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How Startups are Pivoting During the Pandemic

Michael B. Huang
May 6, 2020

Businesses throughout the world are facing unprecedented obstacles because of COVID-19. And for startups, the economic implications of the pandemic will have long-lasting effects. While the challenges are still new, businesses are already reevaluating their goals, customer relationships, marketing tactics, and staffing models in order to weather the storm. Here’s how four startups are rethinking business strategies, supporting each other, and helping communities as they pave the way for the future.

In the UK, Collective Benefits, a Facebook Accelerator London alumni startup that provides big company benefits for the self-employed, has seen an uptick in demand for its services. “We’ve been overwhelmed with enquiries from the self-employed looking for protections and a safety net. They need financial support now,” says Kimberly Hurd, CRO. “To help, we accelerated the launch of our direct-to-consumer beta program to give freelancers direct access to our benefits and protections like sick pay. We ran a four-day, full-team sprint to open up to our waitlist and were completely overwhelmed by the response.”

In addition to providing more benefits to more people, Kimberly and her team have partnered with the UK Fintech and freelancer community to lobby for clearer and quicker income support for the self-employed. With the influx of work to be done, Kimberly has made a concerted effort to help her team focus on their health during this time. “We mandate breaks. It’s important to give time and space to reflect, think and focus on family and mental and physical health.”

While businesses like Kimberly’s are dealing with an increase in demand, other businesses are pivoting to focus on new business goals. “Don’t waste a crisis. Adapt quickly and take the opportunity to prepare for the future,” says Roger Do, CEO at QSearch, a Facebook Accelerator startup based in Singapore. QSearch offers a social listening dashboard where customers can easily create and test communication strategies on platforms like Facebook. “With the pandemic, we saw a need to bring forward some of our product development plans and accelerate the shift towards AI and machine learning. We were planning to gradually make that shift in two-years’ time, but to ensure our product is relevant and timely given the changing times, we’ve moved fast to accelerate this in just two months,” says Roger.

QSearch’s ability to quickly change its course is paying off. “As a result, we’ve seen a reduced cost of data analysis by 70% and our clients are also experiencing a higher ROI for their spend,” says Roger. Through the struggle, the one thing that Roger says helps is the support of the business community. “The Asian business community's response has been inspiring to see. Instead of sitting on the sidelines, everyone in the startup ecosystem is chipping in to help and do our part.”

This support expands beyond Asia into other countries where startups are banding together to support one another. “Being in touch with other entrepreneurs during this hard time is helping me a lot,” says Felipe Miranda Costa, CEO and CTO at Cloudia—a Brazil-based company offering virtual assistants for modern health clinics. “In each conversation I have with a peer, there are always some good insights.”

During the pandemic, Felipe’s team has partnered up with Colab, a startup they met while participating in Hack Station, the Facebook Accelerator program in Sao Paulo. Together they’re working on a project called Brasil Sem Corona (Brazil without Corona) to help monitor the number of people infected by the virus throughout the country. Cloudia also created a chatbot to answer questions and concerns about COVID-19 that its customers can use with their patients.

Like Cloudia, many startups are working to provide helpful and accurate information about the pandemic. Facebook Accelerator alumni Turn.IO, a company committed to giving social impact organisations a platform to have conversations that improve lives, is doing just that. “With countries experiencing a massive need for direct communication about COVID-19, Turn.io developed a pro bono solution—HealthAlert,” says Lieze Langford, Business Manager at Turn.io. “HealthAlert disseminates accurate, timely information to the public via WhatsApp at population scale.”

The team is partnering with the World Health Organization (WHO) to provide information and support to any person using WhatsApp in the world. “Our strategy remains the same, but the execution has focused on faster roll-out and standardised content and user experiences so that global NGOs and governments can launch WhatsApp solutions within a week,” says Lieze. While these times are especially challenging for startups in all parts of the world, startups like these are finding ways to focus on new opportunities at hand that not only support their companies but the lives of those around them.

Looking for additional resources to keep your operation running smoothly? Check out our COVID-19 resource page for tips on running a business during economic downturns, social distancing and well-being. We’ve included a list of Facebook startup program alumni that have been identified as startups that are actively supporting COVID-19 response efforts. If you’re a startup that would like to be featured on our resource page or want to learn more about what our startup program alumni are doing to address COVID-19 challenges, please send a direct message to our Facebook for Startups page.


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