A few days ago, I did an Instagram Live session with Annette Oppong, a Senior Associate at KPMG, podcaster for Diaspora Talks and Partnerships for Foundervine, an inclusive startup community supporting and building businesses. The session engaged the impact of the pandemic in South Africa on business, technology and the relationship with xenophobia; and inspired this article. In observing some of other conversations and articles that have been happening around the topic of the healthcare crisis, I wanted to introduce a five series of articles that will provide thought leadership into, what I call, The Business of COVID-19. Every month, I’ll focus on an aspect of business that has had to react or be proactive to how we do business, this May, we focus on the theme of Pivoting.
Whether you’re in Italy, Singapore, Canada or South Africa like me, you’ve experienced or seen from large to small businesses having to pivot their businesses and doing so through different models. We will unpack THREE ways to model, how this adaptation will influence your business decisions and the current and (potentially) long term impact of your enterprise?
“Adapt – make something suitable for a new use or purpose, modify; become adjusted to new conditions.”
Per this Oxford dictionary explanation, to adapt is employed in business studies to explain how a business’ product, market, or the way it operates can be modified to a new use or purpose, per the economic conditions. But Vuyo, you may ask, is this not pivoting? Or rather, what’s the difference between these two terms? Let’s dig in.
Pivoting addresses the HOW of adapting. When a business pivots, they are taking an informed business decision to do so based on the measured evidence because the market has changed, and in this case, the market has been affected by the pandemic of SARS COV-19.
“Pivot – to pivot is to turn or rotate, like a hinge. When you’re not talking about a type of swivelling movement, you can use pivot to mean the one central thing that something is depending on.”
The Business of COVID-19 has meant that enterprises have had to pivot to adapt. To pivot, means to change the core of the product when it is not meeting the needs of the market. This Cambridge Dictionary definition stood out for me because it speaks on centricity and dependency. The mechanism of pivot innovation and its dependency of the affected market is what can make or break the business.
New Product PPI
Before this pandemic infected now, over 5 million people, and impacted millions more, the saying used to be “How the mighty have fallen”, but now, it’s “How the redundant have fallen” and you could fill in many other adjectives with this term too. Aside from the hospitality and travel industry which has been affected because of global travel bans, many other industries have been affected because of the product’s reliance of people moving from the comfort of their own home. This has enforced companies to develop new products completely out of what they’re usually capable of doing to stay open. In Canada, INKSmith, which is an edtech startup specialising in making design thinking and technology tools for kids, has now had to move to manufacturing face shields and has, as a result, ended up hiring up to 100 new employees to meet demand.
In a study by the Erwing Marion Kauffman Foundation, two of the findings expressed that “over half of the companies on the 2009 Fortune 500 list, and just under half of the 2008 Inc. list, began during a recession or bear market.”; and “Job creation from startups is much less volatile and sensitive to downturns than job creation in the entire economy”. Companies like Airbnb, Microsoft and General Electric were created during an economic downtown, such as the one we’re currently living through. Will yours be one of them?
Innovation is not limited to new product development, it’s about finding new processes to improve a company’s efficiency and effectiveness, as well as gain momentum on its competitive advantage. Startups have been pivoting incrementally through either product expansion or new products via their core models. A prime example of what has been happening across delivery services businesses like Netflorist which moved from only delivering gifts to now exclusively groceries or Exclusive Books who is now delivering its books on UberEats. Bottles, an alcohol delivery service, also adapted to this, and are now grocery providers.
This century presents the age of the weaponizaton of data through its licensing, yet COVID-19 has given us an ultimatum to either digitize or go home, stay at home and not be an economic participant. Due to the advisory of physical distancing, this has meant that some PPI has had to be digitized to adapt to the new market. Online classes have become (sometimes to a parent’s nightmare) the norm for schooling, gyms and fitness instructors are moving their classes to zoom rooms and more conferences and summits are being moved online. Keeping with this trajectory, products that were already online like Zoom has seen a surge in daily users to 300 million, and influencers have had a much more captive and larger audience than ever before and securing more deals.
So, what does this Pivot Product Innovation (PPI) mean for your business going forward?
The long-term stain that COVID-19 has imprinted is Pivot Product Innovation (PPI), the mechanisation of market capitalisation and continued democratisation of economic participation. Millions of new challenges have emerged, and old ones worsened, and millions of opportunities are inserting themselves through new and incremental product development as well as digitization. You have been disrupted; with what PPI will you respond with for your business? Make your move!
The narrative of innovation, Africa’s future and role in previous, present and forthcoming revolutions, and the function of exponential principles as it relates to growth within your business and daily life applications is what captured my special attention when the author, Mushambi Mutuma first broke the news about his book. The additional and relevant Africa case studies then sold me even more. What this book turned out to be was not a guideline on how to build a tech startup in 100 days, but rather a preparation toolbox on how leverage technology and think exponentially about the trajectory of growth for your business and what that means for the future.
Consisting of nine chapters divided into four main parts, the book journeys defining technology, to understanding innovation and disruption and going through a rigorously layered “Buzzword Boot Camp” that weaponises even the non-technically savvy yet visionary leaders wanting to intergrate into a Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technology like Internet of Things (IoT) or 5G into their solution. Tech Adjacent invites those with what the author, serial entrepreneur and technology leader, describes as a “billion impact mindset”, to participate in their business’ future success.
“Once we are adjacent to the accelerating pace of technology, we can better plan for what’s coming. Our minds can be far better prepared not to run away from change but instead to see the new opportunities ahead. The grandfather of exponential thinking and futurism, Ray Kurzweil, stated, “We won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century, it will be more like 20 000 years of progress.” How prepared are you for that kind of pace?”
Two strategies that the book engages and employs you to investigate is being rooted on “ … having a game plan rooted in the basics.”; i.e, the return on investment (ROI) per knowledge of your customer and the digitisation (technologies) of your business in the way in which technology rapidly grows in your business. This is so vital. It can be so easy to get carried away and lose focus with the fear of the coming of the singularity and of Ray Kurzweills’s predictions, the loss of jobs with the systematic integration of Robotic Process Automation (RPAs) and other forms of Artificial Intelligence (AI), and indeed would be amiss if the author dismissed or didn’t highlight the causes, effects and opportunities, and he does so in Chapter 5 entitled “Hearing the Footsteps - Where Future Tech is Going Next” , coupled with an exercise that speaks to the data, economics and the science in preparation of being tech adjacent.
“Today, tomorrow and 20 years from now, your survival will not depend upon how much technology you fully grasp, or can build immediately, but merely on your ability to be in its close proximity. Digital transformation is about casting your mind a generation ahead with enough resources and information until reality comes to life. What digital transformation is not, is just taking existing information and your current methods and converting them into digital form. ”
Even with the robots that are coming, and some, already here, Mushambi assures us that “you are going to be just fine:”. The final chapter has marching orders, not to go start a technology startup, but broaden the scope of what you think is achievable and become an opportunity seeker. To invest in a new way to create and shape change in the current way of thinking, so as to break the ceilings in how we define and implement (digital) transformation and plant the seeds of an exponential tomorrow.
Tech Adjacent is a wonderful, practical read that chronicles the excellence that the human mind is, showcases the futuristic brilliance that is currently taking place in Africa with true pioneers across all sectors of industry like energy and biochemistry and not just financial services, and invites you to question the current status quo in the processes and operations of your life and business, and doing it so in an agile and adaptable way to accommodate the exponential character that is technology for your business success!