The Covid-19 pandemic has sent a devastating economic shockwave around the globe, forcing entire industries to a standstill, stock markets to fall, and unemployment to soar. But even a recession can present opportunities for businesses to thrive and prosper, provided that they possess courage, foresight, and ingenuity.
Take the award-winning eCommerce platform, and TIP cycle one startup, ecomz for instance. “The bottleneck is finally back on the technical side of the business,” boasted its founder Rudy Bekerejian. “All the weight used to be on sales,” he continued, before gleefully explaining that this was a very welcome change as it means that, going forward, their main challenge will be about keeping up with the demand.
Rudy founded ecomz in 2015. October 2019 was on course to be a record month for them – just 3 months prior, they had secured a $4M dollar investment round, and the company was cashing in on increasing sales.
The company operates in more than 55 countries, where it has helped more than 7,000 merchants generate over $50M in sales. It has won numerous accolades, including being named as a Top 10 Business by ArabNet in 2017, and has been recognized by Google and Disrupt San Francisco (TechCrunch). Ecomz has also been awarded by the touch Innovation Program (TIP) in 2018.
But things started to falter when protestors took to the streets in Lebanon. Getting to the office became a challenge, and work efficiency naturally suffered. Ongoing projects slowed down and new business dried up almost entirely. The situation did improve in December, but along came the Coronavirus.
Ironically, the unrest in Beirut had prepared the ecomz team for the pandemic. “It was just another problem”, said Rudy. The team was already working remotely and dealing with the challenges that popped up. The real difference for them came from a change in attitude from potential clients Rudy tells me.
At the onset of the pandemic everyone was confused, he explained. But around 3 weeks ago, quarantined CEOs and founders got bored and restless, and finally realized that they needed to act. And that’s when demand exploded for ecomz. Even clients that had been in negotiations with them for years suddenly rushed to go online.
And although purchasing power has still yet to recover, there is an increased empathy to online services, as Rudy put it. Some of their merchants have experienced increases in sales ranging between 200 and 400 per cent! “There’s a wave and we’re riding on top of it.”
So what does it take to steer your company forward in this shaky climate? Rudy’s golden rules say: Don’t panic, focus on growth, and optimize your chances. Being an entrepreneur is all about being up against the wall he said.
First and foremost, work on the culture. When everything was falling apart, Rudy took it upon himself to keep the team motivated. It’s particularly important to “push your HoDs” and keep them inspired in those troubled times.
Second, for ecomz right now, scaling is of the essence. The company considers Lebanon to be its experimental backyard but also focuses on the UAE, Egypt, and KSA markets. “Everything is slow and the ecosystem is hard,” but the time to reach out and expand is definitely now according to Rudy. For ecomz, scaling is particularly attractive as he feels that the local market isn’t very competitive in their vertical.
In this regard, the company started producing educational content aimed at entrepreneurs and merchants. They run weekly Instagram Live sessions with experts from MENA to talk about key ecommerce topics and to prove that shifting online is not as difficult as it sounds. They’ve leveraged their social media accounts to shed the light on tools for a successful ecommerce business. And they also published a comprehensive “10 steps to create an online store” guide to help merchants create their online business.
Finally, seek mentors and advisors to help you navigate this journey, seek more investment – try to find foreign investors, and optimize and automate tasks whenever possible.
So what about unresolved obstacles? Hiring has been a challenge Rudy told me – it’s difficult to properly interview people, and even more challenging to train them at this time. Furthermore, he lamented the government’s efforts: what companies miss most right now is stability. “I wish there was an agency that was able to tell us what is going to happen,” he concluded.
Ecomz is not the only startup that is flourishing amid the pandemic. Over the coming weeks, we will be bringing you more stories from tenacious TIP alumni startups navigating the crises, hoping to inspire, motivate, and spread a few valuable lessons. So stay tuned!
Incidentally, Ecomz was one of the very first startups that underwent the touch Innovation Program back in 2018. And the program is currently accepting applications for its 4th Cycle, which will be held under the theme of Crisis Management. Six high-potential entrepreneurs will be selected as “touch Innovators” and you can be one of them. To access more information on eligibility and to apply, please click here.