Coronavirus: How Delhi startups are hustling during the country-wide COVID-19 lockdown
India is currently trying to mitigate the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. So far, COVID-19 has killed nine people and infected 562 in the country, according to the Ministry of Health.
In light of this, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday, announced a country-wide lockdown to mitigate further spread of the disease. As social media will tell you, ‘social distancing’ is the primary weapon of mankind against this global pandemic.
Needless to say, the lockdown has affected businesses across the country, including the 7,000+ startups and 10 unicorns based in Delhi-NCR.
But Indian startups are known to hustle in tough times and this is no different. We bring you stories from startups that, despite being hit during the lockdown, are looking at the silver lining and using this time for good. After all, when the going gets tough, the tough get going.
Low on capital but accelerating innovation
Delhi-based IoTfy helps consumer durable brands add Internet of Things (IoT) capability to their device categories with its chip-to-cloud IoT products.
Co-founder and CEO Arpit Chhabra tells YourStory that since business depends upon enabling IoT for product lines in Home Appliances and Lighting sector, the lockdown has affected the startup thanks to production cuts and supply chain disruptions. As a result, cash flow is stuck.
The CEO adds that predicting sales pipelines is another issue during these uncertain times.
“Since we had to pause a lot of talks with our clients, it is becoming tough for us to determine what would be the movement of that pipeline. So, there is going to be a dent with respect to the number of conversions that we have from prospects to customers,” he adds.
This has also hurt the quarter planning of the company, says Arpit.
Undeterred, the startup is using this time to accelerate its work on upcoming features and future capabilities while its regular commitments are on pause.
“Being a product company, we have started focussing on the next set of features that were in the pipeline, taking a future-forward approach,” says Arpit.
The entrepreneur admits that taking care of expenses is worrisome and if the situation does not change after mid-April, things will look bad. “We are still figuring out what the answers are, but yes, it looks like difficult answers. Whatever options we will have are going to be difficult options,” says Arpit.
Additionally, being bootstrapped, IoTfy does not have a massive cash reserve.
“Typically, with each round, funded startups have capital for at least 18 months. So, we are a bit worried about the future and not sure how things would turn out. We really hope that everything goes back to normal by mid-April,” says the CEO.
Salary cuts but lockdown is new business opportunity
Dharamveer Singh Chouhan, Co-founder and CEO of Zostel, carries his entrepreneurial spirit in his backpack. And, he believes that this lockdown is an opportunity to launch a new business stream – social-as-a-service – because how long someone can one be alone.
“Desire for socialising is real,” points out Dharamveer.
Zostel, which just started reviving its business, has not lost its enthusiasm in these trying times even though the novel coronavirus affected the travel sector the most.
Dharamveer says that since people cannot travel, the “social longing’ is higher than ever before. Buoyed by this idea, the team set to work and is now planning to launch a new way to socialise by the first week of April. It is envisioning a way to allow the Zostel community to socially engage with each other without leaving their houses.
The feature will allow users to socialise and enjoy activities like concerts, performances, workshops, games, and meetups on the app itself. “We are building a new subscription service, which may cost Rs 130 per month,” says the CEO.
Additionally, the Zostel app will host live games, local concerts, quizzes, skill-based games, that can be cast on TVs. Users can also play with their friends and family members or other users who are online on the app using their smartphones.
That’s not all. The startup has already hosted some workshops and events on its Instagram account starting this week.
“The new platform will also work as a platform for artists, hosts, gamers, and anybody who has a talent to share,” says Dharamveer.
He adds that this product is very different from other platforms as Zostel is trying to provide social engagement activities with the same ease and time as Netflix, social media apps, and other online platforms.
“Zostel is a tech and product company with a core belief of connecting people in social spaces. Hostel is just one of the outcomes of that DNA. Very soon, you will see that Zostel is much more than a hostel company,” says Dharamveer.
In terms of the lockdown affecting operations, the entrepreneur says that the startup already had in-house tools developed that allowed people to work by themselves, and hence the team has not really been affected.
“After the lockdown, we don't know when the effect will diffuse, so we are keeping ourselves prepared to be as productive as possible,” says Dharamveer.
When it comes to cost, everyone in the company has taken a hit. “This is a once in a century Black Swan event. Even when we have sufficient cash flow for next six month to 12 months, we all have taken salary cuts, and the top management has taken even larger cuts of up to 50-60 percent,” he adds.
