COVID-19 has caused major disruptions globally. This crisis is intensifying and evolving every now and then. At the current state, public healthcare systems of many countries are taking actions to curb foreigners from entering their boundaries.
Undoubtedly, the focus should be on controlling and mitigating the outbreak. However, the economies have been significantly affected. Global financial markets have created fears in many investors about the pandemic. The negative impacts at this juncture have led to many companies facing great challenges. How can enterprises prepare for such crisis and turn it into an opportunity?
We are privileged to have Hong Sin, CEO and Founder of Sinwattana to share their journey during this arduous period. Sinwattana curates and supports businesses looking to expand into the Asian market, starting with Thailand. From crowdfunding, to business resources, to helping position your business across a broad range of industries. Sinwattana is the new funding pathway to do business in the Asian market.
1. Pertaining to COVID-19, what are the impacts on your company?
I remembered in mid-January 2020, Thailand was one of the 2 countries to be affected badly by the virus outbreak; but travelling to neighbouring countries for conference and meetings was still feasible.
On 12 March 2020, WHO declared COVID-19 as a pandemic. This is the day that I took it seriously and called for my human resource manager and office manager to start working on a 6-month plan and structured a contingency plan on remote working #WFH – reduction of operating cost that might possibly lead to salary reduction if the situation does not improve and hoping to get some support from local government plan. But obviously, this is not possible as I am a foreigner business license holder with an operation of 24 Thai employees.
I sought for standby funding by mortgaging my apartment at a bad rate just to ensure there are sufficient cash flow as our business had just taken off. The fear crept in with many “WHAT IF”… Still remembering the day that I went to sign the mortgage was of confusion and heartaches – just as we were about to launch 7 investment deals and some great alliances; COVID-19 hit hard on not just us but also the entire Thailand where key GDP contributors were all impacted.
During this period, we had our internal brainstorming session on why we will survive this crisis more than how we can survive this crisis! We thought of all partners or alliances that we had been in discussion on bio-life-science projects, healthcare-related projects, social development projects; we clearly know that this is the time where our social platform will come in to serve the changing environment.
We have seen an increase of crowdfunding adoption in Thailand. We witnessed a shift and openness to seek for support to get on a platform. We have more projects on social requirements to support COVID-19 while all investment projects went on hibernation to likely June 2020 for launching. We are still receiving queries daily.
As our social crowdfunding platform offer zero charge for non-profit organisations, our work done does not bring us income but indirectly benefits us as we place our brand out to serve and to get people to get to know us.
We have prepped our employees to expect pay cuts for these 6 months and on recovery, we will not only revert the wages but also to payback the % that we have reduced from employee wages. During this period is where we rallied people to do their best to serve Thailand and work at 100% with Sinwattana and to trust me and the company that we will win this together.
2. What will be your suggestions for the other businesses to tide through this challenging period? What are the measures adopted by your company to mitigate the impacts caused by the pandemic?
The negative economic impacts from zero tourism disrupted many livelihoods in various trade and other vertical industries like manufacturing. One of the worst hits are to the SMEs and startups, especially when the regular investors hold up their investment. While the Thailand government may have mentioned providing stimulus, the funding process will take some time.
I went through SARS when I was running my cyber security boutique company in Singapore. I would not want to say it in any way better – every crisis comes opportunity! As an entrepreneur with purpose, I sacrifice things and time as there is a big price to pay but it is going to be worth it. The key questions that run consciously are “Why do I want to fight this? Is it worth fighting? Am I alone or do I have a team who is fighting the crisis with me?” COVID-19 crisis and worse off oil issues are like a double whammy to the investment market; I was reminded by my board of directors to watch the cashflow and to be prudent too.
Seeking employees’ support is one key factor to fight the crisis. Their extra miles, their alertness, their response and their commitment have to go 100%. In the midst of crisis, I have to make tough and unpopular decisions, emotionally challenged on telling my employees that I need their help to fight the battle with me; being vulnerable is just inevitable as I need to be honest with them.
