Coronavirus: “Startups need to adapt to survive. If we didn’t move fast, we’d be dead in the water”, says Angeline Francis Khoo 

As startups in the UK come under extreme financial pressure, one entrepreneur says startups need to pivot their businesses – not only to save jobs and survive the impending economic crunch, but to realign their businesses with what the country needs right now.

Angeline Francis Khoo, the founder of luxury kimono brand Rosie On Fire, saw her successful e-commerce business, which has a global team of over 20 employees, come to a grinding halt overnight. Recognising her team’s jobs were on the line, she shifted the focus of her business from fashion to producing personal protection products and health kits for companies and customers.

“When coronavirus hit, we went from having a fully functional supply chain, to it being impossible to source fabrics and no customers,” said Angeline. “It was quite stunning to see a brand we’ve been nurturing for 5 years collapse instantaneously. We needed to move fast or we would be dead in the water.”

Francis Khoo recognised the business’s mature supply chain – linking Malaysia to the UK – could be repurposed in a matter of weeks, shifting the business from making and distributing luxury womenswear to producing personal protection kits containing essentials to help people weather coronavirus and the national lockdown.

While the startup’s fashion orders fell, the team in its Malaysian distribution centre shifted its attention to putting together pre-prepared boxes blending health essentials with items that were useful in a lockdown such as home fitness products, games and toys for young kids.

“In February, we froze all expansion plans which included opening a new shop and I began solely focusing on finding a way to keep my team employed. My main job has always been taking care of them and I was single-minded about ensuring my team’s survival. But having never faced a challenge like a pandemic before, it was daunting,” said Francis Khoo.

“It became obvious the landscape of the world was shifting fast and so were the needs of people. We saw a way to potentially contribute, which gave us a glimmer of hope. Essentials started becoming scarce, as did personal protection equipment, and a need opened up as countries started going on lockdown.”

“We’d spent 5 years building a business that enables people to buy online and ship directly to their door in the UK,” said Francis Khoo. “The assets we still had were our amazing team and strong supply chain. It was now a question of how to use what we still had.”

In the first instance, the company started immediately offering personal protection products it sourced directly to large corporates in Malaysia who wanted to supply their team members with essential hygiene products, such as masks, gloves, hand sanitiser and disinfectant spray. The startup was lucky enough to have interest from one of the biggest corporates in Malaysia out of the gate, which put wind into its sails.

Francis Khoo has now branded its corporate offering ‘SuperCleen’ Corporate, and the company will start selling products – such as hand sanitiser, gloves and other essentials – to companies and customers directly from the Rosie On Fire website under the SuperCleen brand. It is currently taking wholesale orders from its corporate customers by email.

Having established interest in the corporate market, the company has now partnered with London tech accelerator Jed.ai Labs to launch its consumer-centric kits with a dedicated e-commerce website. Much like a military supply drop package, these boxes bring together a carefully selected combination of useful and in-demand products to the public at a reasonable price.

“People are shopping differently, retail has and will continue to change. Our goal is to only deliver things that are useful, wanted and will bring a little joy to someone’s day”, said Francis Khoo.

Operating under the SupplyDrop brand, the company is launching with five different types of consumer boxes on its own dedicated website (supplydrop.me):

  • ‘Germ Killer Kit’, containing essential sanitation products, like anti-bacterial wipes, toilet paper and hand sanitiser.
  • ‘Lockdown Survival Kit’, containing a wider range of products, such as playing cards, home fitness products and sweets to help people in lockdown stay safe, fit and entertained.
  • ‘Lockdown Birthday Kit’, containing items to help someone celebrate in lockdown such as games, pamper products and home workout gear.
  • ‘Lockdown Pamper Kit’, containing products to help you relax such as face rollers, hair masks, cocktail mixers and bath bombs.
  • ‘Lockdown Date Night Kit’, containing couple-centric products such as couples games, candles, ‘Netflix & Chill props’ and massage oil.

Although the company is launching its SupplyDrop business with five boxes, it plans to launch more in the future, focused on different areas of customer need, such as fitness, health and entertainment.

“We’ve been so fortunate. This new partnership with Jed.ai Labs has helped us stay sustainable in a hard time. I started this business with a goal to create jobs for people that weren’t traditionally given opportunities easily. We will fight to survive.”

“I know so many companies and startups feel the pain. Founders who made the jump to set-up their own businesses are now feeling at a loss. It’s scary. But with change always comes new and different opportunities, we just need to be able and willing to spot them,” said Francis Khoo.

“There will be thousands of entrepreneurs fighting for survival. We all need to pivot, adapt, and move fast,” added Francis Khoo.

Angeline Francis Khoo founded Rosie On Fire in 2015. The company, known for its luxury kimonos, puts an emphasis on job creation for autistic people and hiring people from disadvantaged backgrounds. More than 95 percent of the clothing lines produced at Rosie On Fire are made from people that come from marginalised communities.

SupplyDrop boxes are available for delivery in the UK, Malaysia and Australia.