June 25, 2021

BUSINESS IN THE TIME OF COVID – how start-ups managed

Life can be a major obstacle race for any start-up founder, but Covid posed the biggest one of them all. Lockdowns put paid to all plans of meeting buyers and sourcing from vendors. Employees were asked to either work from home or laid off or work at reduced salaries. No one knew what would happen next.


K Shriram

But then fortune favours the brave. And entrepreneurs quickly adapted to these changes faster than a chameleon would. Take K Shriram, founder of Emprotek, a company that provides IOT solutions to manufacturing and healthcare industry. “Before Covid we were on the path to growth. We had four to five projects per month and like any other start-up we expected growth to not just be static at 5 projects per month but grow exponentially. Growing is a necessity when you are a start-up. But unfortunately, Covid came and post Covid we are at the same pace we were in 2019 – five projects a month. So, in terms of Covid impact we lost out on growth.”

K Shriram, founder, Emprotek:
It’s better to use your R&D skills by first getting a brief from the client and then work on a solution rather than vice versa.

This meant Shriram had to quickly respond to the demands placed by the working of a tiny virus. “Before Covid our marketing guys would go personally to meet prospective clients. This was needed because we have to understand their needs and customize our service accordingly. But meeting anyone was impossible during the lockdown.”

Shriram now came to understand the importance of digital marketing. “We quickly adapted to these new needs. Since we have engineers in-house, we crafted our own social media marketing campaign and that helped us reach out to our customers”

The lockdown also changed the perspective for some. Shriram who up until now had 75% clients from the manufacturing sector and 25% from the healthcare industry shifted to focus more on healthcare. “Since this industry came in sharp focus because of the pandemic, we now have 50% healthcare projects and 50% manufacturing.”


Amit Agarwal

For Amit Agarwal of Bala Software, the pandemic did not really impact the bottom line since they supply IT services to clients abroad. However, the method of working changed. Says Amit, “our employees would come to office and work. But lockdowns changed all that. We had to quickly change to the Work-From-Home (WFH) model.”  That came with its own learnings. “Because when people WFH initially their discipline is hard to manage. You could take a nap when you wanted or cook between work. As a result, our employees had to put in almost 12-14 hours to get the work done. So, we had to invest in new teachings of how to manage this problem and also ensure that our employees managed a good work-life balance whilst working from home

Dhiraj Ostwal

Santosh Patidar

The worst hit industries during the pandemic were possibly ones where customers had physical contact with the service provider. Tourism, hotels, gyms and salons. And for Santosh Patidar, co-founder of DINGG, a SaaS platform to manage Salon & spa operations, it came hard. Says he, “before Covid we had 290 customers using our platform however with lockdown our revenue growth hit significantly.

Santosh Patidar, founder, Dingg:
It is conservatism has helped me ride through these Covid waves.

A hard truth for anyone to swallow. “Before Covid we were on a growth path and had very good monthly revenues. We were about to reach break-even and were expecting to grow. But since you can’t go to a spa digitally, it hits hard on our business.”

However taking calculated risks is part of being an entrepreneur, Santosh & Akshay worked up on some numbers. While they are still putting in money every month. “Delay in opening Salon & Spa can cause more damages”

So, They changed his business model. “Instead of paying for the full year before using our platform we are now offering clients a couple of months free trial. It was a hit and able to onboard close to 300+ new customers so far and we are confident that after the free trial they will get hooked on to our platform and ready to pay.”

Also, We are expanding the client base to foreign shores. “Our team is researching different markets for that, this will help us mitigate the risk of further lockdowns”

What are the lessons learnt from this pandemic?

Shriram’s Emprotek was pretty focused on developing solutions via their in- house R&D. Which meant making a studied guess on what the market wants. “But with Covid and the Govt’s push to make in India, we got lot of offers to develop products for the healthcare industry. Customers called us and said this is made in the US. See if you can better it. It’s better to use your R&D skills this way – get a brief and then work on a solution rather than vice versa.”

For Santosh it is conservatism. “It is important to keep your spending lean. Of course, you can’t grow if you do not spend however conservatism has helped us tide through these Covid waves.”


Dhiraj Ostwal

Dhiraj Ostwal who is a Chartered Accountant and runs a business consultancy Dynamic Consulting, that helps small and large businesses alike, feels, “the problem is that no one really prepares for rock bottom. When you start your company planning for the worst like this Covid scenario is not on anyone’s mind. You have to be ready to change and learn new things very quickly.”

Dhiraj Ostwal, founder, Dynamic Consulting:
One must have a plan for the worst-case scenario. No founder thinks of this when starting his business.

“Take for example the food delivery platforms. The business exists even in these days but you have to be able to pay them well, have a retention program, train them very quickly on Covid appropriate behavior and so on. The clothing industry could have taken advantage of changing from making fashion clothes to making PPEs. But then you need to have the ability to keep up with new demands. You need to have a plan for the worst-case scenario.”

TiE Nurture:

Worldwide the success rate for start-ups is 10%. But at TiE Pune’s Nurture Accelerator program it is 39%. While our numbers tell their own story, we showcase here our mentees who tell how TiE helped their business.


Prakash & Sushma Patel

Sushma Patel, co-founder Rest-in-Pee

What does Rest-In-Pee do?
We manufacture REST IN PEE, an emergency disposable pocket urinal. It can be used by travellers and people with certain medical conditions. With Rest In Pee one doesn’t have to find a toilet or look for water. With little privacy, just open the bag, empty the contents of the sachet provided into it and pee directly into the bag. The urine gets converted into the fragrant gel instantly and doesn’t spill!

What made you join this program:
We launched our product in June 2019 and we got tremendous success and sales for a few months. Later it gradually dropped. We were clueless as to why and what went wrong?! Then Ajay Hiraskar, customer from Pune, told us about TiE . Promptly we joined TIE Surat and soon we enrolled for the TiE Nurture Accelerator program and got selected for the same.

How has the Nurture Accelerator helped you:
The Nurture Accelerator program turned out as a boon to us! We had no idea as to what exactly is a start-up and what are the steps and journey of an entrepreneur. Through this program we learnt everything from scratch, be it the start-up vocabulary, to business models, knowing your customers, to fund raising pitches! Everything!

What were the three most important learnings?

  1. Know your customers first. Check whether they ACTUALLY need your product or not, then launch the product.
  2. For scalability, one needs to have a good go-to-market strategy and business model.
  3. The start-up journey is not a smooth road and it needs constant learnings and persistence.

What’s your message to other founders?
Message is KNOW your customer first. The start-up world is entirely different and never hesitate to take help and learnings from non-profit organizations like TIE. Yeh safar hai kathin magar naa udaas ho mere humsafar…Reach out to the people out there who are willing to hold hand and provide one-on-one guidance during the start-up journey!

 our website www.restinpee.com

 Contact us if you have a story to tell: rashmi.ghosh@tiepune.org