Navigating The COVID19 Pandemic; How Startups Manouvered The Most Uncertain Time In Recent History

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COVID19 is a disease that is caused by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-COV2) and is a pandemic that has been ravaging the whole world since the novel virus was identified in Wuhan, China in December 2019. From there, it spread to the other parts of mainland China and then to the rest of the world. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID19, a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30th January 2020 and a pandemic on 11th March 2020. In 2021, different variants of the virus emerged and became dominant with the Delta, Alpha, Beta and Omicron variants being the most virulent. As of 6th December 2021, there have been 266 million cases of COVID19 and 5.26 million deaths worldwide making it one of the deadliest pandemics in history. 

The first case in Africa was confirmed on 14th February 2020 in Egypt while the first case in Sub-Saharan Africa was confirmed towards the end of February in Nigeria. Within the next 3 months, the virus had spread throughout the continent with Lesotho being the last African country to confirm a case on 13th May 2020. 

Most of the cases in Africa were imported by arrivals from Europe and the USA rather than China, where the disease was first discovered. Africa currently has just over 8.7 million cases and 222,000 deaths which are less than 4% of the global total. However, there is a lot of under testing in Africa. 

To curb the spread of the virus, governments all over the world issued measures that are only similar to war-time conditions. Strict lockdowns were enforced with public and private transportation banned, businesses closed and people forced to stay home. This caused massive disruptions for very many startups, coupled with panic and a lot of misinformation flying around made the pandemic period one of the most uncertain eras of our time. 

A few startups saw a big increase in customers especially those that had pandemic ready services like fintechs, eCommerce and online media companies. Startups that heavily relied on in-person movements like tourism startups were left scrambling for survival.

Surviving the pandemic required most startups to tweak their business models, adopt new revenue streams, streamline operations, cut back on expenditure, and in some cases, watch venture capital being held back by investors.

In this episode of Navigating The Pandemic, we talk to Jonathan Paul Katumba, the co-founder and CEO of Minute5, a Ugandan online grocery delivery startup. Minute5 was one of the recipients of the USD 1 Mn COVID19 Relief Fund that was put in place by the Innovation Village in Uganda and managed by Ortus Africa.

He is also an Anzisha Fellow, a program by Fred Swaniker’s Africa Leadership Academy and Mastercard that recognizes the work of African entrepreneurs between the ages of 15-22.

Jonathan Paul Katumba, Co-Founder and CEO, Minute5

What is Minute5 and when was it founded?

Paul; Minute5 is a grocery delivery service that aims at delivering fresh farm groceries to consumers and businesses. Our goal is to ensure our customers get affordable, high-quality food delivered to their homes in the shortest time possible.

We started the business in 2019 with one product and then later added more products to our platform.

How much money has Minute5 managed to raise and when?

Paul; As Minute5, we’ve raised in the north of USD 25 K within 2020 and we’ve also been bootstrapping to build and serve our customers with our services and products.

When lockdowns were announced, how did you think it would affect your startup. How long do you think they would last?

Paul; On the announcement of the lockdowns, we knew we were going to have increased traffic and it was exactly what happened. However, we thought this high traffic was going to suffocate the business because of the limited resources and probably around June 2020, we were heavily indebted and were almost going to close business, but lucky for us, one of our payment partners gave us a cash advance to help us get through the lockdown.

What was the actual impact of the lockdowns on your startup? Did business boom or did it tank? 

Paul; The lockdown greatly accelerated our business and validated our service. It made our service very essential and the growth has continued op to now because of this acceleration. When we started in 2019, we generated less than USD 1 K in revenue but by the end of Dec 2020, we had generated more than USD 30 K  in revenue from consumers’ deliveries

How did the lockdowns affect your workforce? Describe having to work from home and how long it took you to go back to the office?

Paul; Our team grew from 4 to 8 direct employees and 30 indirect ones. This was to handle the surge in customers we had and serve them better. Most of the direct workforce had to work remotely because of the COVID lockdowns. We are currently still working remotely but shall be moving back into the office very soon.

In conclusion, what were the best lessons you learnt from the pandemic period? 

Paul; Resilience. As a business, we need to be more resilient and quick to change business operations and run them sustainably. The pandemic just really checked if a business could reach out and serve customers better without risking their health while still providing a very good service.

Featured Image Courtesy; World Bank Group

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