The Delhi startup ecosystem on the hustle and the world during COVID-19

In this episode of Matrix Moments, Delhi-NCR based founders — Chirag Taneja of GoKwik, Amit Lakhotia of Park+, Anindya Dutta of Stanza Living, and Asish Mohapatra of ofBusiness — speak with Avnish Bajaj, Founder and Managing Director at Matrix Partners India, about how they survived the pandemic.
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This week, Matrix Moments’ discussion was heavily centred around the prevailing startup environment, essentially take stock of the current scenario. From the overheated funding situation to exits, M&A’s, remote hybrid working models, let’s find out how COVID-19 impacted all of these and more through the lens of seasoned operators and entrepreneurs. 

In a conversation with Chirag Taneja (Co-founder of GoKwik), Amit Lakhotia (Founder of Park+), Anindya Dutta (Co-founder of Stanza Living), and Asish Mohapatra (Co-founder of Ofbusiness) explain how they survived the pandemic disruptions.

Avnish Bajaj, Founder and Managing Director, Matrix India.

Avnish ​​Bajaj, Founder and Managing Director at Matrix Partners India, asked the founders, “I have observed how you guys were executing during the COVID-19 period so that you’d come out of it very strongly. Was there ever a moment when you regretted why are we here now? What did you do, without giving away too much detail, do during that period?”

Amit explained that COVID-19 was good and bad for Park+. Bad obviously because it disrupted the way the startup was thinking about building the business. The problem of parking exists mostly for corporate parking. 

“Every day, you go to the office you can’t figure out the parking, so you try to park somewhere. Suddenly, with COVID-19, the parkings are out because offices are out. So, what are the problems we’re solving — became an existential question. But what was good about all this was if you look at malls, if you look at all these places where people go for the manual purchase, cash was getting a change,” says Amit. 

He adds parking is probably the only ecosystem in India where digital payments were still less than five percent of the business. Now, due to COVID-19, everybody wants contactless and touchless solutions. 

“Suddenly, we started seeing digital parking adoption not only at mall sites but also at consumer sites significantly. And at the same time, FASTag also came in with a government push. The whole thing can be a single as a platform similar to when you use Uber and the payments happen automatically without you stopping,” says Amit. 

Aindiya says that for Stanza Living, the first three months — April, May, and June 2020 — were okay as it was student heavy, buy revenues dropped from July because colleges didn’t open, workplaces didn’t open, so consumers were not coming back. 

“I think the three broad themes that stood out for us was that we soon realised that there is no one size fits all answer. In April-May, all of you were kind of being on overdrive with every company trying to figure out what’s happening, exchange learnings, and all of that. And we were hearing a lot of what other startups were doing and there was a lot of talk around pivots and how do you pivot and what do you do. We took a contrarian approach but that’s where I leant that not every answer suits every company or every ecosystem,” says Aindiya. 

He adds that the startup focussed on doubling down on the core business and not pivot and look at short term revenue opportunities. Focus on what you can do, he says, as what had to happen already did, and will be around for the next 12, 18, 24 months.

“Secondly, over-communicate with everybody. We over-communicated with our stakeholders to the extent of being vulnerable and telling people that this is not good and let’s accept it. And everyone was going through uncertainty, and by not communicating, the only thing we could have done was just aggravate the situation even more. Whether it’s employees and people you work with or whether it’s landlords, stakeholders, whoever it is, over communication was key,” says Aindiya. 

Ashis adds what ofBusiness did was figure out a series to run across social media, as well as newsletters wherein each single day, you find out what is good happening in the world even if it’s a tiny blip or so and communicate it to the rest of your ecosystem. 

And it was in a closed ecosystem largely to people who the company knew. He claims it got a lot of hits; lot of people wrote back as they were free anyways, they weren’t shaving. 

“So, I think just communication and we used it as a strategic tool in very many ways during COVID-19 and you’ll find lots of us having done that in very many ways. All of us actually found out a very different way of doing it,” says Asish. 

GoKwik was born during the pandemic. So, the default mode was working remotely.  Chirag adds that a few weeks back they called people to the office and understand each other. 

“From our more strategic point of view, I believe that for our set of companies, agility is a very important thing. I believe that in a world where capital is abundant, if companies that are tech, data science-driven, if they’re not agile they’ll get disrupted. And I use that remote working as a tool to remain agile because remote working pushes you to remain agile.”

Listen to the podcast here. 


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Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta

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