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Ashwin Jain

Founder, Instapizza

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Covid Pandemic Affecting Businesses- Lesson Learnt

With startling speed and urgency, it has made prehistoric relics of business plans, budgets, and goals that, as recently as January, seemed reasonable and attainable.

The Coronavirus has forced the hand of nearly every entrepreneur in the country, requiring us to reimagine our businesses in the face of unpredictability and a healthy dose of fear. With startling speed and urgency, it has made prehistoric relics of business plans, budgets, and goals that, as recently as January, seemed reasonable and attainable. 

I think a coherent thought process as to how to lead a company through our generation’s second black swan consists of (at least) four pillars: introspection, financial planning, empathy, and day-dreaming. 

1 - Introspection: Why does your business deserve to exist?

The first exercise in my mind has been to place a sharp focus on why Instapizza exists, and why it will be of relevance to consumers in times to come. Instapizza exists to provide a distinctly homegrown take on pizza in a way that is innovative, affordable, and exceptionally hygienic - I firmly believe that our value proposition will be of great relevance to our customers over the next couple of years. It is important to note that I am a deep optimist when it comes to our human will and ability to persevere and thrive. 

We are fortunate to be in a business that perhaps has a shorter path to recovery than other businesses. It stands to reason and has been seen in other markets that consumer demand for food delivery should pick up at some point (this has certainly not happened here, yet). However, even with the wind at our backs, we must work extremely hard to gain the trust of our consumers and to demonstrate with radical transparency that we deserve that trust. That means bringing a microscopic lens to every aspect of our operating protocols and finding radical ways to demonstrate them to our consumers transparently. That is why we launched CrustFlix, on which we publicly live stream all of our kitchens. 

2 - Financial Planning

The great leveller in the case of young businesses like Instapizza, though, is time. The question that all young companies like ours are trying to answer today is — will we be able to survive the turmoil so that we are still here to serve our customers when it all gets better? 

Survival means, first and foremost, the prudent utilisation of available resources to maximise the proverbial runway. If you’re burning money, cut it down ruthlessly. If you’ve got cash in the bank, hang onto it for dear life. Maximise the runway! This, however, is much easier said than done. Financial planning for a startup in the time of Coronavirus needs to be done carefully, methodically, and with an unerring focus on the core reason that your business deserves to exist to serve its customers. 

Costs can then broadly be divided into two categories: good costs that exist to enable and strengthenyour reason for existence, and everything else. Good costs should be nurtured and, if possible, invested in further. Everything else should be cut.

In our case, our good costs are people, technology, and creativity. 

The importance of technology as a backbone of any business was always clear; now, it is imperative. The sudden, external push to drop old methods of operating and to replace them with new, entirely digital workflows should be welcomed. In our case, we have expedited the roll-out of our proprietary, end-to-end cloud-based operating system (ipOS), which brings together functionality for all departments in one, seamless piece of software. Since the lockdown on March 22, we’ve shipped the product, implemented dozens of new reporting workflows, and made the business much more comfortable to run remotely. We plan to continue investing in ipOS to make our visibility over all aspects of the business as well as its operation easier, faster, and more integrated than its ever been. ipOS has also enabled us to roll-out CrustFlix during the Lockdown, which reinforces the importance of leveraging software and technology in our business.

3 - Empathy

I have gone through various stages of concern through this crisis. The order in which they appeared in my mind is as follows: 

1 - The health of family and friends 

2 - The wellbeing and financial security of employees 

3 - The crisis of food and income for daily wagers, migrant workers, and the underprivileged 

4 - The mindset of customers 

I am incredibly fortunate that my first concern has, so far, been resolved. Concerning the second, we are doing absolutely everything we can to protect our teams from the financial fallout of the crisis. 

Since the beginning of the lockdown, we have been contributing our supply chain and kitchen infrastructure to donate 100 meals per kitchen per day to local underprivileged communities around our kitchens. Besides, we donate a portion of the proceeds of every order to AkshayaPatra - they are doing incredible work in mobilising their resources to address the food crisis. In these small, but to us, meaningful ways, we are trying our best to convert our empathy into action. 

Empathy will be particularly important when thinking of our customers - I am a consumer myself, and I know just how much the uncertainty of the future has affected my habits and purchasing decisions. 

Key on this list is the requirement for radical transparency as it pertains to hygiene and safety. It is incumbent upon all food operators and participants in the delivery chain to ensure that every single step that can be taken is being taken, and then to demonstrate that to customers clearly and transparently. That is why we have launched CrustFlix, an online channel where we livestream the activity in our kitchens all day, every day. We want to make sure our customers know exactly how our kitchens are being operated, and we also want to hold ourselves accountable to the highest standards of hygiene and safety.  

4 - Day-dreaming

Given that the food delivery industry continues to operate, albeit, at severely reduced volumes, I feel like I spend a lot of my time either firefighting the daily challenges of operating in this environment, or otherwise thinking from the perspectives of cost-saving, optimisation, and margin of safety. Though this is very much required, sometimes it feels like its mostly reactive without being entirely constructive! 

I like to day-dream. It is important to continue to be able to think expansively and optimistically irrespective of the degree of the challenges you might face. I believe it's true that entrepreneurs have to be irrational optimists to succeed. Sure, we might be wrong, but the significant outcomes certainly won’t happen if we go into it believing that they won’t! 

In January, we had a clear, 24-month path to 300 outlets. We opened 3 outlets in 45 days in Jalandhar in November - and as much as a task like that can be, it was a piece of cake. I still think a lot about 300 outlets. It may take 36, 48, or even 60 months - but I always operate with the unshakeable belief that it will happen. 

I imagine how we might do more radical things, like CrustFlix, with technology in our business. 

I dream about when we’ll get to a million orders per month, meaning that we’ll be donating around 350,000 meals per month through our partnership with AkshayaPatra. 

And finally, I continue to dream about establishing the first national, homegrown pizza chain that was made by young India for young India. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house

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Ashwin Jain Business in Pandemic COVID-19 lockdown

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