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Tips for young entrepreneurs and startups to survive and thrive through Covid-19 pandemic

Dhimant Parekh

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The onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic has upset so many aspects of our daily lives and startups are no exception. Once hailed as a bright spot in the economy, today many of them are at the end of their runway. Delayed deals, paused investments and falling consumer spends are becoming common during this time, dampening the sentiments of optimistic and young startup founders.

One of the biggest fallouts of the pandemic for startups is the drying up of investment funds. 2019 was a great year for Indian startups with B2C startups closing over 425 deals worth $6.23 billion in funding. Carrying the same trend in the first two months of 2020, VC investment in Indian startups was even higher than the same period during last year. However, once the pandemic started tightening its grips, VCs too chose to pull the strings of their purses. Research firm ‘Venture Intelligence’ found that several investments made since March were by VCs investing in existing portfolios and in May, the amount invested was about one-fourth of that invested in May 2019. Meanwhile, millennial buyers are struggling with uncertain job prospects and as a result, they have become more conscious of where they’re putting their money.

 However, crises can be handled and sometimes even used as springboards to build thriving and successful businesses. In fact, the global recession of 2008 gave birth to some of the ground-breaking businesses (Uber, WhatsApp, Slack) that we can’t do without today. Here are a few pillars for young startup founders to use as a foundation to build their business through any crisis.

Have a purpose behind your business

Having a purpose, other than revenues and profit, can be a huge motivator during this time. Once you have this in place, you immediately become flexible in everything else as long as this purpose is met. For instance, at ‘The Better Home’, our purpose is to empower citizens across the country to make better consumption decisions and be kinder to the planet. Now this purpose can give rise to multiple business models, product categories and formats. That is something that will keep evolving but the heart and core of your business will always be the same. Having a purpose also helps in developing more meaningful relationships with your customers. In this case, they do not purchase your product but they become a partner in your journey and the bricks that make your venture economically sustainable.

Use this time to build your offering

If your sales have dipped during this period or your operations have shut down due to the lockdown, use this time to speak to your customers, brainstorm with your team and improve your offering. During the nationwide lockdown, we reached out to our early customers for feedback and received some very valid and practical suggestions on how to improve our user journey and we took the 45 days of lockdown to focus on implementing the feedback. This way, when the lockdown lifts and when business is back to normal, you hit the ground running.

Focus on what you can control

 During a time like this, it may feel like there are so many things that are out of your control. While that might be true, especially when there is so much uncertainty around us but there are definitely some things that are within our control. Strip down all the regular processes to the fundamentals and look at how you can revisit them in the current context, and how it will help make your business more sustainable. For instance, are all your current expenses necessary? Can you cut advertising spends and look at more organic ways to spread the message about your brand? Do you really need all the tools you are spending money now or is there a simpler way to work around it?

Take charge and act fast

The ability to make quick decisions is an underrated skill and is something that makes or breaks a company. Responding swiftly to feedback, making a decision and seeing it through execution, is what sets business apart from the rest. In this case, look at the current market and user base for feedback. Are people uncomfortable stepping out to buy your products? Go online quickly. Are customers looking for alternatives that are lighter on the pocket? Release a lower cost SKU. At our brand, some of our users wanted larger quantities of products, to avoid contact with our delivery persons on a monthly basis, we immediately created a 5-litre can for these customers and they’re happy with it.

 Frugality is key

Treat this cash crunch as a blessing in disguise and allow it to steer you towards smart and efficient use of your funds, keeping frugality at the heart of your operations. In my experience, frugal startups, more often than not, have the edge over most funded companies because they are always seeking a more efficient route to the same goal. Frugality gives way to innovation and sustained growth. The ability to flow, adapt and persist through tough times is one of the greatest advantages that startups have over large corporations and what better time to harness this advantage and reroute to cater to the new world.

 The writer is the founder and CEO of The Better India and The Better Home.

