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Enabling Digital Engagement in the Time of COVID-19: A Rewardz Startup Story

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Sudhanshu Tewari Rewardz

Sudhanshu Tewari of Rewardz tells us about embracing and leveraging technology to meet HR needs.

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

Sudhanshu Tewari: The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly changed the way people think about their priorities. It has been a difficult time for most people. I must say, we are blessed to be in Singapore and to have been spared the harsher healthcare hazards experienced in other countries. The initial days of home-based learning for our two little daughters and work-from-home took some getting used to. But, on the whole, both our little family unit as well as the broader Rewardz family are healthy and weathering this storm well. 

Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Rewardz. 

Sudhanshu Tewari: After graduating with a Computing degree from the National University of Singapore, I worked in Investment Banks such as Credit Suisse and JP Morgan for over a decade. Starting Rewardz was a matter of serendipity. My wife, Nicole, would come home often sharing the frustrations of human resource (HR) processes in corporate environments; as a good husband, I felt it was my duty to address her frustrations. Her strong HR background and my technological skills led to the birth of Rewardz, with Jaya, the third co-founder bringing her client management experience to the table. 

With a mere S$25,000 in seed funding, we started up with the initial aim of addressing gaps in human resources by embracing and leveraging technology to meet HR needs. Over the last 8 years, we have expanded our product portfolio beyond employee engagement to customer loyalty, B2B/channel incentives, sales incentives, flexible benefits, and more. We serve 150 clients and 250,000 users across 19 countries with a reward marketplace that extends to over 1,000 merchants globally. 

How does Rewardz innovate? 

Sudhanshu Tewari: Innovation is one of the five core values at Rewardz. 

As a B2B SaaS company, one of the ways we innovate is to research the latest B2C technologies and analyze how these could be applied to the enterprise market. Similarly, we constantly identify gaps in the industries that we operate in and aim to plug them through our solutions. 

What sets us apart is the internal drive for bottom-up innovation. We have established an open, flexible work culture that allows developers and product owners to suggest product improvements, organize regular hackathons, and build proofs-of-concept (POCs). These have resulted in several product innovations over the years and kept us nimble and resilient. 

How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping? 

Sudhanshu Tewari: When the pandemic first struck, we saw a knee-jerk reaction from some companies as they dealt with immediate financial and existential repercussions. Thankfully, our existing clients stayed on, giving us a measure of stability even in the darkest days. 

Harking back to the point on innovation, we were quick to identify the heightened focus on physical and mental health brought about by the pandemic and responded by creating StayWoW@home; a wholesome wellness program delivered entirely online. This program not only enabled organizations to continue to engage their employees virtually while ensuring their wellness but also galvanized Team Rewardz to keep our eyes on the ball and navigate the pandemic with confidence and purpose. Through 2020 till now, I am grateful that we have coped well and grown through the pandemic, expanding both our product suite as well as the global team. 

Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?

Sudhanshu Tewari:  One of the most difficult choices for me as a founder has been to determine the right strategic direction to adopt at the different growth stages of the company. The impact of COVID-19 on our business has not just been a function of what happened in 2020, but the collective decisions that we have taken over the years that have built our resilience as a business. 

In 2013, we started Rewardz with a focus on SMEs as we thought that SMEs were the most lacking in terms of employee perks and benefits. While this was true, it turned out that SMEs were not ready to pay for such products. We ended up completely shifting our focus to medium to large organizations. This pivot helped us survive through the difficult early phase. 

In 2018, we made a very conscious decision to grow horizontally, diversifying our product offering to target not only HR but also customer loyalty and dealer incentives markets. Our decision to take on the challenge of diversifying into new industry solutions has helped us survive during tough COVID-19 times, which saw diminished employee benefits budgets across markets even while our customer loyalty and employee wellness business continued to soar. 

Two key lessons learnt: 

1) It pays to be agile and nimble in decision-making at the early stages of the company. Identifying what is not working and pivoting has a far greater chance of success than going down the wrong rabbit hole. 

2) To diversify or to go deep with the company’s offering – both represent diametrically opposed visions that can prove equally successful for the business. What matters is the conviction required to execute either vision. 

What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis? 

Sudhanshu Tewari: As a tech-based company headquartered in Singapore and with local offices in Malaysia, Dubai, and India, we were already using various tools in our day-to-day operations, including Trello for task allocation and tracking with remote teams, Slack and Skype for communication, and Zoom and MSTeams for client meetings. We did see a rise in the usage of technology (Zoom and MSTeams) among our clients as well during this period. 

In addition, we use our own products, CERRA Points and Flabuless. In fact, we leveraged Flabuless to run an internal charity drive for our 8th year anniversary in 2020, with 8 global teams collectively clocking 8 million steps to unlock a corporate donation toward the wellbeing of children in Singapore and UAE. 

How do you plan to stay in the game ahead of your competition? 

Sudhanshu Tewari: We operate in the space of digital engagement, wellness, and flexible benefits. While there are few big players and small niche players, our horizontal and vertical product innovation and high service standards give us the edge over our competition. We are changing the culture at workplaces and bonding individuals and teams through innovative technology. At the same time, we believe that true engagement begins at home. Our core strength lies in our team, and we constantly focus on team culture and talent development to leverage this aspect. There is something to be said about the thrill of conquering new challenges in a growing company. The key is to enjoy the game by continuously challenging ourselves to improve. 

Your final thoughts?

Sudhanshu Tewari: At the end of the day, you must enjoy what you do for the journey to have been worth it and have a can-do multi-faceted team to travel with you as you develop and grow. 

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