Mano Sekaram – Founder and CEO, 99X
We first need to see how countries are preparing to face a post-COVID world. We can observe a shift to a closed economy and towards nationalist, self-sufficient ecosystems due to global supply chain disruptions. Within businesses, we will see digitization and digital transformation at a pace we have never experienced before. We had a taste of it last year as many retail businesses scrambled to offer their products and services online as the lockdowns took place. The post-COVID world will have digitisation and automation at its core. Whatever the industry, technology will determine how business processes can be more efficient with minimal human contact. We will see the use of drones, IoT sensors and robots become more commonplace. These developments will result in an unprecedented demand for skills to build digital products and platforms. As a company, we were keen to position ourselves to best respond to this opportunity. We announced the successful completion of our capital restructuring program in August 2021. As a result, 99x received USD 20 million from Scandinavian investors for the next phase of growth, which includes setting up an office in Europe. Recognising both the opportunities and challenges, we raised money to be close to our customers and be ready for the post-COVID resurgence, which I believe will surely come. Just as an example, Alibaba’s phenomenal growth was shaped in the aftermath of the SARS crisis. Likewise, I believe there will be similar opportunities during the post-COVID recovery as well. So, how best can you align your company to be successful in the post-COVID era?
Revisit your business model and outlook. As a first step, operate with a mindset that there isn’t a ‘bad time’ or ‘right time’. Instead, use the opportunities available to gear the company for the future. Don’t be afraid to take calculated risks, as your success in the long term depends on the choices you make today. Some of them will entail risk but you must be brave enough to take those decisions.
Be close to your customers. If you don’t delight your customers, be sure that there’s someone else who is willing to do so! Be mindful of how global delivery models are changing. The macro-economic factors will dictate alternate delivery models to deliver your services to customers. As a result of the capital restructuring, 99x intends to set up a development centre in Europe. This will allow us to be physically closer to our customers than ever before. It will also allow us to broaden our service offerings, given the presence in Europe.
Invest in building trusted relationships. During the due diligence activity leading to the investment, the assessors spoke to every single customer of 99x. I’m glad I was able to build a relationship with each of them through the years. While travel is presently curtailed, I see how our teams invest in strengthening relationships using virtual means.
Manage risks and ensure business continuity. In March 2020, we realised that despite our growth and profitability, we were exposed to considerable business risks due to the pandemic. While our business model proved resilient, there was considerable pressure due to the uncertainty faced by our customers. We made a choice to accelerate the capital restructuring activity as means of ensuring business continuity, even though it seemed to be a ‘high risk’ alternative at the time.
Digitally transform your internal processes. We also used this season to introduce automation and innovate our internal processes. We saw the need to do this across support functions such as finance, IT, HR and other shared services teams. We also systematically improved the reporting of these functions towards outcome-driven metrics.
Trust your people. Our success is due to our people. Our staff has been working from home for the past 18 months. This required a tremendous shift in how we work as individuals and as teams, and in how we manage our people. We have also onboarded over 100 people virtually since the pandemic began. None of them have even visited our office premises. We trust our people and their commitment, regardless of what future models of work looks like.
To close, success is the outcome of many consistent decisions coupled with execution that complement your long-term strategy. As a company, we have applied these responses to be ready to succeed in the post-COVID era.