This article has been produced in collaboration with Telegraph Spark. The original article as well as a collection of helpful guidance, business stories and interactive quizzes produced by the SAP Concur organization and Telegraph Spark can be found on this Building Business Resilience hub.
By cleverly harnessing technology, these five UK-based companies were able to successfully create new business models during the COVID-19 pandemic:
1. Ultra X
“Before lockdown, we organized ultra-marathons – typically over five days in beautiful parts of the world, running 26 miles or more each day. We held events in Jordan, Mexico and Portugal, and were due to have one in Sri Lanka in March. When lockdown came, we realized that people’s [exercise regimes] were changing – but we still wanted to do more to interact with our online community.
“As well as producing more online videos and blog posts, we’ve started doing virtual races. Admittedly I was a bit dubious at first because I wondered why people would run with no one around them, but they’ve done really well. We started with a free 14.1km race – a third of a marathon – which we called an “odd race for an odd time”.
“Since then we’ve organized several more, for £5 per race, with half the entry fee going to NHS Charities Together. Hundreds of people have entered from 45 different countries and we’re hoping to get more than a thousand for our next race. I think virtual racing is here to stay. It’s a great way to build a community.”
- Sam Heward, Co-founder, Ultra X
“We’ve always been very strong when it comes to traditional card machines used in retail and restaurants, so when lockdown came we knew this was going to be a big problem for our customers as well as for us.
“We spent a week creating a new e-commerce service called Biteback. This has allowed businesses – many of which don’t have a dedicated transactional website – to trade online. Customers can upload their menus or products to a customizable webpage sitting on our website, which can also process payments.
“We also provide them with environmental packaging for food delivery, leaflet printing for marketing and a digital toolkit to help with social media promotion. Primarily it’s restaurants which are now offering a takeaway service, but we also have garden centers, pubs, butchers and bakers on board.”
- Guy Moreve, Chief marketing Officer, Paymentsense
“PopTop is a platform where you can book everything you need for an event such as a wedding or birthday, including the venue, catering and entertainment. We have more than 13,000 suppliers – they are our biggest assets. But when we realized they couldn’t offer their services for live events, we thought about whether there was a market for celebrating online.
“We soon realized that a straightforward approach of streaming music and magicians doesn’t really work, because it’s not interactive enough. But what’s done really well is singing telegrams, where Elvis lookalikes and rappers make a surprise entrance on Zoom video calls to celebrate someone’s birthday. Afternoon tea packages with home-made sandwiches, scones and cakes from former MasterChef contestant Matei Baran have also proved very successful.
“What I think is that many companies, even after current restrictions end, will continue to work remotely. Online events will also become increasingly important for team bonding.”
- Eugene Shestopal, Chief executive, PopTop
“Pre-lockdown I was running three cocktail bars in Edinburgh and selling alcoholic ice-creams. After lockdown started, I began doing my own game show called ‘Spin the Bottle’ on YouTube – but then I began thinking about how we can innovate within our industry for the long term.
“That’s when I came up with Edinburgh Booze Delivery, bringing together all the local bars, breweries and distilleries. I wanted to create a one-stop shop for customers to order drinks for online delivery, but also give a bigger platform and community for bars. Because I didn’t have the money, I built the website myself in two weeks and now we have a number of venues on board.
“Unfortunately, I think it’s going to be at least a year before we get back to where we were before the virus. Even when lockdown is eased, people won’t have the money to go out again or will continue drinking at home – they might not feel safe going out. And when bars do reopen it won’t be at full capacity, which means we will have to look at reducing staff levels unless we re-employ people for our delivery service.”
- Iain McPherson, Managing director, Edinburgh Booze Delivery
“We launched ChargedUp three years ago, providing pubs and bars with power banks that people can borrow. We’ve been called the ‘Boris bikes of phone charging’. But when venues started closing in March our revenue dropped by 98pc – just as we were about to roll out 150 new UK-manufactured charging units.
“What we decided to do was convert these charging stations to hand-sanitizer stations, which we quickly sold to a number of locations including DHL, food box companies and a major care home chain. We’ve now produced more than 1,500 units and have distribution deals with several companies to supply hand sanitizer. Next we’re looking to provide train operators and have a deal in place with a pub chain too.
“Personally, I think this market is here to stay. I don’t see the world going back to how it was in February. People are so much more conscious of stopping viruses by being more hygienic when they’re out and about.”
Despite the disruption brought about by lockdown, strategic use of technology and an ability to innovate with speed helped these five businesses to stay connected with their customers, and find new ways of working. With the right framework in place, technology and good business sense can offer the agility and adaptability needed to survive in a changing marketplace.
- Hugo Tilmouth, Chief executive, ChargedUp, CleanedUp