top of page

COVID-19: Lessons Learned By Small Business Owner

This blog post captures the case study of The Old Man Singapore. It is the story of relentless pursuit amidst uncertainty, volatility and the unprecedented challenges posed to a small hospitality business during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The learning curve as a first time entrepreneur is steep enough and now throw in the complexity of COVID-19 and you have the summit of Mount Everest glaring at you. On the other hand, in calamity comes the best opportunity to anticipate, learn, innovate and adapt. The sheer pursuit of human endeavour and resolve is put to an ultimate test. Not to mention, the faces of your team are a constant reminder that its just not about "YOU", it is about all those who are reliant on the success of the enterprise.

Such was the situation faced by us at The Old Man Singapore. A Hemingway inspired cocktail venue that has won incredible laurels such as World's 50 Best Bars, in a rather short span of time. So what does one do in such turbulent times? I share with you the story thus far..with the hope that the efforts undertaken would see us sail through and that things will soon improve for the better. It is also the intent to give hope, encouragement and share our learning with others who might be in doubt or a similar struggle. You are not alone!

Lesson 1: Fear Is Ok. Complacency Will Kill You.

It is natural that such uncertainty breeds fear and panic. After all we are all human. Use fear and stress as a motivation to act! In the case of The Old Man Singapore, as the situation began to unfold, we immediately began the work to list down potential scenarios that could take place - from stricter safe distancing regulations, to staggered lock-down and a complete lock-down. For each scenario we worked a financial model that included revenue projections, cost projections, cost containment measures and profitability, while keeping a close watch on government actions - be it regulations, advisories, social distancing measures and aid/funding. This gave us a good plan of action in managing our cash-flow and ensuring sustainability of business. There was only one principle we kept constant, that we retain all our team members.

Lesson 2: Necessity Is The Mother of All Innovation.

Now that we had detailed scenarios of our financial planning defined, we brain-stormed all the avenues to drive revenue and diversify our offering. The important aspect was to ensure that our brand integrity wasn't compromised since we also have the founding bar in Hong Kong. In doing so, we narrowed down on three areas - Takeaway/Home Delivery, Memorabilia and Merchandise. We identified the infrastructure and partnerships that would support this and revalidated all relevant regulatory requirements. It is noteworthy, all of these actions were being contemplated when the economy was fully open for business and there was no sign of an imminent "Circuit Breaker" in Singapore. Anticipating the future is the key. 

Lesson 3: Run As If Your Life Depends On It.

Once the plans were firmed up there was no time to waste! In less than 72 hours we had published our new brand website that was set-up from the scratch. In order to conserve much needed cash flow, we didn't hire any agency but did it all on our own. You will be surprised with modern technological innovations, how easy it is to set-up an excellent customer interface with online store, chat, payment gateway, social interfaces and all the bells and whistles that are expected by consumers. 

In the next 48 hours we had executed our digital media plan and allocated a spend to test our model. This gave us an opportunity to test, learn and improve. It also gave us a first mover advantage since until then only one more venue in Malaysia had started takeaway cocktails. Bottled cocktails had been around for a while but takeaway cocktails was a rather new undertaking. It worked! In 3 days we had already sold $550 worth in takeaway cocktails and recovered our initial investment.    

Lesson 4: Talk To Me and Do So Often.

Most great plans fails due to poor execution and if you think about it who are the players executing the plans? It's your team. Therefore, it was important for us to communicate transparently and seek feedback from our team at every stage of our planning process. This ensured their participation right from the start and also provided expert advise. At the end of the day they are equal stakeholders and such two-way communication boosts their confidence too. On the other hand, great leadership is not always about leading but also being led. We all lean on each other - be it for ideas, expert advise or even taking lead on certain initiatives.    

It was also important to communicate effectively to our investors. This helps instil confidence in the business and reassures the stakeholders that their money is in good hands.Your investors are also successful professionals and some of them can add significant value or provide good advise that can help further hone your plans.

Lesson 5: Help Will Be Given To Those Who Ask For It.

