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Lucas Ngoo of Carousell, Joan Chang of Lloyd's Inn and Stuart Thornton of hoolah share their greatest takeaways and reflections of 2020.

Jae Chia  |  SG
Published 2020-12-18 16:33:23
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Most of us will probably remember 2020 as a year that was marked by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Even though some businesses faced an unfortunate demise, others continued to grow and even managed to raise funds despite the economic downturn.

Running a business is no mean feat, and keeping it afloat and thriving amidst a pandemic is even tougher. Thus, many valuable lessons and insights can be gleaned from business owners and founders.

Vulcan Post speaks with three notable local entrepreneurs on their greatest takeaways and reflections this year:

Look Out For Opportunities In Every Adversity

Lucas Ngoo, Co-founder of Carousell / Image Credit: Carousell

A common theme that surfaced from the three business leaders we spoke with was the need to respond quickly to situations, and identifying new opportunities when previous business models were disrupted.

During the height of the pandemic where lockdowns were happening across the world, Carousell’s users in many markets were unable to meet up for transactions.

For those unacquainted, Carousell is a consumer marketplace for buying and selling new and secondhand goods.

The pandemic led to significant disruptions in users’ experiences when transacting items but the team used it as an “opportunity to catalyse efforts in making buying and selling as frictionless as possible.”

According to Carousell co-founder Lucas Ngoo, they expedited efforts and partnered with several local delivery partners like GOGOX, Lalamove and Morning Express to offer easy shipping solutions and discounted shipping rates for users to take advantage of during these difficult times.

In fact, Carousell ended up playing a big role in helping people make ends meet.

Lucas told Vulcan Post that more than US$1 billion worth of secondhand items were transacted across the platform between February to June 2020.

Like Carousell, homegrown boutique hotel Lloyd’s Inn also faced a huge change in operations when borders suddenly closed.

lloyd's inn singapore
Boutique hotel Lloyd’s Inn saw a sharp drop in revenues / Image Credit: Lloyd’s Inn

Without any tourists, revenues saw a sharp drop. During the circuit breaker, Singaporeans were also not allowed to have staycations.

Joan Chang, Director and Co-founder of Lloyd’s Inn told Vulcan Post that the hotel had to pivot to a fully staycation-based approach in the interim, and look for other possible revenue streams.

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

Agility Is Essential

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

Acting quickly to respond to changes is an important trait that business leaders should possess.

Being agile operationally and mentally is absolutely important, in addition to realising what the challenges are and being brave to make the call for change — ultimately not panicking despite the noise around you — are all lessons learnt. 

Stuart Thornton, CEO and co-founder of hoolah

Stuart Thornton, CEO and co-founder of hoolah told Vulcan Post that when the pandemic struck, they “quickly moved to a virtual team environment to protect [their] people.”

Following that, they quickly renewed their plans and made decisions on key areas the startup should focus on, which led to the formulation of an omnichannel solution.

The Singapore-based ‘buy now pay later’ startup had the team focused on executing the plan, so they could time their in-store solution launch for when stores eventually opened for business.

This September, it launched a first-of-its-kind in-store Buy Now Pay Later solution. Since then, they have surpassed over 1,500 retail store partners.

To add on, Stuart mentioned that the use of technology can greatly aid a company’s quest to efficiency and agility, especially during the pandemic.

Despite being in lockdown, hoolah did not stop expanding, and the team has grown from 30 to well over 100 across three to five markets.

Stuart said that this was possible because the team was “utilising technology efficiently and effectively to drive our productivity and growth.”

Raise Funds Despite A Pandemic

hoolah team
Image Credit: hoolah

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

This September, South Korean tech giant, Naver led a US$80 million (S$108 million) investment round into Carousell.

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

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

The founder also feels that it is a validation of the opportunity that Southeast Asia presents for the growth of Carousell.

On the other hand, hoolah closed an eight-figure Series A investment round early this year.

“Raising money is a journey rather than a sprint,” said Stuart when asked what were some factors that made the investment possible.

The company, team, and the progress the startup made in terms of commercial and metrics were key components in garnering the support from strategic investors.

Anticipate Potential Problems That May Arise

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

Joan has learnt not to take pre-Covid times for granted, be it being able to walk around without masks, or ensuring that she stays “hedged” for “rainy days”.

As a business owner, another takeaway for Joan is to ensure that businesses are always foreseeing future problems and creating multiple revenue streams to best manage the unknowns.

She also believes in the importance of taking a holistic view of various stakeholders that influencer a business’ decision making.

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

On the other hand, micro factors such as team members, their roles and motivations also play a part as at the end of the day, the team supports the business.

Adapting To The New Normal

For Carousell, “having an ear on the ground and being nimble as an organisation” played a big role for the organisation in 2020, as it enabled them to strategically chart out initiatives that catered to what their community needed.

The startup has iterated to be more essential to people as they stay at home by focusing on categories such as Home Services, Furniture and Electronics this year. 

In the year ahead, Carousell will continue to establish themselves in the region, solving the barriers to selling and buying secondhand.

Similarly,  hoolah preparing for its Series B funding which will help the company further achieve its goals of geographical expansion, hyperlocalisation and product growth.

Joan believes that travel will eventually resume, and thus Lloyd’s Inn will proceed with its expansion plans.

Furthermore, she also stated that there is likely to be a need for hotels, as it offers an experience with 24/7 service, hygiene and daily housekeeping.

Despite the challenges faced this year, these founders still managed to pull through, and are on track to greater growth next year.

“Startups are no strangers to uncertainty and difficult times, but from the past year, we’ve seen just how important it is to be able to adapt to the changing environment,” said Lucas.

Stuart shared the same sentiment and said that in such situations, “you can only respond positively and find opportunities.”

Featured Image Credit: SMU ISE / Generationt / Ricky Singh via Medium

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