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INNOVATORS VS COVID 19

Surviving Covid-19: A Perspective from a Photo Booth Company Within the Events Industry

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Ewan Sou INSATNTLY.SG

We talked to Ewan Sou, Director and Founder of Instantly.sg, about photo booth rental services and this is what he said about it.

Description of Instantly.sg

Ewan Sou: Instantly.sg is a one-stop event photography agency that specializes in custom photo and video booth installations for events and brand campaigns in Singapore. By combining the art of photography and videography with technology, we hope to help brands/event organizers create unforgettable brand experiences for their guests.

Highlights about Instanty.sg

Ewan Sou: This is our profile.

  • To our knowledge, we have the largest number of services in Singapore (a total of 33 different services). Of which, some are proprietary and unique to us. For example, our 360 Time Stop booth, and our 360 Bullet Time Light Painting Booth. We are also the first in Singapore to create a few services. For example, 180 Time Stop, Revolve 360, and Animated Green Screen Photo Booth.
  • We have an impressive portfolio and have provided services for many established companies before. For example, Apple, Netflix, DBS, and Sephora.
  • Other than Singapore, we have a presence in the region too. We have an office in Kuala Lumpur catering to events in Malaysia. We have also provided our services overseas before. For example, in Jakarta (for Cartier), Manila (for Netflix), and Tokyo (for SK2).
  • We’ve been featured in the media before on sgsme, jumpstart, moneyfm 89.3, and Canon.

First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times? 

Ewan Sou: We are doing alright. The Singapore government has controlled the spread of the virus well and life has returned to about 70% normalcy (pre-Covid). That said, we had a lockdown (we called it CircuitBreaker) last year April to June. Those were some tough times. Now, I am glad that things are much better.

Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Instantly.sg

Ewan Sou: I started this company back in the Year 2016. I graduated from Nanyang Technological University with a major in Economics. After which, I joined a local telecommunications company as a management associate. After working there for 1.5 years, I saw some opportunities in the event photo booth industry and decided to take the plunge into entrepreneurship and start Instantly.sg. We started with just one service (Live Instagram Printing) and now, we have more than 30 different services. Some of which are proprietary to us within Singapore.

How does Instantly.sg innovate?

Ewan Sou: For us, innovation is driven by market demand. Meaning to say, we don’t innovate and create new services just because we feel that something is cool or fun. Instead, we let the market (ie., our clients) tell us or hint to us what is fun, or what would they wish for. Then, subsequently, we implement a lean methodology to create and innovate accordingly. I would say that the main bulk of the services my company offers all comes about with the initial aim to address our client’s demand/requirements.

How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?

Ewan Sou: It was very bad. The pandemic has resulted in large scale gatherings/events being forbidden. We are in the events industry and that would mean we are not able to operate and provide our services anymore. For the last year, we had experienced a drop of about 80-90% in our monthly revenue. During Singapore’s CircuitBreaker period, the company is earning $0 every month.

Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources and what are the lessons learned?

Ewan Sou: Yes. I had to let some of my staff go. It was indeed very difficult to make such decisions. They are my team and I feel responsible for every one of them. However, for the company to survive, I had to let them go. The thing is, for us, the decrease in revenue is too drastic and too fast. It is almost like our whole business model suddenly become obsolete overnight. That said, the expenses can’t do down so quickly. There are fixed costs like rent, utilities, etc., that can’t be cut down so quickly. As such, the company’s finances are running on losses every single month. I explained this clearly to each staff and fortunately they are all very understanding. I advised them on what other job opportunities are there out in the current market now, and also wrote reference recommendation letters for them. Most of them are now in a more stable position.

With regards to lessons learned, it will be the below

  • Always be transparent with your team and communicate with them clearly and promptly. This Covid situation is unprecedented and unexpected. I am sure most or all of them will be understanding if you are transparent and communicate with them well. I was so transparent with my team, I showed them the company’s bank details.
  • Try to cut down unnecessary costs quickly
  • Have more cash buffer. We only had about 4 months of cash buffer within the company. We should have built it up to 1 year of cash buffer.

How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?

Ewan Sou: For our company, our business model is more of B2B. Our clientele is agencies and event companies. With the pandemic, all of us are affected negatively. That said, we maintain relationships by assisting and attending to them promptly with any request they have. For requests that are beyond our capabilities (for instance, some services related to virtual events), we also try our best to help them accordingly.

With regards to tools to maintain relationships with our customers, they will be things like WhatsApp, phone calls, emails, or Zoom. Nothing too special or out of the norm here.

Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?

Ewan Sou: Yes. Our Singapore government helped SMEs like us with multiple schemes. One of the schemes is the Jobs Support Scheme (we call it JSS), where the government co-pay all local employees salary. This helped my company a lot and allowed us to keep many employees employed within the company much longer.

Your final thoughts?

Ewan Sou: The pandemic will end eventually. But we are just not sure when and how long it will last. Until then, let’s all stay safe and observe proper procedures. I am sure when all is over, all will be well and the world will be back to normal again. And hopefully till then, Instantly.sg will boom and shine brighter than ever.

Your website?

https://instantly.sg

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