INNOVATORS VS COVID 19
How a Singapore Conference Company Pivoted Successfully Amid Covid-19
Wang Tingting, Founder and Chairwoman of IMAPAC Pte Ltd tells us about conferences with an impact.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Wang Tingting: We are doing well, thanks. I was spending Chinese New Year in China with my parents last February when the pandemic first hit and now we haven’t seen each other for a year because of the travel restrictions. Looks like we would celebrate the 2021 Chinese New Year in separate countries. I miss my parents a lot but in the meantime feel assured that China is doing a good job-fighting Covid-19 and is quickly rolling out the vaccination program so they should be in safe hands.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded IMAPAC.
Wang Tingting: I started my first business when I was 16 selling embroidered stockings to high school girls. Since then I did a number of startup attempts until I founded IMAPAC in 2010 after a corporate career. I am a big believer in business should be doing good while doing well. So I founded IMAPAC as a social enterprise with the mission to organize conferences to address important topics for discussion to drive innovation, growth, and social change especially in the healthcare space of developing nations. Also, for every person that attends our conference, we fund a child from a developing country to go to school for a year. So far we’ve sent more than 100,000 kids to school.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Wang Tingting: We started the year with a huge loss because all international business travels are banned and all large scale social gatherings are canceled. Our only product at that time is large scale international conferences and exhibitions. Not only we can’t get our deposit back from event venues, but we also have to issue credits to clients and have difficulty collecting payments from contracted clients. We are faced with unprecedented uncertainty and a huge financial loss. So we had to pivot.
How does IMAPAC innovate?
Wang Tingting: Since all our conferences and exhibitions were postponed or canceled, we had to innovate to deliver other services and products to survive. We swiftly postponed all our conferences, pivoted to online webinars, created a new business unit providing business intelligence and market reports, provided customized digital marketing services to our existing clients. When life gives you a lemon, make lemonade, so we just focus on making lemonade – since we know in a world that can’t travel, understanding, engaging, and communicating with clients digitally are more important than ever before, so we catered services and products to address that need.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources and what are the lessons learned?
Wang Tingting: As people are the No.1 asset in our business, we tried our best to keep everyone’s job. Since we’ve pivoted, we trained our existing manpower to deliver those new services, and only had to let go of one staff. Although we faced a lot of uncertainty, we promised all our staff that we’ll keep everyone’s job and not reduce anyone’s salaries even we’ll not make any profits for the next two years. The staff morale has soared. We successfully pivoted the business, created new revenue streams, and not only managed to break even from our early losses but started making profits again.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Wang Tingting: While we transitioned from physical to virtual events, many clients were not used to the new normal. Thus it took a lot of time and effort in demonstrating and educating clients on how we can deliver results even in a digital world. Nothing speaks louder than actions and numbers. We’ve doubled our attendee numbers for all the virtual conferences in 2020 to deliver more value. We’ve invested and implemented a new CRM system, we invested heavily in an AR virtual event platform Vfairs for better customer experience, created live streaming of webinars, industry weekly news on our LinkedIn page, as well as using new digital marketing technologies to improve customer engagement and interaction.
Did you benefit from any government grants and did that help keep your business afloat?
Wang Tingting: We did benefit from government grants which helped subsidize some of our overhead and expenses. I wouldn’t say that’s what keeps our business alive but it definitely has helped a lot.
Your final thoughts?
Wang Tingting: Chinese idiom says: A loss may be a bad thing or a blessing in disguise. Despite the initial financial loss, Covid has been a blessing in disguise for us. It did not only strengthen us as a team but also pushed us to innovate and move out of our comfort zone. We believe after the pandemic is over, when physical conferences make a comeback, we will benefit from all the new business units, products, and services that were created, grow bigger and stronger than ever before!
Personally, the pandemic and lockdown have also inspired me to create a YouTube channel to share my experiences and knowledge as a serial entrepreneur, as I hope to help the many people that would use this crisis as an opportunity to launch their own startups.
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