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One Year Later: Foodpanda's Best Business Lessons from the COVID-19 Crisis

It’s managed to survive and thrive in a hostile environment.
ILLUSTRATOR WARREN ESPEJO
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“Disrupt” is a light way to describe just how severely the pandemic has affected local businesses and the lifestyles of many Filipinos.

Within days of quarantine, people who used to never order out were ordering in every meal as the uncertainty of COVID-19 changed how everyone lived. Literally, almost overnight, Foodpanda went from a casual food delivery app to an essential app on every customer's phone. Riders went from delivery men and women to frontliners ensuring food and groceries reached families in lockdown.

And for the restaurant industry, which previously saw delivery services as an option or bonus service, apps like Foodpanda, GrabFood, and LalaFood suddenly became a lifeline. Like the travel industry, the restaurant industry came to a halt for months, causing countless local businesses to lay off workers or even shut down altogether. Without dine-in customers, delivery apps became the last—and only—option for many.

Over the course of the first six months of quarantine, Foodpanda quadrupled its vendor base after working at “warp speed” to onboard new restaurants to its platform. The rider base experienced similar exponential growth, with Foodpanda not requiring an educational background for its applicants in its bid to do its part to reduce unemployment. It wasn’t perfect, and the company has had to balance the sheer supply of vendors and riders with the demand of customers, but it’s managed to survive a pandemic that’s either shut down or bankrupted plenty of companies.

New Leadership Just in Time For a Crisis

How did they do it, especially when the new Foodpanda chief joined the company just weeks before lockdown? Leadership transitions are not easy at the best of times, so you can only imagine how difficult it was at the quite literal worst of times—2020. Daniel Marogy, managing director of Foodpanda Philippines, joined the team just before lockdown in February 2020 after a long tenure at Philippine Seven Corporation where he was integral in making CLiQQ a major player in local e-commerce.

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Photo by Foodpanda.

In an interview with Esquire Philippines, Marogy shared that after joining Foodpanda, he spent a number of weeks abroad getting oriented with Foodpanda’s regional offices. He came back a week before lockdown began, and “just had enough time to meet about 20 or 30 people, and then the whole thing kicked off.”

Nothing like a pandemic to welcome you to a new job. And Marogy’s first order of business? Closing down the business.

“I was a little bit concerned about the beginning, also having not worked with the team before, and how will this team respond to a new manager who [some have] only met once,” he shared.

As we all remember in those early days of what feels like a decade ago, there were plenty of mixed messages floating around as to who could or could not operate and who could or could not go to work. As the company’s new leader of only a few weeks, Marogy’s response was crucial.

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How Foodpanda Survived and Thrived

1| ‘We had/have very, very strong leaders.’

A good company is led by a team and not just one person. Numerous studies have pointed out that a culture of a leader can help a company grow, and as per Marogy, that’s certainly the case at Foodpanda. As they say, it takes a village.  

2| He didn’t micromanage.

“I felt that at the time, the best thing to do would be just to let them do their thing with oversights and just basically general guidance from myself,” shared Marogy. “I took a very light touch… [and] didn’t go into micromanagement or anything like that.”

3| Coordination is crucial.

Without face-to-face office time, online coordination can make or break a workplace. At Foodpanda, the managing director credits HR for ensuring coordination, which is key for a company and app that sells the service of coordinating deliveries.

4| Pivot, but do it quickly.

“Pivot” was the word of 2020 as every company tried to adapt to the new normal by releasing new policies, adopting new strategies, and doing what they needed to survive. At Foodpanda, the principle was that if they needed to pivot, then simply “move and do it quickly.” The pandemic pushed the team to be as pragmatic and sharp as possible, and luckily, the business model of Foodpanda is unhindered by a supply chain, allowing them to move and grow at a faster rate.  

5| Find opportunity in crisis.

The need to adapt is both a curse and a blessing. It can disrupt operations, but it can also push you to be even more innovative and ambitious to survive. In 2020, Foodpanda hit its 100 cities mark as it expanded aggressively throughout the country during the pandemic. The demand in the province was there, and without many competitors outside Metro Manila, Marogy called it “an open market.” To expand (successfully) outside Metro Manila is the goal for all companies, and “in the Philippine e-commerce space, that’s quite rare.”

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Anri Ichimura
Section Editor, Esquire Philippines
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