The pandemic truly affected the economy in many negative ways. As an entrepreneur, how did you sell during the pandemic?
Adaptability is the key to survival
Ankiti describes the striking differences of their strategies pre and during pandemic. Before the pandemic, B2B sales have always been a very in person and hands on activity. As the pandemic hit, all sourcing of products had to be made through virtual screens in order to adapt with the new norm of social distancing. To further enhance the customer’s experience during the pandemic, Ankiti mentioned that Zilingo took the extra mile to send the goods over to their customers, where they would be able to sample the products at the safety of their homes. A strategic and genuine move that shows that their customers’ well being are the utmost priority. “It is only natural for the pandemic to negatively impact and take a toll on many businesses. However, entrepreneurs who are creative would be able to leverage the tools and available technologies to make their businesses flourish even further despite the pandemic hurdle”, explains Ankiti.
Vivy reveals that as a fashion e-commerce, it was inevitable for them to be heavily affected by the pandemic. Not only did the pandemic negatively affected their offline sales, but they also had to develop so many new elements such as pushing one hour deliveries, launching instalment plans and concierge services. In addition to that, she explained that they even changed a chunk of their product plan, where they rearranged their prioritization with less fashion focused products and more home and living products as well as essentials. Throughout the pandemic, Vivy realized that it wasn’t about growth, but it was pure survival. Fortunately, her company survived well, getting through the hardest phase of the pandemic. Vivy says that, “I am proud to say that even though we are in the fashion industry, until now we’ve had to do zero retrenchments and zero salary cuts. The pandemic is truly a testament that you can be hit by anything but if you can adapt and your business can adapt, you're going to be absolutely fine”.
Referenceability as a game changer
As the world is constantly changing, having the openness in learning something new everyday is necessary- to have the mindset of evolution. Like Vivy, Ankiti also believes that companies are specially tested on these mindsets during the pandemic. “Through COVID-19, I learned the importance of trust towards building the company brand”. She explains that, when they gain great trust from their customers, things naturally take their way for the better. This is because, when customers trust a brand, they almost always let others know as well. Due to this, it boosts the brand to grow even bigger. Here, it is clear to Ankiti that referenceability is a real game changer for the company. “As we have notable companies as reference, it easily creates trust for other people to be our clients as well”, said Ankiti.
Did trust play an important role in branding?
Authenticity and vulnerability is where trust is built
Ankiti believes in the importance of being authentic and having the willingness to be vulnerable at times, especially as a startup. Ankiti said, “authenticity and vulnerability as well as accountability, is where trust is built, and trust goes a long way”. Agreeing with the other speakers, Ankiti further reaffirmed that, “for a brand to gain referenceability, they need to build trust. Trust is very tough to build, but very easy to lose”. As she grows as an entrepreneur, she learned that vulnerability is an important tool in building trust. The willingness to be vulnerable and hold oneself accountable, simply gives trust to consumers to take action.
Transparency with employees
The power of trust goes a long way - not only with the customers but also with the employees. At FashionValet, Vivy says there is a major trust exchange internally, as they ensure that every individual is in the same boat- riding the ups and downs as a team.. A value they practise is to ‘bite on a humble pie’. In going through the pandemic, she explains that it is important for an entrepreneur to trust in their employees’ capabilities, especially during hard times. “Lucky for me, our team was very efficient and quick on their feet as they came up with counter-strategies for the problems caused by the pandemic. They didn’t wait around and waste a single minute”, says Vivy proudly.
Sustaining trust with consistency
As you gain trust from consumers, it is important for a brand to maintain the trust that they hardly earned. “For a company to sustain the trust, they must provide the customers with consistency”, says Veronica. This means being consistent in delivering a good performance. Only with that, it helps to maintain one’s reputation especially among the respective industry. She further added that matching customers' expectations would also help in maintaining the dynamic. Veronica says, “continue to satisfy them and they’ll be loyal, continue to frustrate them and they’ll simply leave”.
How do you distinguish yourself from the different branding styles/approaches?
Branding is unique to each person and company. It really depends on the company stand, and how the entrepreneur approaches it. Vivy believes that it is almost impossible to separate the personal branding from the founder. “For it to be possible, the founder would have to step away from the business”, she further adds. She realised that branding is unique and in the current modern society, the trend is to have a brand that is humanised. Therefore, more brands are reaching out to influencers to become a board director or to be the face to their brand.
Last but not least, what’s the best advice you have received?
Deliver and let it speak for themselves
Each individual is different and is simply human. Hande begins this discussion by explaining the importance of a mentor-mentee relationship. “I personally have a mentor that plays an important role in shaping my entrepreneurial journey”, Hande explains. It was always a concern for her personally that there were doubts of her being a woman in the technology industry, as well as other challenges she faced as a female entrepreneur. However, she discloses that the mentor has taught her to ignore the comments and continue to work hard. “That became a golden principle in my life. That if I constantly put out good results, the results would speak for themselves”.
Don’t compare yourself
Vivy kept it simple by saying that an entrepreneur should always be true to themselves and work at their own pace. “Don’t compare yourself to others because no one is rushing you”, Vivy says. As she further strengthens previous points on trust, Vivy shared that, “with customers you always owe it to them to be authentic, and authenticity may take some time. So take your time and deliver at your best original quality”.
Perfect is the enemy of good
An advice that is focused more on product and business models compared to marketing and branding, Ankiti shared that an entrepreneur should make the most of customers’ opinions and reviews. It is extremely important for brands to learn from feedback rather than waiting on perfection. “If you wait for it to be perfect, it’ll be too late. So take the risk, put it out there and get that feedback”, Ankiti says. Learning from others’ perspectives, especially the customers themselves, is much more productive for the brand than trying to score perfection from the very get go.
Trust your capabilities
Giving the perfect conclusion to the discussion, Veronica pointed out the dilemma women in professional settings have to go through where they often get overlooked or undermined. Hence, she believes it is important for women to step forward and speak up. Veronica says, “Female entrepreneurs should step out of their comfort zone and not be shy. As women, we often feel the need to deliver more than the usual standard. So step forward and speak up. Trust your own capabilities to make it happen, do not be afraid and believe in your value. When women work hard, they can achieve anything”.
The content of this article is summarised from the EndeavHER session organised by the APAC Endeavor offices: Endeavor Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam & Japan. Endeavor is the world’s leading community of high-impact entrepreneurs. We dream big, scale up, and pay it forward. Follow us on our social media pages to get the latest news on upcoming events and key learnings.