Because of the increase in social projects, we realised that we need to shift some manpower to do work that were never their forte and seek for their flexibility to take on the new responsibility as firing is never a choice and we hope we do not have to do it.
Every company culture varies, I am a very hands-on person; it is usually the crisis that put everyone to test and only when we are in the crisis, we will then know who is the fittest! Business owners in SMEs and startups are always the ones who shoulder the load in order to keep the company afloat. This is so when I am the sole owner of the company with a young team. It takes a lot of trust and expectations, but when the company has multiple founders and partners, they can spread the load and be responsible to handle the challenges during crisis. This would be the time where they learned to work better and step up as a stronger team. Otherwise, this is also the time where the company goes bust due to the differences in opinions.
3. How long will it take to resume as normal?
On the ground, there are speculations that the next 6 months a vaccine will be created while others worry that it may take 3 years. Maybe from this whole episode, we will see the new norm! I did not overthink on the timeframe as I face what is current than to worry about recovery. What matters to us in Sinwattana is to face the day and make the best of the worst day; being appreciative may help us to ground on empathy and compassion. It is always the tough times that people start to not take things for granted.
We currently have a full-fledged platform from social to investment model; with the additional license that we are expecting to secure – debt securities will open new doors to an interesting market on issuing bonds as well as launching 2 joint venture crowdfunding portal and a real-estate crowdfunding platform.
We are looking forward to open Sinwattana for investment after we cross this crisis.
4. There will be opportunities in a crisis. What and how are the opportunities to be identified in this case?
The global health issue has definitely changed the landscape on our routines and how we operate – working from home, limited traveling, shopping online, ordering food with home delivery etc; this may be the mark of a restart on the global economy called “home-economy” that might possibly bring out the new norm that results in new structural changes in how we live.
In order to survive, many businesses have to pivot swiftly and focus on home-economy. Should the situation be tightened, one will not be able to leave home to buy their groceries and instead of you going out, services will reach your doorstep now.
For businesses that refuse or cannot adjust to the crisis, they typically will have to fold, especially since this COVID-19 is not just in one country, it is affecting the whole world. As it is truly a difficult time for many, at some point, we humans will adjust and adapt to what we call the new norm.
Sinwattana’s team has already been working from home since 24 March 2020. We find it a lot more effective and productive simply because systems and processes get a lot clearer and structured. Our business team finds new ways to engage customers by using all types of online meeting or messaging apps; operations find it time-saving and disciplined to support the business unit with a sense of urgency while development team channels their energy to work on timelines to meet the demands of the functionalities for the new platform.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, crowdfunding has become one recognised platform to serve the social demands for donation due to the level of transparency and ease of contribution.
The impact of COVID-19 varies by industry, it is really no one sentence that can fit all…. The rebound of markets will take time but the resilience of humans will win over as proven and seen in many past crises. We will learn to adapt, adjust and apply for the new home-economy to take off….
A few industries are already enjoying a resurgence: e-commerce, logistics, e-payment, health, telemedicine, drones delivery, online gaming and entertainment E-books and more…
People will start living differently – likely healthier, paying more attention to environment and changes their priorities after a big crisis.
Will Sinwattana still need an office space as to pay such high rental fees if we can work well after the lockdown? You never know!
We may just pass the savings to our team to provide greater living and continue to build strong trust in all new members to the team to serve this powerful alternative finance space called crowdfunding.
About BlackStorm Consulting
BlackStorm Consulting (http://blackstormco.asia) is a boutique growth consultancy firm that specialises in corporate strategy, profit management and investment management. We mainly serve clients in four sectors: FinTech, Gaming, Technology, Media and Telecommunications (TMT), and manufacturing.
Our clients and connections are internationally present and range from small and medium sized businesses, MNCs, to government agencies.