‘Never waste a good crisis’: Winston Churchill.

Every crisis is an opportunity to reflect and replan. For startups, it is an opportunity to restructure and reboot the business.

Sure, the COVID-19 pandemic brought in unprecedented challenges for the startup world. Unable to withstand the onslaught of the virus, and with no light visible at the end of the tunnel, hundreds of startups ceased their operations.

But could they have waited for the dust to be settled?

“You believe in what you’re trying to build and you never have to shut down. You will shut down only when you lose that belief. You can always pivot if you don’t have a product-market fit; you can always switch if you don’t have or are unable to find alternatives,” says Joseph Phua, a noted entrepreneur and founder of Paktor, which is known as Southeast Asia’s Tinder.

In his view, shutting down is never an option for startups. Companies shut down not because of crises but only when founders give up.

“Even if you go bankrupt, there is still no need to shut down a company because you can always restructure the business. That’s why people go into bankruptcy protection because you want to restructure it so that you can pay off your debts and continue. You will shutter only when you give up,” he says.

In essence, giving up is not an option for the smartest — even if they are in dire straits. They would have hundred reasons to not put the curtain down. They would explore options such as pivoting of the product before resorting to the last step.

Here are the four startups from e27 Luminaries that have successfully restructured/pivoted their product/business model to tide over the crisis and reaping the benefits.


Co-founded by Drew Calin, Vicknesh Pillay and Viktor Kyosev, Greenhouse is a curated B2B services marketplace. A free service, it matches customers to the most relevant service providers who can deliver on their unique project needs.

The Singapore- and Indonesia-based company provides market research and validation services, market expansion services and business support services for businesses.

Also Read: ‘Companies shut down not because of crises but only when founders give up’: Joseph Phua of M17

In its earlier avatar, Greenhouse operated co-working space in Indonesia. “The writing was on the wall for co-work well before COVID-19 struct. The industry was extremely commoditised, making it difficult to build a profitable business,” said Drew Calin, CEO of Greenhouse, about the pivot.

“Fortunately, we discovered a pain point amongst our members entering Indonesia from abroad — they all seemed to struggle to navigate the local landscape and source high quality, but reasonably priced, business services (i.e. legal, incorporation, accounting, tax, payroll, etc.. etc…). We’d felt the pain ourselves, being based in Singapore but setting up an operational entity in Indonesia,” he explained.

The company started connecting buyers and sellers of these services offline, taking a small margin in 2019, and went all-in in 2020 when it realised that scaling businesses would be more in need of digital services than ever before.

“Naturally, the pandemic has accelerated our use of digital mediums and outsourced B2B services. More than two thirds of businesses (globally) outsourced services last year. 2020 was a staple year for Greenhouse.co, as we grew our supplier network by 4x, transaction volume by 4x, and our revenues by 3.4x. Today, we’re regions largest curated B2B services marketplace with more than 150 service providers, across 16 countries,” he claims.

He further added that Greenhouse is on a mission to accelerate global mobility through tech, for the greater good. “Not only are we an ecosystem by nature, but we prioritise sustainability by planting trees for every new customer, supplier, and partner in our network. To date, we’ve planted more than 3k trees all across the world…and hope to plant many many more in the coming years.”


It is a peer recognition tool for growing employee engagement at enterprises and startups. The RewardNation app lets you set up a points-based system for team members to publicly recognise good work and reward each other.

The company was started in 2019 as a bespoke travel curator (known as Anywhr then), which planned your journeys to lesser-known places worldwide, personalised for you. Anywhr was started to help people explore and experience more of the world, even in less common places they did not expect to visit.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic hit Anywhr hard, with countries across the world imposing restrictions on travel and leisure. Leong and team were left with no option but to switch to a whole new product.

“Being in the travel space, our business was significantly impacted. The shift to remote work also led to team morale and engagement falling. Everyone was working hard and trying to stay positive, but we were all cooped up in our own homes during the lockdown,” founder Zelia Leong told e27.

Also Read: Pandemic or not, here’s why pivoting is good for your startup

During this time, Anywhr founders tried many ways to keep the team bonded. They found that a peer recognition and rewards system worked best in keeping the team members engaged and motivated. Team members can send public recognition messages to praise each other at work, which made individuals feel ‘seen’ and know that their work makes an impact.

“This solution worked well for us, and it turns out that many other companies had the same problem. Thus, after a few months of research and prototyping, we launched RewardNation as an official pivot. We hope to help more companies keep their employees engaged and motivated even remotely, through the benefits of Peer Recognition,” she added.

Sqreem Technologies

It is an Artificial Intelligence company to find patterns and digital footprints across the internet. Sqreem wants to map out human behaviour based on the online data they provide.

The venture delivers products and services to over 40 commercial and public sector customers world wide. Its clients include Nissan, KPMG, MetLife, Guardian Life, HSBC Bank & Insurance, SOMPO, UBS, and Ogilvy Advertising.

When COVID-19 broke out and when many companies struggled to stay afloat, Sqreem’s founders sensed an opportunity in the crisis.

In the early period of the virus spread, the firm launched Channel Sqreem, an AI-driven real-time contact-tracing and communication system, available only for government agencies. It was built to assist governments with contact tracing and direct engagement with people who were potentially at risk of having contracted COVID-19.

The platform functioned as a proximity locator that did not infringe on an individual’s privacy. And it didn’t require users to download an application for their devices. Data on the platform was handled strictly by the government agencies, while Sqreem worked as the platform provider and didn’t at any point have access to the data.


Travelhorse was started out with just an idea to build a luggage logistics platform connecting users to local shops and businesses for temporary storage, allowing tourists to explore the cities free and easy.

However, the rapid spread of the virus around the globe derailed the founders’ plans, as the pandemic greatly limited the movement of people and goods around the country, heavily impacting the core business.

Also Read: Why startup founders should be open to pivoting anytime

Travelhorse has since evolved to include a dash service enabling merchants in Singapore for their deliveries.

“The year 2020 has brought unforeseen challenges and changes for everyone and Travelhorse is no different. Changing lanes from a luggage logistics platform connecting users to local shops and businesses for temporary storage to a logistics platform connecting businesses with its customers was just a way for Travelhorse to adapt to the new normal,” it says on its website.

Travelhorse revolves around the concept that home-based merchants should enjoy a more convenient and reliable way of last-mile logistics. Through genuine community spirit, it creates a friendly environment for goods to be delivered efficiently.

Accredited by Enterprise Singapore, Travelhorse is now part of the Food Delivery Booster Package to support F&B businesses making the transition from offline to online sales.

The e27 Luminaries is an initiative by e27 to celebrate the unsung heroes of the SEA startup ecosystem. Discover these notable companies and individuals here.

Photo by Matthew Osborn on Unsplash

The post Meet the 4 Luminaries startups that made a pivot to tide over COVID-19 crisis appeared first on e27.

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