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Former Assam CM Tarun Gogoi shows some improvement but still critical

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The health of former Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has slightly improved after deteriorating on Saturday, the Superintendent of Gauhati Medical College and Hospital, where he is admitted, said on Sunday. His condition, however, is still critical.

“Last evening former Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi’s health deteriorated so we intubated him, he was critical yesterday. His AGB (arterial blood gas) test and parameters are slightly better today,” hospital Superintendent Dr Abhijit Sarma told ANI here.

Gogoi’s heath had deteriorated on Saturday. He was “critical” and on ventilator support following post-Covid complications. There were also reports that Gogoi is suffering from multi-organ failure.’

The 86-year-old Congress leader had become “completely unconscious” on Saturday afternoon after difficulty in breathing, Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said. He also suffered multiple organ failure, the minister confirmed.

Since Saturday, Gogoi has been on mechanical life support at the Gauhati Medical College and Hospital, where a team of doctors is monitoring his health and efforts are being made to revive his organs with medicines and dialysis.

The GMCH doctors are in constant touch with experts from Delhi’s premier All India Institute of Medical Sciences who have ruled out the possibility of shifting Gogoi outside the state in this condition.

Tarun Gogoi’s son, Congress leader and MP Gaurav Gogoi, is at the hospital.

The three-time former Assam CM had tested positive for Covid-19 in August. On 26 October, he had thanked the medical team at Guwahati Medical College and Hospital including the specialists, doctors, nurses, staff, for their “excellent care for the past two months” and had said that he looked forward to continuing his recovery at home under medical supervision.

With agency inputs

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Bharti Singh, her husband sent to judicial custody till 4 December

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On Sunday, a court in Mumbai sent comedian Bharti Singh and her husband Haarsh Limbachiyaa to judicial custody till 4 December. The two were arrested by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) in connection with the alleged consumption of cannabis.

Before producing the couple in the court, the NCB took them to the hospital for medical examination.

Bharti Singh was held on Saturday while Haarsh Limbachiyaa was arrested a day later on Sunday.

“Charges of consumption of drugs have been invoked against them,” said Sameer Wankhede, Zonal Director of the NCB, Mumbai.

NCB on Saturday raided the production office and house of comedian Bharti Singh and recovered 86.5 grams of ganja (cannabis) from both places.

The NCB had earlier raided a place in Khar Danda area and nabbed a trafficker aged 21 years with various drugs including 15 blots of LSD (commercial quantity), ganja (40 grams), and Nitrazepam (psychotropic medicines). In follow up and in corroboration with previous inputs, the NCB raided the production office and house of comedian Bharti Singh.

This comes as the probe, which began from the drug case in connection with the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput, continues to expand to the alleged drug abuse by Bollywood celebrities.

Recently, a raid was also conducted at the residence of actor Arjun Rampal, after which he and his girlfriend were summoned by the NCB for questioning in the matter.

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With rise in respiratory diseases, Covid-hit Delhi in a health soup

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Amid the massive spike in Covid-19 cases in the national capital, Delhi-NCR has another cause for big concern: Deadly smog and its health implications. With pollution seeing a big rise with the first hint of winter in the sight, health experts on Sunday said they have seen a substantial increase in patients with respiratory disorders in the Delhi-NCR region.

Air pollution is an important cause of worsening of respiratory disorders, including sinusitis, allergic rhinitis, bronchitis and respiratory difficulty in those patients who do not smoke or have pre-asthmatic conditions.

According to experts, air pollution also plays a significant role in making Covid infections worse. Dr Praveen Gupta, Director and Head, Neurology, Fortis Hospital in Gurugram told IANS: “Pollution has been identified as a leading cause of stroke and heart disease increasing the risk by 25 per cent in people who do not have risk factors for stroke or any heart ailment.”

“Exposure to high levels of air pollutants may cause irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, wheezing, coughing, breathing problems. Air pollution can also affect existing lung and heart conditions,” he added.

