We are living through unprecedented times, and businesses have been hit hard across the globe
We are living through unprecedented times, and businesses have been hit hard across the globe|Fisher Laishram
OPINION

COVID-19 survival tips for startups in Northeast India

For some of us, it is a matter of just surviving and live to fight another day; for others, this can be a blessing in disguise, especially those of you who are in the healthcare and ed-tech sectors

Fisher Laishram

To all my fellow Northeast entrepreneurs who are braving the current pandemic -- hold on, this too shall pass.

We are living through unprecedented times, and businesses have been hit hard across the globe. Even more so, for those of us who are catering to the small Northeast market. As entrepreneurs of the region, odds were always against us, and we choose to do what we do in spite of it; because of our passion and mission to make a positive impact in the region.

And, I'm writing this post, not as an expert or some sort of guru (far from it) but as a fellow entrepreneur who is in the same boat as you, facing the same challenges as you are. I believe there is light at the end of the tunnel and we need to somehow ride through this together. For some of us, it is a matter of just surviving and live to fight another day. For others, this can be a blessing in disguise, especially those of you who are in the healthcare and edtech sectors.

I believe there is light at the end of the tunnel and we need to somehow ride through this together
I believe there is light at the end of the tunnel and we need to somehow ride through this togetherFisher Laishram

So, here's a list of things that works for me and hope it can be applied in your business. This is by no means a comprehensive list and may not be applicable in some cases.

1. Make your unit economy strong. Spending Rs 100 to make Rs 100 is just suicidal, COVID-19 or not. Unless you are Jeff Bezos, of course. And also, please don't engage in any sideshows for the time being.

2. Growth at all cost mindset may be challenging post-COVID. So, if you run your business on discounts and offers, it's time to go back to the drawing board.

3. Short-term strategic plan. To survive in the long term, we need to adjust to the new reality. In the case of my IT company -- Mobimp, primarily a product-based company, we added a service division called 'The Northeast Startup Services'. It is an all-things tech service for Northeast startups, from branding to mobile app development, product revamp to new features addition. This enables us to set up an additional revenue stream during the lockdown and beyond. As for Hummingbird, a local food delivery company, I co-founded back in 2016, as many in this sector, we quickly added grocery and essential items home delivery. This allows us to keep operating during the lockdown period while playing our part in fighting against the deadly disease.

4. Cash, cash, cash. We don't know how long the lockdown will last; my guess is that it will further extend. Plan for a runway of at least 9-12 months, not just for the lockdown period but post-Covid. Go through your fixed and variable expenses, check where you can cut cost. Can you request your landlord to lower the rent or defer the payment for a few months? Maybe you can hold the commissions, bonuses and marketing expenses? In short, keep your cash flow positive as much as you can.

See if you can collaborate with other local businesses or even your competitors. Provide a complementary offering and create more values for the customers

5. Collaborate with other businesses. See if you can collaborate with other local businesses or even your competitors. Provide a complementary offering and create more values for the customers. For e.g. Hummingbird collaborates with a popular local bakery during the lockdown, generating income for both parties. While allowing people to have some normalcy by celebrating Mother’s Day and birthdays.

6. Cut cost, not jobs. I know many of the big startups are resorting to mass layoffs and pay cuts to lessen the impact and in preparation of the future. The advantage for us is that we are small, more nimble and our operating costs are relatively small. We probably know all our employees by names and they are family to us. If you have to resort to cut payroll expenses, you can consider putting on-hold (not pay cut) a small percentage of their salary and pay them in the future when your business revived. Now, if at all you have to resort to salary-cut, make the cut percentage according to their earning, higher the earning, higher the cut. In both cases, try as much as possible to not impact the low-earning section of your employees.

Have empathy towards your employees, clients and everyone. Emotions are running high and as a leader, the onus is upon you to navigate the unknown and stay true to core values and your company’s vision.

7. Communicate transparently and often. In this time of uncertainties, as day unfolds one at a time, communicating transparently and often is of utmost importance. Have empathy towards your employees, clients and everyone. Emotions are running high and as a leader, the onus is upon you to navigate the unknown and stay true to core values and your company's vision.

In this time of uncertainties, as day unfolds one at a time, communicating transparently and often is of utmost importance
In this time of uncertainties, as day unfolds one at a time, communicating transparently and often is of utmost importanceFisher Laishram

8. Reinvigorate the economy. In our region, we rely too much on the government and looks to them to solve almost every problem. We as entrepreneurs, with all our passion and innovative ideas should play our part in reviving the local economy.

9. When fishermen cannot go to sea, they repair nets. This quote also holds true for your business. You can work on analysing and improving your business processes, spend time on team capacity building, or you can start working on the new product or service you didn't have time for before.

No matter how beatdown this saying is, it holds true any day, especially during this pandemic. Every now and then check the physical and mental well-being of your employees

10. Health is wealth. No matter how beatdown this saying is, it holds true any day, especially during this pandemic. Every now and then check the physical and mental well-being of your employees. Also, take this opportunity to spend time with your love ones and some home workouts. We entrepreneurs often get so engrossed in our startups that we have little time for anything else. And no matter what happens if we are still healthy and passionate about our vision, we can always get back on our feet again.

And finally, you can discard all the above tips if you don't find any of it helpful, but I just want to let my fellow northeast entrepreneurs know that you are not on your own and we can support each other and work together to survive and respond to this pandemic.

#StayHome #StaySafe.

(Fisher Laishram is the co-founder of Mobimp, Imphal Angels, Northeast Startup Service and Hummingbird. He has been working toward creating a strong and vibrant start-up ecosystem in Northeast India. Views expressed are the author’s own)

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