Vary Yong took on the leadership position in iFoundries about a decade ago and found himself having to face turbulent climates and ever-changing economic impacts especially in the last few years, being in one of the most competitive industries.
Just a few years back in 2017, was when the company hit one of its lowest times and was beaten down. And then COVID-19 hit. Preparing himself and his people for the catastrophic pandemic was certainly not an easy task.
Some say a crisis brings out the best or worst in leaders and people. While he has managed to ensure business continuity while protecting the health of his workforce, keeping them safe and healthy, the uphill battle was long from over. Setting aside profitability to priortise people was a decision the iFoundries' leader made when the crisis hit. Giving some sense of certainty and hope of job security was also expected from a leadership perspective.
Beneath having to juggle gaining perspective, being adaptable, responsive, and agile in business strategy, thinking of the best business continuity plan, and taking care of employees' mental wellness is: fear, uncertainty, and tons of pressure.
Leaders today can learn from the lessons and triumphs, in hope that they might bring fresh ideas and motivate others who have been affected during the pandemic.
Vary has stressed that the resilience during the pandemic is built on a foundation of strong relationships fostered over the years.
In order to understand what business owners can do to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on their operations, ensure business continuity, and deliver better outcomes in times of crisis, we decided to publish the interview he had with startup.info to help other businesses in Asia find the strength to bolster their company's resilience for the upcoming years.
Vary believes that the silver lining is that it is usually during difficult times like these that many breakthrough innovations and meaningful businesses were created that ultimately benefited humanity.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Vary Yong: Thanks for asking. We managed well, learning new ways to adapt to the evolving conditions due to the pandemic every day. Living in Singapore, our government took swift actions to keep the infection rate down even though Singapore first started to report COVID-19 cases; we were one of the top few countries on the chart.
Tell us about you, your career, how you joined iFoundries?
Vary Yong: Formally trained in multimedia computing, I was inspired by the book “The E-Myth Revisited” by Michael E. Gerber that my mentor recommended to me before embarking on my entrepreneurial journey. Having my first taste of the internet industry shortly before the dot.com bubble burst, I had acquired substantial hands-on experience in various fields of this fast-paced digital industry, from e-learning, e-commerce, web development to internet marketing.
In 2006 I joined iFoundries as an associate and later took on Managing Director’s role from 2010 till today. With the help of my excellent business partner Andy Lim (who was one of the initial co-founders of the company) and a great team, iFoundries grew from SGD 400k to a yearly 7-figure revenue business.
How does iFoundries innovate?
Vary Yong: Helping businesses with their website development and digital marketing needs for more than a decade, we have had the first-hand experience on what companies have been doing right or wrong. We identified the gap that most companies have between their sales and marketing teams, and we have been developing solutions to help companies close this gap. By closing this gap, both teams’ efficiency will increase multi-folds, directly impacting the business bottom line.
On top of crafting bespoke digital marketing strategies for our clients, having a strong tech background in our team allowed us to develop new digital products that can help companies automate their digital marketing tasks.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Vary Yong: Our company was actually on our way to recovering from one of our darkest times in business before the pandemic struck. I made mistakes in managing the company’s finances when we expanded our team size quickly two years ago and eventually had to restructure our business model entirely. When the pandemic caused its effects on the economy, we found ourselves suddenly on a more level playing field. Because of this experience, we are well-positioned to help other SMEs.
Many businesses we know are struggling badly due to this pandemic, and our company has been trying our best to help our clients and other firms speed up their digitalization journey. Everyone is now forced to do business differently due to the various operating restrictions, and going digital is a significant driver to help sustain businesses. This helps keep our revenue going as there’s more demand for our solutions.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Vary Yong: We did not let any staff go or cut staff salaries. I prepared a business continuity plan knowing the possible grave effects of this pandemic and the economy’s unforeseeable outlook then. We drew out different possible worst-case scenarios and the remedy actions we needed to pivot the business if the worst situations played out. The entire plan was presented and shared with our entire team via a Zoom meeting. I’m glad that we did not need to take any remedial actions as projected in that plan as we managed to avert the crisis strategically.
I learned that it’s essential that the team knows about such a plan early enough to manage expectations themselves rather than being retrenched or having their pay cut on short notice. Most importantly, the biggest takeaway is that we can all work together to overcome these difficult times together, being on the same ship.
That being said, it can also be a double-edged sword with people wanting to leave the ship before it sinks.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Vary Yong: When our business hit its lowest point more than a year ago, its impact was heavier and more grave. After an adversity like that, I only grew to be more resilient and learned how better to manage my stress and anxiety over the years. Having enough space when I needed works very well for me, and I typically can get back into robust action after a short hiatus.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Vary Yong: Competition has always been getting increasingly stiff in the digital marketing industry for the past decade. Marketing your business on digital channels is no longer an experiment but a necessary part of the marketing strategy for companies of any size.
Nevertheless, iFoundries proudly celebrates its 16th year in business next year despite being in this highly competitive space. I’m positive that we didn’t survive this long in business due to sheer luck. Sure we have made costly mistakes, but we also did many things right that propelled us this far. Looking out to experiment with new trends and technology that may disrupt our own business was one of the many things we have been doing right.
The traditional digital marketing agency model is heavily reliant on the workforce. Still, with the rise and accessibility of marketing technology tools, this will no longer be the case very soon. The value agencies can add to their clients to provide them with independent, objective advice on the best tools and strategies to use. Agencies should proactively be their clients’ eyes and ears in the market. It’s all about delivering value.
Your final thoughts?
Vary Yong: In such unprecedented times with the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone in the world is trying their best to adapt and hoping to come out stronger. Looking back in history, it is usually during difficult times like these that many breakthrough innovations and meaningful businesses were created that ultimately benefited humanity.
It’s amazing how our world has progressed to tackle this COVID-19 pandemic with such speed and agility, but of course, we can always do better. Building resilience from overcoming a crisis is crucial as we will appreciate the hard work later.
The young generation joining the workforce during this pandemic may feel lost and have their hopes diminished. If we have the ability, we should do our part to guide them or offer them opportunities as they will eventually be the future pillars of our society.