When Covid-19 first struck Singapore, those in the events business – venue operators, caterers, entertainers, videographers, etc. – watched with trepidation as business declined.
It was gradual at first as one event after another was postponed. Within a month or two, as more and more pandemic mitigation measures kicked in, the grimness of the situation was felt in its entirety.
“Our business is predominantly in the events sector but now, there are no events to speak of, so our business partners have been heavily impacted,” says Melissa Lou, Co-Founder and CEO of Singapore start-up, Delegate.
Delegate is an event-planning platform which Melissa and her Co-Founder, Jacqueline Ye started in 2015. They describe the online platform as a turnkey events solution. It’s essentially a marketplace for people to discover vendors and services and book everything they need for a successful event.
The service operates on a subscription model for vendors. Depending on the plan they choose, vendors can get help managing daily operations, generating leads, and handling bookings.
Melissa and Jacqueline’s desire to make event-planning a breeze was inspired by their own pain points when they had to plan events in their previous jobs.
They bootstrapped for the first year and started receiving healthy funding thereafter.
Today, they have more than 3,000 vendors and over 100,000 users on the platform, and have expanded to Hong Kong.
They are still optimistic about entering the Indonesian market, but have temporarily put their plans on hold because of current conditions.
A DIFFERENT VALUE PROPOSITION IN A CRISIS
While all their vendor-partners have been severely impacted by the pandemic, rendering Delegate temporarily irrelevant, Melissa and Jacqueline have found ways to keep going in the last few months.
They are offering vendors a different value proposition.
“We have had to change our strategies to cope. For example, since they can’t make revenue from events, we allow them to sell other services on the platform. We launched an e-commerce storefront for them to sell gift cards, care packs and event packages that people can buy now and redeem later,” explains Melissa.
They’ve also launched an event business support hub which provides channels to resources such as financing in the form of loan products for vendors.
These were plans that they had in the pipeline to be executed much later, but the pandemic has provided the impetus to accelerate them.
“When Covid-19 hit, we were watching to see where things were going. When we realised it would be long-term, we polled our vendor-partners to find out what types of assistance they would require to tide over this period,” says Jacqueline.
In addition to responding with business resources and alternative monetisation channels, Delegate also created a content hub to help vendors that are mostly small and medium enterprises cope with a new way of working and doing business.
It has information resources such as business templates and ideas for productivity tools.
“WE’RE HERE FOR THEM EVERY STEP OF THE WAY”
Delegate itself earns revenue on transaction fees on its new e-commerce storefront. Their subscription model continues and many of the vendors have a pre-paid annual subscription.
In a show of solidarity, they’ve also offered a free 3-month subscription to new vendors. This allows them to immediately upload their products and services to cater to users who can buy now and redeem later.
“We want to empower them by giving them access to build their own e-commerce storefront to help them get some sort of revenue and cashflow at this point,” says Jacqueline.
“We want them to know that we’re here for them every step of the way,” adds Melissa.
For now, they feel that in spite of the loss in revenue, Delegate will be able to sustain itself for the foreseeable future.
The duo sees many silver linings in a landscape that others consider ravaged by devastating challenges.
“Building all this when Covid hit allowed us to think fast on our feet. It accelerated many of our initiatives. The situation has also allowed our team to become more agile and to adapt our business focus,” says Melissa.
Their team of 19 people spans three countries – Singapore, the Philippines and Indonesia.
Being a tech company, they are accustomed to working remotely to varying degrees and when remote working became necessary, they were able to adapt quickly and began deploying product pipelines and new offerings.
“Kudos to our team for being able to do all this!” Jacqueline wants to be sure this message gets out.
Having implemented cost-cutting measures in other areas and considering government initiatives such as the Jobs Support Scheme, the downturn has not seen their employees take a hit.
They remain optimistic.
Melissa expounds the rationale behind this.
“The mentality of a tech startup is to try, fail and try again. They say for tech companies to be successful, you have to be able to survive four near-death experiences. This could count as a near-death experience. Having a more agile mindset, being open to change and having an attitude centred on motivation to sustain what we have and our vision really helps.”
Their vision has not changed – to enable vendors to use digital platforms to their advantage to create better sales channels and to empower them to market themselves digitally.
For users, it’s to provide an end-to-end solution for creating and delivering great experiences through events.
GRATITUDE, EMPATHY AND COMPASSION
However, Jacqueline admits this has been a “stressful period”
“I’m teaching myself ways to cope – cultivating a gratitude practice in terms of being thankful for the good things we have. I’m also thankful we’re able to come together as a team. Going through hard times builds stronger bonds.”
“Whether during good times or bad it’s important to have a direction for the team and motivate them. We also want to look at our different stakeholders, see how they are impacted and try to fix things for them. We can’t really carve out a clear direction because of the uncertainty. It’s not easy. But at least we have something to keep us going. We’re blessed,” adds Melissa.
This mindset has also made them pause to further cultivate a culture of empathy and compassion.
They cite how Tripadvisor started a support network to help place its retrenched staff in other companies.
“It’s inspiring, something we can all learn from. For businesses all these years, it’s been very much about capitalism, but now there are a lot of community-driven initiatives. We need to slow down and empathise with stakeholders – staff, customers or investors – to show solidarity. Humanity, collaboration and connection are vital human values that we must not forget. I hope businesses will change the way they look at their top line and how they operate in order to promote collaboration rather than competition,” says Melissa.
CONFRONT YOUR FEARS, BE NIMBLE AND RESILIENT
The girls also have advice for those who have been displaced by the current crisis.
“Everyone has a fear of trying new things. But right now is the perfect time to do so if you find yourself displaced. It doesn’t have to be an ideal salary or job. Just be willing to try anything. Don’t be fixated on any particular path.”
It’s a lesson they themselves have learnt through this crisis. It has taught them “to confront fear in a positive way, as opposed to freezing.”
“If we weren’t willing to try new things, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
For Jacqueline, this experience is helping build further resilience.
“I’m generally a very curious person which means inevitably, I’ve experienced a lot of falls, so I’ve learnt to pick myself up. During hard times, I think it’s good to be curious about what this particular moment is teaching you.”
For example, the pandemic’s effects on the economy should teach organisations to be “flexible, nimble and less beholden to bureaucratic structures,” she says.
Their advice to entrepreneurs is clear.
“This is not a good time to raise capital because people would be less inclined to invest. Bootstrap in order to test different methods, experiment as much as you can, get a better product-market fit. Knowing your customers is more important now than building a perfect solution and perfect product,” says Melissa.
A crisis could indeed be the perfect opportunity to build a more robust foundation for future breakthroughs.