Entrepreneur

Putting Their Best Foot Forward: 3 S’pore Startups Share How They Grow Through COVID-19

Since COVID-19 hit Singapore back in January, many businesses have been badly affected as the economy gradually worsened.

Regardless of their company size, businesses across the board face multiple challenges such as cancelled funding rounds, employee layoffs and pay cuts — some founders even had to forego their salaries during this financially challenging period.

In a bid to cushion the impact, many Singapore startups have quickly pivoted their brick-and-mortar business models online.

We have also seen some local 3D printing firms taking the leap to switch their manufacturing lines to produce personal protective equipment such as face shields.

Businesses have had no choice but to adapt and adjust in order to survive this pandemic. As such, we spoke to three different startup founders on how they have been navigating the Covid-19 storm and learned about the business measures they have taken thus far to tide over this crisis.

Building Brand Awareness (And Helping Others While At It)

As COVID-19 continues to rapidly spread around the globe, brands — especially those that were badly hit — have been holding back when it comes to PR and marketing.

Due to the circuit breaker, many businesses — big or small — are focusing on internal restructuring and reducing costs to stay afloat in this uncertain environment. As such, businesses are focusing on survival rather than exploring new products or services.

– Nigel Ang, co-founder and CEO of Marzze

Marzze is an influencer and key opinion leader (KOL) marketing platform which helps businesses to reward influencers and KOLs through metrics such as sales revenue, number of leads generated with a target ROI.

Image Credit: Digital Agency Network

While businesses are keeping a tight rein on their spending and being cautious about where they spend their marketing dollars, boosting sales is still imperative.

This is where Marzze comes in — businesses have been tapping on Marzze’s influencer marketing platform to generate more brand awareness for their existing products.

Since many influencers and KOLs have been churning out a lot of stay-home content, the startup saw it as an opportunity to leverage on its capabilities to help businesses actively monitor their ROI and ultimately help them avoid pouring more cash in an ineffective campaign.

“We are currently helping LifeSmart with their smart home products. In addition, we have helped F&B establishments such as Aroy Thai establish a stronger brand awareness during the circuit breaker,” said Nigel.

Marzze’s Nigel Ang and Javier Seah / Image Credit: Nigel Ang

With these projects, Marzze is effectively killing two birds with one stone — they are helping brands gain awareness, while promoting themselves as a marketing platform.

Nigel was quick to credit DBS Startup Unleashed, a programme to help startups gain a foothold in their early days.

DBS Startup Unleashed programme has provided us with lots of partnerships and opportunities to build our company and our brand. We were able to tap on DBS’s strong network and resources which has opened doors to collaboration opportunities.

Being one of Singapore’s most reputable firms, our partnership with DBS has certainly enabled us to propel our brand forward.

– Nigel Ang, co-founder and CEO of Marzze

Gaining Access To Business Opportunities

In unprecedented times like COVID-19, getting access to business opportunities is a challenge.

Access to capital has also proven to be another challenge faced by many startups. Some startups may also be facing the challenge of building relationships with investors given limited interactions over video calls.

“Some investors are focusing their resources on helping select portfolio companies get through the crisis,” said Michael Oyson, co-founder and CEO of Skibre, a competitive mobile gaming platform.

skibre
Skibre team / Image Credit: Michael Oyson

Echoing his sentiment, director of Reomnify, Alexander Storey said that as a young startup, it is challenging for Reomnify to get engagement from large global businesses.

What Reomnify does is help real estate companies and retailers to understand and find a good location for their businesses. To do that, they use multiple data sources and advanced analytical tools to provide rich information of a location.

reomnify
Alexander Storey on the left / Image Credit: Reomnify

For a start, an access to a significant network of customers is important, he said. The DBS Startup Unleashed programme, which Skibre and Reomnify are also under, offers just that.

The DBS Startup Unleashed programme gave us the chance to grow through access to DBS’ significant network of customers.

– Alexander Storey, director of Reomnify

Sharing the same sentiments, Nigel said: “From getting access to digital experts, business opportunities, network expansion and creating better business prospects, DBS Startup Unleashed certainly offers significant benefits for all emerging startups.”

He added that having a multi-currency bank account with DBS also allows them to operate in more markets, thereby having a wider access to market opportunities.

Boosting An Online Presence

COVID-19 has seen many physical businesses scrambling to set up their businesses online.

For one, non-essential businesses had to find a lifeline such as pivoting online or risk facing business closure.

Secondly, F&B brands who are affected by the dining-in have been forced to digitise their ordering systems and jump onboard a delivery platform. 

While Marzze has already been leveraging on technology and digital operability, they knew that they had to build a stronger online presence.

“We have been consistently marketing our services through various platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn and our own website, and learning how we can optimise our business development moving forward,” said Nigel.

“The COVID-19 situation was also an opportunity to execute our Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) strategy, boosting our online presence and reputation in the industry,” he added.

Thankfully, startups could reach out to the digital solutions experts via the DBS Startup Unleashed Programme and receive mentorships from them.