Smog can cause irritation in the eyes, throat and can damage the lungs, can also lead to fatigue, migraine, headaches, anxiety and depression.

“It can also worsen the skin, cause allergic disorders as well as significant hair problems,” Gupta added.

He has observed a 25 per cent increase in patients with respiratory disorders in the OPD in past weeks.

Dr. Puneet Khanna, HOD and consultant-Respiratory Medicine, HCMCT Manipal Hospitals in Delhi said that as the winter approaches, smog is exacerbated by low temperature and slow movement of air.

“Ground-level ozone O3 and PM2.5 play a significant role in the formation of smog. Besides industrial activities and public transportation, stubble burning and road dust are majorly responsible for smog in winters,” Khanna informed.

The vulnerable group include newborns and children, pregnant women, elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, diabetics, angina and cardiac diseases.

Peaks in air pollution often irritate the upper and lower respiratory system making it harder to breathe besides aggravating symptoms of asthma and COPD.

According to Dr. Khanna, even a small increase in air pollution leads to heavy rush in OPDs, increased emergency room visits, hospitalisations and deaths. Long-term risks include lung cancer and reduction in life expectancy.

“During smog periods, these people should avoid intense physical activity outdoors particularly in morning and evening hours. They should venture out if absolutely essential and preferably wear an N95 mask during peak hours,” he said.

Dr. Navneet Sood, Pulmonary Consultant, Dharamshila Narayana Superspeciality Hospital said that “the apparent effect of air amid Covid pandemic is creating more problems for people living in Delhi-NCR”.

“A comprehensive approach is needed to deal with the problem. Wear a mask whenever stepping out of the house, avoid going out early morning and late evening, follow every precaution related to Covid-19,” Sood advised.

With IANS inputs

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Moderna may cost up to Rs 2,700 per dose, Sputnik V to be much less

Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel says that governments willing to purchase Covid-19 vaccine may have to shell out Rs 1,854 and Rs 2,744 per dose—depending on the size of the order.

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Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel has said that governments seeking to purchase Moderna’s potential Covid-19 vaccine may have to shell out $25 and $37 per dose—which amounts to Rs 1,854 and Rs 2,744—depending on the size of the order. Bancel said that this would be a “fair price” and that the company was not interested in “maximum profit”.

However, on Sunday, the official Twitter handle for Russia’s Sputnik V tweeted that their vaccine will cost governments much less than that of Pfizer’s (estimated at Rs 1,446) and Moderna’s.

“Translating pharma lingo: the announced price of Pfizer of $19.50 and Moderna of $25-$37 per dose actually means their price of $39 and $50-$74 per person. Two doses are required per person for the Pfizer, Sputnik V and Moderna vaccines. The price of Sputnik V will be much lower,” said the tweet.

According to a spokesman for the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), RDIF is Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, the price of the Russian vaccine will be made public next week, TASS news agency reported.

Sputnik V is the world’s first registered vaccine against the Covid019 pandemic. It was developed by the Gamaleya National Research Centre for Epidemiology and Microbiology of the Russian Health Ministry. However, it was officially registered and given regulatory approval by the Russian government ahead of large-scale clinical trials.

According to the Russian Health Ministry, these vaccines have proved their ability to form lasting immunity for a period of up to two years.

The third, post-registration, stage of clinical tests for the vaccine had begun on August 25 and the first batch of the vaccine was dispatched to Russian regions on September 12, said the TASS report.

Meanwhile, US pharma giant Moderna said last week that its vaccine has shown more than 94.5 per cent effectiveness in preliminary data from the company’s ongoing study. Before Moderna, Pfizer and BioNTech had said that their vaccine candidate was found to be more than 90 per cent effective in preventing Covid-19.

Moderna is expecting to produce approximately 20 million doses of its mRNA-1273 vaccine by the end of 2020. The company said it remains on track to manufacture 500 million to 1 billion doses globally in 2021.

