Juan Manuel Saravia of Loro tells us how they transform “brick-and-mortar” shopping malls into “bricks-and-clicks” businesses, engaging customers on both.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Juan Manuel Saravia: Fortunately, we are doing well. We have been taking very serious precautions by being isolated and just going out for necessary duties. Now we are very excited that the vaccine arrived in Colombia a few weeks ago, and the situation seems optimistic.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Loro.
Juan Manuel Saravia: I started my first entrepreneurial venture +10 years ago, founding Vansa. co an educational platform for small and medium companies that trains more than 15.000 people a month. After gaining traction and experience with Vansa, I decided to take the leap again and create Loro, a Colombian B2B2C tech company that offers an end-to-end e-commerce solution for shopping malls in LatAm. We developed a subscription-based service that covers real-time integrations with tenants, a marketplace with social features, omnichannel strategies, and expresses last-mile logistics. We are aiming to become the shopping mall’s industry umbrella for e-commerce.
How does Loro innovate?
Juan Manuel Saravia: Our everyday purpose is to develop new technologies and services that will help shopping malls and retail stores transition to e-commerce, offering a suitable platform that emulates the social experience of going to a shopping mall. We are constantly developing new features to deliver the best customer experience and facilitate the e-commerce operation for shopping malls and their tenants.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Juan Manuel Saravia: When the pandemic started, we were forced to launch our product early to the market to take advantage of the opportunity that it brought to the transition of retail towards e-commerce. It was the black swan that created the perfect scenario for us to go to the market, and, as it was an unplanned moment, we had to confront many operational and technical issues to which we were not prepared. Now we serve more than 90 anchor brands, have more than 250.000 downloads, and achieved +2’000.000 cumulative active users during 2020. This created a lot of financial changes, increasing our operational costs and forcing us to rethink our business model, looking for new ways to acquire more revenue and look for new ways to give the company the sustainability it needs to be able to transcend over time and be able to reach our vision in the future.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Juan Manuel Saravia: During some very critical times, we had to let some of the people on our team go in order to keep the company afloat. What I learned the most from this situation is that even if you do all the necessary planning and work every day to prevent difficult situations, they will end up coming your way. Sometimes situations get out of your control, and no one can preview that a pandemic will come in the middle of our lives, and things will change from one day to another. A leader must learn to understand that not everything is under her/his control and that part of its responsibilities is to take difficult decisions, always thinking for the benefit of its team and the long run of all the stakeholders involved. Companies must be created and built with a long-term vision and purpose, and those are the most important values to grab on difficult times, such as the ones we are living right now.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Juan Manuel Saravia: We were forced to create a customer relationship team in only a week to maintain our customer growth explosion due to the pandemic. Our team supported the high demanding challenges of operating an e-commerce business that grew more than 2000% in just one year. We use software such as Toky or Zendesk, and we even have tools that we have developed ourselves to help our team have more effective communication with our clients and maintain a good customer experience. We are aiming to be recognized in the market as a customer satisfaction-centered company.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Juan Manuel Saravia: No, we didn´t. We worked side by side with our investors because they trust in what we are doing and are willing to keep betting on the team.
Your final thoughts?
Juan Manuel Saravia: Entrepreneurship is a way of living that requires people that feel comfortable living a very demanding life and always being on the edge of their physical and mental capacities, but I believe that being a tech entrepreneur during COVID times is forcing everyone to live with higher levels of stress. That being said, Startups need long-term and passionate founders that have the courage to take agile decisions, always thinking in a broad and long-term purpose that is what motivates them to confront everyday challenges. Companies can never prepare to confront an event such as a pandemic. To be able to survive this very difficult situation, leaders must work on a daily basis to have a strong and motivated team that will be able to transcend through difficult moments.