The saying from Harry Potter is very apt. It is alright to say you need help and ask for it! We approached all our partners, suppliers, sponsors and even friends. We needed help since in todays' integrated environment, one can't achieve success without soliciting support of many. Our financial planning model had already provided a good basis for our ask and it was important to be reasonable in doing so too. Remember ours is not the only business suffering, our partners are sailing the same boat. Be it rental relief, deferred payments, marketing support or even spreading word of mouth, etc., we were fortunate and blessed with support of many. Memory can be short, but in this case we have maintained a list of all those who have generously extended a helping hand, so when things improve we can give back! Once again, we transparently shared our scenario planning and worked with our partners through each stage. So they knew exactly what was being requested from them and when. This also helps them plan.  

Lesson 6: #SGUNITED We Are In It Together!

While competition is always healthy, this is is the time to collaborate and support livelihoods of as many. Singapore Government has established an excellent precedence earmarking SG$60 Bn towards aid in support of businesses and to save jobs and livelihoods. We wanted to partake in this effort. We tied up with other restaurant partners to expand the food offering on our platform and in doing so, supporting their business too. We engaged Limousine drivers for delivery service. These drivers had lost their sole source of income in the absence of tourists. We also extended our support and participation in initiatives undertaken by the industry to help create platforms that could collectively promote e.g. "TheDineInMovement". We continue to evaluate and actively seek opportunities with our sponsors and partners on avenues where we can either partner or contribute towards supporting jobs and livelihoods.  

Lesson 7: Doing Nothing Is Not Acceptable. Test, Measure, Learn and Improvise.

This situation is far from over and so are our efforts. Everyday we review relevant data be it sales, types of orders, timings of orders, web-stats, engagement level, customer feedback and impact of latest government regulations. Everyday we discuss and determine opportunities, areas for innovation and constantly seek association or partnerships to collaborate and drive sales. This disciplined approach provides us ample insight to this rather evolving situation. For instance - people are unable to celebrate birthdays and special occasions of friends but still want to buy them drinks. So, we launched our SG$50 gift certificates. We are doing things we never imagined and keep a curious and open approach.  

We have regular conversations with our other industry colleagues to learn from their observation and experiences. To be honest we have never been more busy! After all its about our survival and survival of our industry. 

Lesson 8: Be An Exemplary Citizen.

Right from the start of the COVID-19 crisis, we ensured utmost compliance to government mandates and advisories. We could have if wanted to allow for some flexibility within the ambit of law, after all who doesn't want to make more money! These are the moments that define us as a business and define our social responsibility towards the safety of our team, our community and most importantly our guests. No matter how small or big, a business is not just admired for its financial success but also for the contributions made to the community and society at large. On the other hand, "charity begins at home". We fight everyday relentlessly to ensure job security of our team and their welfare. This is the force that serves as a constant source of motivation for us.

The tide hasn't turned yet and there will be a lot more learning. It could even be a long road ahead. We remain extremely grateful to all our family, loved ones, friends, stakeholders, partners, guests and patrons who continue to instil confidence in us with their unprecedented support and encouragement. We are also thankful for Singapore Government's support for the industry.

I hope this blog leads us all to a moment in introspection and that it provides the necessary impetus for everyone to keep fighting, keep innovating, saving jobs and livelihoods and doing so, bravely. Entrepreneurship is not for the feign-hearted but we are in this situation together. #SGUNITED #SGTOGETHER #SAVEFNBSG


About the Author

Puneet comes with over 20 years of experience in the hospitality industry, having worked in various hotel and corporate level roles in Marketing, Revenue Management and Distribution for chains such as the Four Seasons and Taj Hotels Resorts Palaces Safaris. Puneet is also involved in various industry-wide initiatives. He served as the Asia Pacific Chair to the HSMAI Revenue Management Advisory Board and has successfully completed 2 terms as the Asia Pacific Chair on the Board of Directors of Hotel Electronic Distribution Networking Association (HEDNA). Puneet also served as a member of the Leading Hotels of the World International Rooms, Revenue Management and Distribution Advisory Board. Additionally, Puneet has personal investments in several successful Restaurant and Bar projects in Singapore that have established themselves among the most successful brands and gives him first-hand insight as a quintessential entrepreneur.

About Rev-Mantra Pte. Ltd.

Rev-Mantra management consulting services focus on our clients' most critical issues and opportunities: strategy, marketing (offline/online), distribution, sales representation and analytics across service industry and geographies. We bring deep, functional expertise, but are known for our holistic perspective: we capture value across boundaries and between the silos of any organization. We have proven a multiplier effect from optimizing the sum of the parts, not just the individual pieces.

407 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page