year.

“Startups are no stranger to uncertainty and difficult times, but over the past year we’ve seen the importance of being able to adapt to the changing environment,” said Lucas.

Stuart shared the same sentiment and said that in situations like this one “can only react positively and find opportunities”.

Selected image source: SMU ISE / Generationt / Ricky Singh via Medium




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