FROM THE FRONTLINE: How food startup Two Hands is responding to the coronavirus crisis
The economic crisis brought on by COVID-19 is unlike anything the startup sector and broader business community experienced before.
The economic rule book has been thrown out the window and Australian government’s response reflects gravity of the situation, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison announcing a massive $ 130 billion stimulus package, in a bid to keep people in work, among more than $ 300 billion in spending.
While governments and central banks worldwide attempt to come to grips with the macro challenges, we want to talk to people on the frontline of business to see how they’re faring and share their advice on how they tackled the challenges they face.
Each day we’re sharing the story of a founder or executive as From The Frontline. Today we hear from Greg McLardie, CEO of Two Hands, a Victorian startup that built a digital marketplace, that has developed a system for Australian fishers, farmers and chefs/restaurants to have more transparency around their produce supply chain and restore human connections in the food industry while also reducing inefficiencies and excess handling. Ironically, it’s the kind of tech that greatly reduces the risks of pandemics from the mishandling of food products and produce.
Having successfully launched with Australian lobster in hotels like Waldorf Astoria and Ritz Carlton Shanghai, the business came to a sudden halt in January and this week launched a Birchal campaign to help it stay afloat. What’s happened at Two Hands is explained by Greg McLardie below.
If you have questions you want to ask of founders, or want to share your own story, please drop Startup Daily editor Simon Thomsen an email at startupdaily[at]pinstripemedia.com.au
And a big thanks to Greg and the others who are sharing their experiences with us.
What’s happened to Two Hands?
Since January we’ve had $ 0 sales now due to coronavirus: no orders, shipments or revenue since late January, as all restaurants closed in China in reaction to COVID-19 back then.
We have used the ‘downtime’ in our business operations to be ready to add as many additional proteins as possible to our system for when the restaurants re-open. Chefs in high-end restaurants (and likely all restaurants) are well aware that the coronavirus started in the Wuhan fish market, which is the same as every other fish market in China. Our chef partners there (chefs are still working, even though the restaurants are closed) have told us:
- that our model, which avoids the fish markets, resonates strongly with them, as by using the Two Hands platform, their produce avoids the fish markets; and
- ideally they would like Two Hands to expand into more proteins besides Southern Rock Lobster as soon as possible, so they have more proteins they can safely access through our platform.
Have you had to let go of staff and if so, how did you do it?
No, but all staff have taken a pay cut to some extent (or agreed to go part-time or to take no salary), depending on ability to do so. We had the hard discussion with the whole team together about the need for everyone to take salary cuts, else we have to cut staff. It was very uncomfortable, but made it clear we are all this together.
How are you communicating with staff and maintaining culture?
Lots of video calls to see everyone’s faces is key. I wish I had bought shares in Zoom!
More seriously. When coronavirus first hit Australia, there was tremendous angst in the team, that was affecting our efficiency. We were not on the same page. So we had a week-long session, where we went back to discuss in depth our mission, values and get alignment on the key projects to drive the business forward.
Also, there was a tendency for team members to be maternalistic or paternalistic to make the whole team feel good. So people weren’t all connected with the reality the business was dealing with.
In the week-long session, we provided full transparency, and while some of these discussions were very difficult, they were necessary to be honest and respectful to everyone, as well as to get everyone on the same page. With the benefit of hindsight, this has been brilliant for our start-up.
All our team work from home. It has been key to be open and transparent, plus the addition of daily stand-ups via Zoom so we can all see each other and know what each are working on. Also have weekly town meetings (which we have always had).
How are you planning for the next 6 months? What’s the best advice from your accountant?
As quickly as possible to reduce the cash ‘burn’ rate and to be open, honest and transparent with any creditors. This is a good time to tell creditors about the dream you are pursuing, just like you are telling investors.
In terms of planning, as said above, we are working hard to bring in as many other proteins as possible, to be ready for when the market is ready to re-open. We also launched an equity crowd-funding on April 1 to help provide funds to support our growth and keep the business ‘afloat’.
You can find out more here.
How has your bank been helping? Are they being understanding? What’s the biggest issue you’re facing?
Startups typically only operate with equity funds, not debt financing, as there is insufficient revenue history or assets. So we aren’t relying on the banks right now.
How are you going collecting on any outstanding invoices?
Invoice collection is not an issue for us as we get paid immediately.
How have you approached sharing your partner/family about what’s ahead?
My family is all involved in the business, so they are well aware of the issues I’m facing! What’s really important for family is the same as for the people working in the business. Naturally there’s tremendous angst with everything around coronavirus and the unknowns going forward.
So what is critical for the leader of a startup is to get everyone focused on the highway ahead and not the wrecks around you and in the rear-view mirror. Really wise words came from American crisis management expert Kent Kendl, who was in China during the SARS crisis. He said the mistake most of his clients made was to focus on the angst around the crisis rather than on the opportunities following the crisis.
His advice was to focus on taking advantage of the opportunity so you hit the ground running post the crisis. So we are pursuing exciting opportunities post-corona and it is energising and exciting for our family and the team.
How can a spouse/partner support a small business owner?
Not keep asking when it’s going to be ‘all better’, as much as they want to! To keep the faith even though they can’t see where the faith is going to come from.
- Learn more about Two Hands here.