Despair Not, Entrepreneurs, For The COVID-19 Crisis Is Just A Test Of Our Resolve
In a crisis, the quality and speed of your decision-making will make or break your business
Just over a month ago, my team was busy budgeting and executing new investments and projects to meet the market demands that Expo 2020 Dubai had promised to generate. My life was a routine, filled with daily meetings, calls, and all the rest. Personally, I had just moved to a bigger place, and I had also welcomed to the world my newborn son. All was going well, if not great.
In less than a week, we moved from growth planning to survival mode. My familiar daily routine was gone but, hopefully, not for good. The reason is that sometimes a good shake is exactly what you need.
As a mid-size Italian food supplier, 90% of the revenue for my company, Casinetto, used to come through the food service channels. As you know, the hospitality industry has been hit the hardest by the COVID-19 crisis, with thousands of people losing jobs and being left without any income. Following the closure of hotels and restaurants in the UAE, we lost 100% of that revenue in a matter of days.
Our only option was to refocus all our energy on growing the stream that generated the remaining 10% of our old business: B2C e-commerce. I suddenly realized that this crisis was a unique personal and business challenge, and that if I made it through, I would have remembered (and later on described) this whole experience in a similar way my grandparents used to tell me about surviving a war. All of a sudden, the COVID-19 crisis seemed as one of those crazy times that still offered opportunities for those who chose not to despair.
We moved fast by focusing on very few priorities, such as increasing our product range, fixing our logistics and IT platforms which, truth be told, were far from ready to meet the sharply increasing demand for online orders. In less than two weeks, our online orders grew by 500%, ensuring enough revenue to retain staff and keep the business going.
This is what I learned from our journey of navigating the COVID-19 crisis so far:
We all face personal and professional challenges, but… obstacles can be nothing but a source of energy for you too
I went from working in banking to setting up a media startup that failed in year one, to finally succeeding in building a food distribution business. Similar to a video game, I kept growing one level up each year until I got to level 10, and then the COVID-19 pandemic happened. That is when I learned that you should never take things for granted- no matter how hard you work to build something, there is always a chance it can vanish overnight.
Another important thing that I think helped me to react fast was that I chose not to think of myself as a victim in the hand of random events. I think that overcoming these kind of situations is much more about the personality and inner strength, than the technical knowledge.
Many want to jump on the e-commerce bandwagon immediately, but… it takes time to build
A few regional entrepreneurs have reached out to me for advice on how to move their business online quickly, but sadly, they all have found my answer disappointing: it took me over a year to get the grasp of how e-commerce works.
It is understandable that, as the demand for food e-commerce grows, many offline businesses are hoping to build online channels fast to secure revenues until things go back to normal. Another reason is that everybody is talking about e-commerce nowadays. The media is flooded with headlines about Jeff Bezos’s wealth, which increased by US$26 billion during the pandemic, roughly a 20% surge over the last four months.
In normal circumstances, e-commerce does not have to be expensive, but it does require thoughtful planning. However, if time is not there, and revenues need to be achieved in a matter of months or even weeks, then be ready to invest significantly.
Time is more precious than money when it comes to building a user-friendly website, choosing the right logistics partners, growing the client base, and reaching out to customers with the right digital marketing strategy.
Cooking at home is one of our basic needs, but… it is a luxury that many cannot afford these days
There are thousands of hospitality workers across the country who have lost their jobs, which includes waiters, chefs, restaurant managers, and many more.
Each one of them has played a big part in helping Dubai’s hospitality industry flourish over the years. It is thanks to their service that we, food suppliers, have been able to grow our business in the UAE for years and will continue to do so very soon.
For all these reasons, my company, Casinetto, recently partnered with Hospitality Connect and Chef Izu Ani on the FOOD DRIVE initiative that aims to deliver free food to over 300 unemployed hospitality workers. We sincerely hope that more sponsors will support our hospitality colleagues by joining these kinds of initiatives in the coming weeks.
All business is good, but… always have one foot in the sector that is close to people’s lives
Nobody could have imagined the scale the COVID-19 crisis would bring upon our lives and the economies around the world. In no time, it has reminded us is that we are all able to survive without malls, hairdressers, clubs, and expensive shoes, but also that food, medical, and sanitary supplies are more precious for our lives than anything else.
I strongly believe that those who are in business of essential goods, such as the business we are in, will be able to bounce back much faster in the post-COVID-19 times.
Brainstorming has its benefits, but… in a crisis, the quality and speed of your decision-making will make or break your business
During the unprecedented times like these, it is critical that companies keep a short-term decision-making process, and plan week by week, keeping a rational point of view in order to avoid panicking.
Simultaneously, fast decision making is a must. In line with this, long meetings and brainstorming might become less important now if they impact speed of reaction.
Reducing costs might be necessary, but… look out for your employees and your partners
The COVID-19 outbreak is a unique crisis, because it is very different from the past lengthy financial crisis of 2008/2009, which did not see declines happening so abruptly. This pandemic caused an 80% drop for most businesses in just one week.
This crisis seems to be shorter but promises to be followed by a strong rebound. And it is with this in mind that I strongly believe in the importance of maintaining strong connections with all stakeholders: suppliers, clients, and especially employees. Each business will have different options available to reduce personnel costs, but it is very important to maintain an ethical behavior, and take into the account a long-term perspective.
Giacomo Bernardelli is the founder and Managing Director of Casinetto, a manufacturer, distributor, and e-commerce service of the best Italian and local food products in the UAE and beyond.
Bernardelli graduated cum laude from La Sapienza University in business administration, and started his career in investment banking in 2003 with Morgan Stanley in London and Dubai. In 2008, he set up InMotion Media, a mixed rent-a-car and media concept, which closed in 2009.
In 2010, he launched Casinetto which takes its name from Il Casinetto, a family-run olive oil farm in Italy, about two hours from Rome in the foothills surrounding an extinct volcano, where the Bernardelli family has been pressing olive oil for generations. For a decade already, Bernardelli has kept the family tradition alive by bringing top quality fine foods to the UAE through Casinetto. He lives in Dubai with his wife and son.