Rising and Thriving in a Crisis: 4 Lessons from our Portfolio Heroes

There is no question that there has never been a more challenging time to be an entrepreneur. While uncertainty has always been the name of the game for founders, even in times of economic prosperity, this is magnified multi-fold in times of crisis. Here we are, 9 months into the pandemic and still learning to navigate the uncharted waters of this new world, a world that has disrupted business-as-usual for many and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. 

With instability, comes lifelong lessons. The pandemic is pushing founders to account for and mitigate against worst-case scenarios in meaningful ways. It is preparing them for whatever comes today and tomorrow. 

During our Second Annual General Meeting, we held a panel discussion with our portfolio founders that have exemplified resilience and adaptability in these times. They shared their successes and what it took to achieve them. Today, we share some of these key take-aways with you. Here are 4 lessons from 4 of our portfolio heroes.

#1 Customer-centricity is, and will always be, the focal point for success. 

Mona Ataya, CEO and founder of Mumzworld, an e-commerce platform for moms and children, saw demand for its services grow by 800% between January and March 2020. She explains that this exponential uptick in demand required a simultaneous optimization of the efficiency of their supply chain, and a careful evaluation of how Mumzworld can best meet this increase in demand, while, at the same time, maintain excellence in customer service. 

They have had to adapt to new market conditions, with merchandise now coming from international suppliers to ensure that their customers’ specific and unique needs are met in these times. The platform onboarded 7000 new SKUs in the COVID period alone. Ataya explains that, in such a fluid environment, the team changed in DNA, with employees being relocated to core functions such as supply chain and customer care. Navigating the crisis was a matter of mobilizing everyone around the idea that every single day of the next few months will be a new normal, and that the team’s operational DNA must reflect the times. For Mona, the pandemic revealed a crucial aspect of the Mumzworld team: that they are flexible, fluid and malleable. Ultimately, this is what enabled them to come out of the crisis winning and thriving. 

#2 Think, and rethink.

Amir Allam, CEO and founder of elmenus, a food discovery and delivery start-up based in Cairo, describes how the pandemic led him and his team to engage in a rigorous reassessment of the business’ costs and operational necessities. For a food business in a crisis, it was important to reallocate resources from marketing toward customer acquisition efforts. He explains how this redistribution led to a decrease in the cost of acquisition, which subsequently catalyzed the company’s profitability point. In fact, elmenus more than doubled its order volume since January 2020. 

Amir also mentioned that, in the process of thinking and rethinking the business, it was crucial to differentiate between the permanent and the temporary trends and shifts in consumer behavior. In the beginning of the pandemic, customers were more reluctant to have food delivered out of fear of cross-contamination and preferred preparing the meals themselves. Over time, as restaurants and delivery platforms embedded hygiene and safety measures within their operations, consumers returned to food delivery. 

#3 Growth and expansion happen at the intersection of adaptability and diligence. 

Arrow Labs, and its all-encompassing Workforce Management Solution MIMS, witnessed a significant jump in its client base during the first months of the pandemic. In a market environment characterized by cost-cutting measures and halted growth plans, Arrow Labs was not only successful at acquiring new customers, they also expanded their reach to new geographies, including Indonesia and the United Kingdom. Rami Darwish, CEO of the company, attributes this success to two key factors. The first one is the realization that the need for a more connected workforce in a time when remote work is set to redefine employment dynamics in the foreseeable future is a global one. The second is the readiness of Arrow Labs’ platform and its team to provide a solution to such a widespread global challenge. Combined, both factors have allowed the business to not only survive the crisis, but also prosper.

#4 Move outside your business’ “comfort” zone.  

The concept of pivoting has been used ubiquitously as the common success factor underpinning the businesses and founders that have come out of the crisis winning. Kitopi, a cloud kitchen platform expanding food and grocery delivery capabilities for F&B outlets in the UAE, Saudi and Kuwait, exemplifies the concept. In March 2020 and in direct response to shifting consumer behavior caused by the pandemic, they launched Shop Kitopi, a one-stop-shop for essentials and other food items in Dubai. Mohamad Ballout, the company’s CEO and co-founder, explains how its launch was directly enabled by their team and business model’s ability to expand and adapt. In fact, as he puts it “we realized that there are plenty of opportunities within food, except they weren’t in food delivery ” in the first months of the pandemic. The team then came to another realization: that 80% of the items they needed to launch a grocery vertical were already held in stock. Within 10 days, Shop Kitopi was born. To this day, the segment is growing at a fast pace.

Running across all four of these takeaways is the common idea that a necessary amount of adaptability and resilience ultimately defines the outcome of the crisis on a business. This is not a one-off lesson.  There is a silver lining for entrepreneurs in this pandemic. With all its uncertainty and disruption, the current crisis is essentially moulding resilience into a business’ very ethos, making founders, teams and businesses stronger than they have ever been before.