Until the lockdown is over, 50 percent of Zostel’s properties are closed, and the startup has offered all of them to the government and local authorities for quarantine and social distancing purposes.
Patents can wait
Trilochan Verma is the founder of Gurugram and Singapore-based Intense IP Services, a startup helping companies identify or audit their product to understand what is patentable and what needs to be protected.
It has been working for the last six years with close to 200 clients, including companies like Rivigo, Silverpush, SVG Media, Treebo Hotels, etc. But its business has been hit during the lockdown due to coronavirus as “patents are good to have, but not must haves” for many.
However, Trilochan likes to see the positive side, and is supporting the community by allowing them to pay later.
The good part is, he explains, is a line of new-age startups building tools and technologies for remote communication and collaboration, which are the need of the hour.
“We saw our business going down to a great extent because existing players are not filing patents. But interestingly, we are suddenly seeing a rise in request from startups building products to solve lockdown and remote working situations,” says Trilochan.
He adds that since the companies are worried about expenses at the moment, the startup has decided to allow some of them to pay later.
Living out of Warehouse
Nanoclean has already made headlines by manufacturing affordable masks during the spread of this pandemic. Now, the team is actually living out of a warehouse in this lockdown.
“It is a war-like situation for us,” says Prateek Sharma, Co-Founder and CEO.
He adds, “Our team is staying in our warehouse near Saket to keep the work on. We have managed all the necessities at the facility, so that they can work. We are taking care of them by giving them bonuses and extra allowances for them and their families.”
Since the company supplies essential goods, the lockdown has not shut business but operations are tougher in this situation.
"It is not about business all the time; it is about responsibility because people need masks in this critical time. So, we cannot stop the supply. We are doing whatever we can in the best possible manner,” says the IIT Delhi alumni.
In terms of cash flow, Prateek believes it all depends on supply since demand is through the roof right now.
“I cannot say cash flow is good because we'll put it back in the supply of masks,” he says, adding that the rate of supply varies each day but the startup has been supplying 10,000 to 50,000 masks every day.
Busy time for healthtech
Prashant Tandon, Founder and CEO of online pharmacy startup 1mg, says that its sales team has been extremely busy, especially since the lockdown.
“Our delivery executives also faced some issues with the police in a few cities but other than that, there has been no disruption,” he adds.
In addition, the startup’s content on COVID-19 has garnered millions of views already while online consultations around fever have grown by more than 300 percent this month alone.
Unsettled in uncertainty
Ankush Singla, Co-founder of edtech startup Coding Ninjas, says that even though the uncertainty of this lockdown is unsettling for many, the team is doing its best to support people.
“In the wake of the current lockdown, we have started a programme offering all our courses for free to all the faculty members of all the colleges in India. This will help the faculty as well as students use this time more effectively and not disturb the education ecosystem,” he says.
The startup claims to have witnessed almost 100 percent growth in March.
But its real issue is hiring. “We raised funds from InfoEdge in February and the team has been expanding rapidly. But we are still trying to get comfortable with hiring people virtually or trusting people whom we have met one-on-one,” says the entrepreneur.
Shutdowns and discounts
Sanjay Choudhary, Founder and CEO of coworking startup Incuspaze, says, “Some clients may discontinue from next month onwards. The lockdown has impacted 20-25 percent of the business. But, we are following the law and order and currently, all branches are completely closed.”
He adds that some small companies asked Incuspaze to lower the seat requirements and requested discounts.
But, Sanjay explains, “We have some fixed costs such as rentals, salaries of employees to take care of unless the government intervenes. So, right now our focus is to retain customers and work on introducing new products that can generate revenue for us. The government needs to work with the banks so that some relief can be given to us.”
The real heroes
Sachin Haritash, Founder and CEO of logistics startup Mavyn, believes that the truck driver partners of his company the real heroes for taking risks by extending their hands to transport essential commodities across India. The startup caters to FMCG and ecommerce players.
“Ecommerce is 80 percent down because people are only buying essential goods. However, the FMCG part of the business has seen a 150 percent increase and will see a 200 percent increase in the coming times across India because people are buying these goods. But with borders sealed, this number will also be hindered,” adds Sachin.
The entrepreneur also says that the startup has seen a dip of 50-60 percent in business because customers have reduced their orders on Amazon and Flipkart except for essential commodities.
(With inputs from Bhavya Kaushal)
(Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta)