By Suveer Bajaj
The Indian economy was already struggling well before the onset of the pandemic last year. As the Covid-19 crisis hit, consumer spending in several sectors came to a grinding halt. Sectors dependent on interpersonal interactions, such as hospitality, travel, and retail suffered badly. Several industries like entertainment, fitness, and (non-essential) e-commerce had to forcefully shut down; the repercussions of which will be felt for many days to come. Though 2021 was expected to be the year of recovery, government estimates released recently indicate that India’s GDP contracted by 7.3%. The sharp economic downturn is a clear reflection of the loss of business confidence.
However, history has witnessed the emergence of some of the strongest businesses during difficult times — global market leaders such as Burger King, General Motors and FedEx to name a few. Thus, for agile entrepreneurs with an appetite for innovation, the pandemic could serve to be one of the best times to start a business.
Seize the opportunity
Many Indians were stuck in the country due to travel restrictions, or laid off as a result of the pandemic. With second and third generation entrepreneurs returning to run family businesses, companies profited from their global exposure. The start-up community leveraged India’s ‘reverse brain drain’ efficiently, with companies like Zomato and Ixigo drawing talent at senior leadership levels. Even domestic organisations powered through by optimising the resources at their disposal.
Smart entrepreneurs can notice unexpected opportunities from a mile away. These opportunities can either be qualitative or quantitative. Let’s analyse this briefly.
Qualitative opportunities: Staying indoors meant that many of us had to let go of our previous liberties and form ‘new habits’. These could be based on necessity, accessibility, convenience, mindspace, wallet share — all opening up a massive floodgate of possibilities. This led to many consumers redefining their ecosystem and reprioritising the environment. Companies like Meesho, which offered small businesses the chance to scale up online, leveraged this change in consumer behaviour to create sustainable business opportunities.
Quantitative opportunities: As technology formed the focal point of most business activities, our screen time increased. Limited social interactions created room for virtual touchpoints to replace the ‘touch and feel’ aspects of human interaction. It resulted in brands like Pumble, Blue Jeans, etc, taking off with a vigour like never before.
Several established industries capitalised on changing consumer behaviour. Take the case of online pharmacy companies like PharmEasy and 1MG, or even edtech platforms like Unacademy and upGrad. A lot of new business opportunities also emerged as a direct result of the lockdown. Whether most of these businesses will sustain after life resumes, remains to be seen. For instance, we have seen growth in online fitness classes, online nutrition and even retail diagnostics. Personal hygiene, and plant and animal care have also seen hockey stick growth.
Role of the entrepreneur
A common denominator for all these businesses is the ability of the entrepreneurs to create a new brand narrative. Remote working offered the chance to work with talent from around the world. The rapid and continued success of the timeshare industry is a testament to this. The job-sharing economy, led by the emergence of platforms like Upraised, offered consumers a much-needed bridge between employers and job opportunities. This adoption will eventually accelerate decentralisation and digital transformation.
However, the challenges that surround entrepreneurs during the pandemic are aplenty. Right from category creation to lack of interpersonal relationships and the struggle to rally motivation, the road has never been more difficult. Visionary entrepreneurs have spotted multiple opportunities in these newly emerged industries. Some have even managed to scale existing businesses to new heights with their adaptable and agile personalities.
The author is co-founder, Zoo Media & FoxyMoron