The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted businesses all around the world including Brunei Darussalam, especially among micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). Several local startups share insights into the pandemic’s affects and their business recovery initiatives.
While the pandemic affected the sales of many companies, it also brought digital development to Brunei. The government’s swift reaction to the pandemic had given Brunei a tremendous push towards digitisation, which benefitted all technology companies as a whole, said Simon Soo, one of the founders of Track & Roll.
Founded by Simon Soo, Jason Ngo and Kannan Murugan, Track & Roll is a human resource (HR) management company aiming to digitise the HR management space.
It is estimated that over 60 per cent of SMEs globally are accustomed to conventional HR administrative and payroll processes, using pen and paper. In addition to requiring a lot of physical space for data storage, it is also time and labour intensive and more prone to human error. Track & Roll is a fully cloud-based HR management system that consolidates core HR administrative and payroll functions into a single platform. It runs on a ‘Software as a Service’ (SaaS) subscription model, designed to deliver affordable and seamless HR services.
Since its founding in 2017, Track & Roll has garnered a number of awards including Top 10 Best Start-Ups of the Year and the Brunei ICT Award.
The company has represented Brunei in various competitions including the Asia Pacific ICT competition in Bangladesh. In 2019, Track & Roll was the Echelon Brunei Grand Winner, representing Brunei to compete with the Top 100 in Asia.
Operating since 2016, Sparkly Dosmestic Divas offers cleaning services for houses and commercial buildings. They also provide house-to-house delivery, particularly for online businesses that do not have transport to deliver goods outside Brunei-Muara District.
As a cleaning company, their business was also affected by the pandemic. Customers were reluctant to have the staff in their homes, and the company did not wish to expose its employees to risks, said owner Santy Allim.
The first two months was a huge challenge, said Santy. In order to minimise risks, she and the staff took precautions. They asked about the customers’ health before a booking was made and wore masks during cleaning. After a few months, their business started to pick up again.
Ever since its inception, the company has prioritised 100 per cent local workforce – mainly to reduce the unemployment rate in Brunei. They also prioritise individuals such as single mothers with young children and youth who left school at an early stage.
During the start-up stage, Santy said they faced various issues including insufficient number of employees to meet the growing customer demand. However, they managed to maintain the business and were offered a cleaning contract with the Food Court at Yayasan Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Complex. They also found collaboration with companies such as Mothercare and Bebeland.
Last year, shortly after the bridge connecting Brunei-Muara and Temburong District was officiated, the company received its first customer from Temburong.
One local MSME run by youths that has taken the nation by storm as a corn drink specialist, Jaddams, recently expanded its presence in the Belait District and was well received, with stocks finishing in less than two hours after opening on certain days.
Muhammad Saufi bin Haji Suhaili, one of the founders of Jaddams, shared that the business started from a group of graduates who decided to venture into entrepreneurship back in 2018 .
“Alhamdulillah, the feedback from the community has been overwhelmingly positive, and even starting around February and March [of 2020], while the full impact of the situation was upon Brunei, we were still able to maintain our business like usual,” he said.
Muhammad Saufi also noted the nature of the business that he and the group of graduates had set up lent to it being able to operate during such tough times with the quarantining not being a major factor. “Our business is not based on sitting down; just come and go,” he explained.
Furthermore, the advent of the pandemic has also brought about some changes in how they conduct their business as they look to maintain and further expand their scope. Muhammad Saufi shared that even prior to the start of the pandemic, they had provided delivery services, which they were able to focus more on following the start of the pandemic in addition to their normal store-front for takeaways.
Moving forward, Jaddams hopes to further expand its business across the nation.
Asia Inc Forum (AIF) is a local company dedicated to making a positive difference to Brunei Darussalam and the region through its events and programmes.
Since the founding of AIF in 2003, it has brought together government and business, as well as thought and community leaders on a wide range of subjects including entrepreneurship, economic competitiveness, trade issues, public policy and sustainability through its events in Brunei and abroad.
AIF was the Strategic Partner to 13 previous APEC CEO Summits since 2003 including the APEC CEO Dialogue hosted by Malaysia in 2020. AIF pioneered the ASEAN 100 Leadership Forum from 2005 to 2012, the inaugural Asian Forum on Enterprise for Society, Manila in 2018 and the Transform Forum, Brunei Darussalam in 2020.
In 2021, AIF will convene Transform 2021, Brunei on “Business Unusual” and the Asian Forum on Enterprise for Society 2021, Manila on “Asia’s Future Re-imagined”.
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