They say fortune favours the brave; and in my case there is little fortune yet but a lot of bravery. I decided to launch my new business, a digital-first supermarket, during the latest COVID lockdown. And it’s not the first time I have started a business during a crisis. Am I mad? To be honest, some of my colleagues questioned my decision but I strongly believe if you see an opportunity you need to grab it with both hands and not hesitate.
Let’s go back to 2019 when the bushfires were raging throughout NSW. I started an online food hamper business selling small batch sustainable products from regional and local food producers. Launching during a natural disaster was purely accidental, but timely as local food producers were struggling and needed help. Fast forward and a new strain of the COVID virus was again threatening our welfare, so a snap lockdown was called.
We had already done a soft launch of Pretty Green across Sydney’s northern beaches and it had been heartily embraced. Did we dare push it forward and launch during the pandemic? To me, it was a no-brainer. In business, there is always a challenge you need to overcome. But when you work out how to overcome that challenge, there is opportunity. And in my case, thousands of families in lockdown wanting to skip the traditional bricks and mortar supermarkets for market-fresh, contactless and free delivery of their groceries.
My personal mantra is innovation flourishes under pressure. I had already been monitoring the overseas markets and countries worst hit by the pandemic, in Europe as well as in the US, and they had quickly implemented new food delivery systems. Innovation came from that and traditional industries changed. For me at Pretty Green, it was vital to focus on markets impacted worse than us because that is when innovation happens quickly. Contactless delivery only really came into play in Australia at the start of the year, but some supermarkets were already doing it in Europe more than a year ago as they had to. So, by monitoring my industry world-wide, I had the advantage because I moved first – even if it was during a lockdown.
This may not be a popular thing to say but I think many business owners, and start-ups in Australia, should analyse what is happening in their related industries around the world, rather than sitting back and hoping the pandemic will end. There are many cool innovations happening because of the pandemic which businesses could adopt in Australia.
Another thing I did when launching Pretty Green during COVID was be customer centric from the get go – even though it meant working 24/7. I immediately employed researchers and focus groups who told us what prompted people to buy from us. This led to quickly increasing our product range and implementing a different pricing structure. For businesses to survive, they need to let the customer shape their business and be flexible to changing the initial model in line with customer requests and feedback. I was lucky I had tested my idea in a small area before committing to a launch during lockdown.
Now, during the lockdown, we have had thousands of app downloads. People are emailing us saying, “Guys we want this product; this brand; we want kosher meat etc.” At the start we had less than 500 products – now, four weeks later, we have more than 2000 – and are still expanding. When you start a business, pandemic or no pandemic, customers shape it for you. Will fortune favour my bravery? Only time will tell, but all the initial signs are saying a resounding “yes”.