The Moderna CEO also said that his company was engaged in negotiations with the EU Commission for the delivery of its vaccine against Covid-19, adding that talks have been “constructive”, and that it was “only a matter of days” before the contract is signed.

On the other hand, Pfizer said on Friday that it was moving ahead with its request of asking the US regulators to grant emergency approval of its Covid-19 vaccine candidate.

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Won’t back down: Australian PM rebuffs Chinese grievance list

A Chinese official gave a dossier to Australian media containing 14 grievances, saying: ‘If you make China the enemy, China will be the enemy’.

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Australia will not bow to pressure from China, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday after Beijing released a laundry list of complaints about the country. A Chinese official gave a dossier to Australian media containing 14 grievances, highlighting the increasingly fractious relationship between the two nations.

“If you make China the enemy, China will be the enemy,” a Chinese government official reportedly told three prominent outlets on Wednesday.

Among the complaints are Australia’s strict foreign interference laws, the country’s ban on Huawei’s involvement in its 5G network and decisions that blocked Chinese investment projects on “national security grounds”.

PM Morrison said the “unofficial document” came from the Chinese embassy and would not stop Australia from setting “our own laws and our own rules according to our national interest”.

“We won’t be compromising on the fact that we will set what our foreign investment laws are or how we build our 5G telecommunications networks or how we run our systems of protecting against interference Australia’s way we run our country,” the Australian PM told Channel Nine.

The document also claimed Canberra had engaged in “incessant wanton interference” in China’s affairs while singling out Australia’s call for an independent inquiry into the origins of Covid-19. It accused Australia of “siding with the US’ anti-China campaign and spreading disinformation” about where the virus originated—a particularly sore point for Beijing.

Relations between China and Australia have reached a new low in recent months, leaving Australian government ministers unable to persuade Chinese counterparts to even accept their phone calls. The discord has left Australian exporters exposed as their largest trading partner places a series of retaliatory bans on agricultural goods including beef, barley and timber.

With agency inputs

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Big B to do ‘Khushboo Gujarat Ki’ campaign around Kevadia

Amitabh Bachchan’s campaign will no longer be just about Kutch. The new tagline will be: ‘If you haven’t seen Kevadia, then you have not seen anything.’

Abhijit Bhatt

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Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister, he had a dream that Gujarat would become a tourism hub, now that dream is coming true. Gujarat’s tourist places have become world-famous, first after the development of Kutch and now the Statue of Unity and the development of Kevadia around it which is being considered to promote the campaign starring Amitabh Bachchan.

The ‘Khushboo Gujarat Ki’ campaign will no longer be just about Kutch. A senior government official said that the campaign is being planned around Kevadia. “If you haven’t seen Kevadia, then you have not seen anything,” the new tagline will say.

Sources reveal that the discussions have started that Big B is going to star in a new ad film to promote Kevadia’s tourism development around the Statue of Unity. The world’s tallest statue and the new attractions built around it have enhanced its tourism value.

The Gujarat government led by Chief Minister Vijay Rupani wants the ‘Khushboo Gujarat Ki’ campaign to attract the attention of the tourists from all over the world and this time only Kevadia would be there.

The earlier done ad films done for the campaign included Kutch, Gir, Buddhist Caves, Ambaji, Gujarati Handicraft, Saputara, Gujarat’s Architect Modhera’s Sun Temple and Ahmedabad. Since Kevadia has been revamped, the Gujarat government is now considering this campaign and shooting dates are likely to be announced soon. Once the campaign agreement and shooting dates are set, Amitabh Bachchan will come to Gujarat. Apart from the Statue of Unity in Kevadia, the veteran actor is likely to do jungle safari, river rafting and also visit Butterfly Garden. Amitabh Bachchan’s new ad film might be shot around these tourist spots.

Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated 17 projects in Kevadia. Preparations are going on to invite Big B for international branding.

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