Opportunity in Chaos: The era of startups and innovation
World War I is considered to be one of the most disruptive events in modern history. Initially, when the war broke out, more and more women started to enter the workforce and join jobs that were reserved for men; in many cases, becoming their family’s sole breadwinners. An interesting change that arrived with the war was almost instantaneous reversal in French dress etiquette. A designer often credited with catalyzing this change is Coco Chanel. As movement, cleanliness, and sobriety became the defining factors of female attire, Coco, who herself liked to dress this way, seized the opportunity.
However, Chanel did not become an iconic fashion house overnight. Over 111 years ago, when Coco started to design, most of France’s textile factories were in the warzone and the rest were producing at capacity. However, enterprising as she was, she managed to get way through, for she could find an opportunity in chaos. She, for the first time, used fabrics hitherto used to make garments for men for creating clothing for women. Chanel was able to demonstrate that even the barest of materials can be used to create beauty.
This is not a one-off example of success in turbulent times. Closer to home and in the recent past- post demonetization year saw a spike in digital payments which created a springboard effect for fintech startups and companies. In October 2019 , transactions via the three-year-old instant payments system UPI recorded a new high of one billion. What was even more interesting was that the number of transactions via UPI was 1.2 times higher than the number of debit card transactions in 2018-19, according to RBI annual report.
Hence from a business lens, disruptive events sometimes prove to be wormholes for the journey from innovation to adoption. This usually happens as the disruptive situation provides an opportunity for innovation to thrive, as never-before-seen problems start to arise in communities; Be it a lack of cash or work-appropriate clothing. Hence, a pertinent question we try to answer - Can businesses find opportunities in the wake of coronavirus pandemic?
NEW EMERGING SECTORS FOR CONSUMERS
Health-tech and Artificial Intelligence: While Autonomous Robots, impervious to cross-infections, can be deployed to keep the surfaces disinfected and deliver essentials within the hospital premise to avoid human contact, drones can be used to deliver medical supplies. This will also alleviate the high risk of medical staff getting exposed to the contagious virus. Emerging innovations such as Blockchain, tamper-proof distributed ledger tech, can streamline the medical supply chain amidst the supplies crisis and enable the requirement-based access to tools. Geo-fencing tools, with the elements of GPS and RFID tags, have been gaining traction from the police officials to track the movement of people in the quarantine. For example, Kerala police are monitoring the high-risk contacts and those having close associations with the positive cases using geofencing and now authorities from other states are also looking forward to implementing this.
There are numerous health-tech startups in India. These startups are leveraging the new-age technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) to develop solutions which are effective in the current situations, leading to a huge spike in their adoption rate.
Dozee, which helps doctors to remotely check on patients’ progress and flag off possible deteriorations in advance, is offering free health monitoring devices to COVID-19 quarantined residents in Bengaluru. E-commerce platform for seniors, Seniority and digital healthcare platform, DocsApp have joined hands to offer exclusive medical assistance from DocsApp to older adults and their family members.
Bengaluru-based home healthcare services provider Portea Medical has launched a chatbot named Cobot-19, in association with Verloop.io and the state government of Goa, which uses WhatsApp for dissemination of all information related to Covid-19. Similarly, Bangalore based startup, Bionel has developed a genetic test to check every individual’s susceptibility to the coronavirus.
Well-known startups have also seen a spike in their users. Medlife has seen a 3X increase in its orders; Practo too saw an increase in consultations by 3X to 4X in the last three weeks, out of which, 53 percent of all its General Practitioner eConsults in the last two weeks were related to coronavirus.
E-commerce grocery platforms: While most individuals prefer to purchase grocery through the brick and mortar model where they can pick and choose the perishable goods off the shelves, the current situation wherein individuals are practicing self-isolation, consumers are changes purchasing habits where they are switching to buy these commodities through the internet-enabled grocery applications such as Grofers, Bigbasket, Flipkart, Amazon, and Ninjacart, etc. The increased demand for such services has, in turn, caused the revenues of such companies to hit sky high, almost double, and an increase in the average basket value by almost 20%. While these companies do face logistics issues with the surged demands, they are not leaving a stone unturned to resolve them and continue serving their customers. Various e-commerce platforms crashed after the announced of the 21 days lockdown but these platforms were up and operational within hours, continuing to meet the pending and ongoing orders after the announced.
In various parts of the country, these e-commerce grocery platforms have been allowed to operate. Additionally, after a stakeholder consultation between the government and the e-commerce players, the authorities have set up a website where the players can share their operational problems. Additionally, delivery partners are being provided with electronic curfew passes.
Habit-forming sectors: Startups have few of the biggest opportunities in the midst of COVID-19 as people are more likely to engage in new activities and develop new habits during the lockdown, than any other. Whether it is related to working out, learning to cook, reading more books, listening to podcasts, new habits are being formed every single day. There are a number of sectors that are leveraging this trend by adapting their services and pivoting their business models.
The pandemic is reshaping the way people work, which will subsequently revolutionize how we do conferences, a trillion-dollar industry in which millions of people participate each year. A new group of startups is trying to leverage the business world on the values of remote and virtual meetings, including Zoom, Zoho and Freshworks. Zoom, in particular, has disrupted communications across the country, and people are now using it to connect with friends and families during the quarantine period as well.
Online gaming has also seen an unprecedented rise in the past few weeks. A vernacular social gaming platform, WinZO saw a 30 percent surge in tier-1 traffic over the last week. Paytm First Games has also seen a 2x increase in the number of users on the platform. Many of these platforms are allowing their users to engage for free, to make connections through gaming affordable during social isolation.
Location-dependent businesses, such as tourism and events, are also pivoting due to current circumstances. One of the biggest hospitality unicorns, OYO; house rental company, Nestaway hostel provider Zostel, and Stanza are also offering their spaces for quarantine facilities or co-living spaces for stranded people.
While some startups may face adverse challenges in the current scenario, a plethora of players in the startup ecosystem are blooming. Some are even proactively adapting their business models to make themselves sustainable and continue to provide their services to their target audience. A moment to thank all such platforms and the people working at the backend to serve the community at large. An advice to those facing challenges- Put on your thinking caps and think out of the box. Lastly, never give up because like all global crises, this shall pass too and we shall come out of it, stronger together! Stay safe and keep ideating!