They could also sign up for the Start Digital programme through DBS Startup Unleashed and subscribe to web-based services such as a digital payment system and integration to accounting software to manage payroll and leave, as well as cybersecurity solutions to help protect customers’ valuable data.

Strengthening Customer Relationships

Another important factor to survive through this economic downturn is to retain your clients and partners. To do that, you need to first build a meaningful working relationship with them.

“[You need to] incentivise brand loyalty, keep your partners and customers satisfied, and build relations,” advised Nigel.

However, securing new clients can be tricky in difficult times as everyone is tightening their pursestrings. As such, Nigel said that “customer acquisition can be costly.”

This is why revenue generation during unprecedented times should focus on existing business partners and customers. After all, it is cheaper to retain an existing customer than attract a new customer, which can cost five times more.

Increasing customer retention rates by five per cent increases profits by 25 to 95 per cent, according to research done by Frederick Reichheld of Bain & Company.

Bearing these statistics in mind, it makes sense to focus efforts and money on your existing, loyal customers who purchase your goods or services time and time again.

While it does not mean startups should neglect marketing to new customers, optimising costs is especially crucial in downtimes like this. Getting new customers is a bonus, and businesses need to work hard at retaining them too.

Having Proper Cash Flow Management

Due to Covid-19, startups with a high cost structure such as high fixed costs and overheads, may face significant cash flow problems.

Some startups may also have higher debt structures and interest repayments and this could be a challenge in a Covid-19 environment, where there are less deals being closed and less cash inflow for their businesses.

In our opinion, one of the important factors is having an efficient cost structure. With an efficient cost structure, it is more likely that a startup can weather an unprecedented storm like the ongoing pandemic.

– Nigel Ang, co-founder and CEO of Marzze

Startups that aren’t sitting on significant cash reserves are currently in a fight for survival.

Amid trying times, startups should take a step back and re-strategise their business development plans and operations.

“We started by streamlining processes through technology solutions to maximise efficiency and set-up a sustainable, robust cost structure which will keep us competitive despite challenging times,” said Nigel.

He credited DBS Startup Unleashed Programme for helping them to maintain healthy cash flows.

“It has linked us up with technology providers in various functions such as accounting, finance and payroll, at special rates. It greatly helped us leverage on technology to streamline and automate our processes, ultimately keeping our costs relatively low. This eventually played a key role in helping us tide through the pandemic,” said Nigel.

Concurring with Nigel, Alexander said that DBS Startup Unleashed programme offered “very helpful savings right from the start”.

Besides getting a headstart on cost savings, you also need to partner with a bank that understands your needs and challenges as a startup.

For competitive mobile gaming platform Skibre, they were able to receive their first investment from Antler speedily due to the quick turnaround time of setting up a bank account with DBS Startup Unleashed programme.

skibre
Image Credit: Skibre

With the bank account opened, we were able to focus on building our business. Other banks took a month to open our bank account compared with DBS which took only two days.

Getting the investment in fast is key for survival for startups. At the early stage, cash flow is tight and time is of the essence so startups need to move fast.

– Michael Oyson, co-founder and CEO of Skibre

How DBS Startup Unleashed Can Help Startups Gain A Foothold

This current climate may look discouraging for startup ambitions, but having the right resources can still lend newly-minted entrepreneurs the support they need: a good corporate banking account, access to collaboration and being prioritised for business opportunities.

The DBS Startup Unleashed programme serves as a great helping tool for young businesses that are struggling amid this pandemic.

This two-year programme is designed for high growth startups, and provides a suite of solutions that includes a fee-free multi-currency account, accounting software, transaction and payment management, mentorship, and networking opportunities with other startups.

Beyond that, the bank also waived off numerous fees such as annual fee and fall-below fee. Other corporate multi-currency accounts charge S$40 for annual fees and an administrative fee of S$35 when your deposit balance falls below the minimum average daily balance.

Credibility is incredibly important in our business, and having a household name behind us has certainly opened some doors, especially now that our customers are typically becoming more risk averse in 2020.

– Alexander Storey, director of Reomnify

For young startups like Marzze, Skibre and Reomnify, they have leveraged on the DBS Startup Unleashed programme when they first started and it has helped them gain a strong foothold in the industry so they can easily ride through tumultuous times.

“We were positively surprised that DBS did not require a minimum deposit balance even in a multi-currency account. Their online banking platform is very easy to use and allows seamless bank transfers around the world,” said Michael Oyson, co-founder and CEO, Skibre.

Most banks require a minimum balance which is unfriendly for startups that have limited capital and tight cash flows.

The DBS Startup Unleashed programme understands the journey and day-to-day challenges of startups. For Skibre, opening their account with DBS was steadfast — it required only two days — during the circuit breaker compared to a month with the other banks.

“That difference represents a lifetime for startups,” said Michael. As a result, they were able to receive their initial investment fast, due to its fast and hassle-free account opening process.

If you are running a new startup looking to gain a foothold in the industry, you should definitely leverage on the DBS Startup Unleashed programme to kickstart your business journey.

For more information on DBS Startup Unleashed or how to apply for it, you can check out their website here.

This article was written in collaboration with DBS Bank.

Featured Image Credit: Marzze / Skibre / Reomnify

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