Tech Startups Show the Way Out of the Crisis

Date Published
July 23, 2020
With the help of new technologies, entepreneurs can create business opportunities even during a pandemic. Photo credit: iStock/dorian2013.

If there is one thing that the pandemic has not stopped, it is the digital economy. Four young CEOs from BIMP-EAGA countries shared how they are thriving in this era of disruption at an online forum.

Organized by the BIMP-EAGA ICT CEO Forum, the second session of LIVEX 2020 on 10 July featured Hadi Wahab from Brunei Darussalam, Maulidan Isbar from Indonesia, Kengyew Tham from Malaysia, and John Naranjo from the Philippines. The forum focused on how business opportunities can be created despite the pandemic.

GoMamam

Hadi started an online food delivery service called GoMamam last February with only a few restaurants and dispatchers.

After Brunei reported its first case of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in March, demand quickly picked up as more people stayed and worked at home. Customers found it convenient to use the GoMamam app, which allowed them to browse through the menus of restaurants, order and pay online (or in cash), and track their order in real time. More restaurants also signed up with GoMamam since it provided them a way to stay in business after the government restricted public gatherings.

There were a lot of orders, says Hadi, and not enough dispatchers. The COVID-19 crisis affected many businesses, particularly startups. Some people who lost their jobs joined GoMamam as dispatchers. They underwent training and were given personal protective equipment (PPE).

Since May, there has been no new cases of COVID-19 in the country. The government has allowed restaurants to receive customers and operate up to 80% capacity from 6 July.

Hadi says GoMamam still offers a good value proposition to restaurants in the new normal. It provides them an “online branch” and marketing and advertising (including through social media), which is a plus especially for new restaurants.

More businesses are expected to join GoMamam in the digital economy after the government announced its digitalization master plan for Brunei in June.

Livein

Maulidan is working with other young entrepreneurs on a digital platform that will promote rural tourism in Indonesia. His goal is to make it easy for tourists to plan a vacation in any of the country’s more than 75,000 villages. Called Livein, the village tourism networking website and app will offer an end-to-end solution, from providing information on participating villages to online booking and payment services.

Tourism has been badly hit by the COVID-19 travel restrictions, which means this may not be the right time to embark on a tourism startup. However, Livein is proposing a different business model that takes current challenges in stride.

The idea is to move away from mass tourism and to instead develop private tours, says Maulidan. In the new normal, rural villages provide an alternative to popular holiday destinations that attract large groups of people, which make it difficult to practice social distancing. At the same time, this will open economic opportunities for rural areas and support community development.

Village tourism is similar in concept to community-based ecotourism, where residents manage tourism attractions and activities to support livelihoods, improve community welfare, and preserve and protect the cultural heritage and natural environment.

Examples of community-based ecotourism in Indonesia can be found in the Raja Ampat islands in West Papua and Cenderawasih Bay, which is between northern Papua and West Papua provinces.

Livein has yet to be launched. The startup is waiting for an angel investor to beef up its capital.

Supply Bunny

Kengyew Tham is no stranger to startups. He has worked with Silicon Valley startups and has founded some of his own, including a global events business matching website.

In 2016, Tham saw an opportunity in the restaurant supply chain. He created Supply Bunny as a digital marketplace that connects restaurants directly with wholesale food and beverage suppliers in Malaysia, eliminating the middleman in order to reduce costs. Customers committed to buy a fixed amount of supplies regularly in exchange for lower prices.

With the tagline “No one likes expensive groceries,” Supply Bunny initially targeted small restaurants, cafés, and startups in the Klang Valley. The business was off to a promising start, especially after getting seed funding from Shanghai-based venture capital Gobi Partners.

When COVID-19 hit the country, the government had to take action to prevent the spread of the disease. It issued the Movement Control Order in March. Restaurants had to temporarily close shop, like many businesses, or open only for deliveries and takeaways.

Supply Bunny was affected by the reduced demand but quickly recovered by pivoting the business toward the home groceries market. However, it did not have enough riders, and households will typically order only a small amount of groceries.

Tham came up with the Stockist Program, which solved the problem by convincing people to buy groceries in bulk to save money and to sell to their neighborhood. Housewives, freelancers, and those who lost income because of the business closures joined the program. Supply Bunny provided them with a grocery catalog, software to take orders, and special pricing. Tham says the program helped not only to ensure people will have food during the crisis but also provided income to families.

Buylocal.ph

John Naranjo runs Ingenuity Software, a software development company based in Davao City.

In mid-March, the city was placed under community quarantine. John and his staff had to stay home. They decided to stage virtual hackathons among themselves to help solve problems related to the pandemic in three sectors: education, healthcare, and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

The SME hackathon resulted in the setting up of Buylocal.ph, which promotes homegrown enterprises and helps them shift to e-commerce quickly. Created in partnership with the Department of Trade and Industry and the Davao Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the website was launched in May. More than 200 enterprises have signed up, most of them from Davao.

Worldwide, SMEs are among the most affected sectors in the COVID-19 crisis. They need assistance from government and business associations to bounce back and revive their operations. E-commerce can help them get back on track.

Some SMEs have a Facebook page; many do not have a website, says John. Forced to close their stores during the community quarantine, they must now adapt and bring their businesses online to survive.

Buylocal.ph is helping “accelerate the digital transformation of SMEs” and provide access to their goods and services with the use of technology. It provides directory listing and catalogue services, makes it easier and faster to create an e-commerce storefront, and offers payment integration, tracking of sales and customer loyalty, as well as onboarding and training of staff. The Ingenuity team is also developing a mobile app, which will be launched soon.

The LIVEX 2020 webinar was hosted by Cherrylin Casuga, vice-president for industry of the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The first session was held on 30 June and featured leaders and stakeholders of the ICT industry from the BIMP-EAGA subregion.