At the onset of the pandemic, Nick Jonsson, Co-Founder of EGN Singapore scrambled to figure out how to get the networking company to survive and thrive. With the government’s cash support, the company increased its headcount by 7 and nearly doubled their membership.
A year ago, in March 2020, EGN Singapore (EGN) faced painful cash flow issues, as companies froze discretionary spend to preserve their budgets. Moreover, hunkered by the pandemic, EGN had to move their livelihood, an intense calendar of events, online. A network for executives, EGN enables people to meet in small groups that can confide with other members of that group – a safe space – and organizes events with guest speakers to give people an opportunity to learn outside of their own organizations. EGN depended on people meeting face to face. But it quickly became apparent by mid-year that social distancing was going to be a part of our lives for years, not months or days, and so EGN’s managers had to rapidly pivot the way the organisation worked.
Nick Jonsson, a co-founder of EGN Singapore, first had to address the matter of cash flow, which meant changing the modus operandi of the company. Traditionally, EGN members had been sold annual subscriptions which were paid by their employers. But in early 2020, the employer companies stopped paying membership dues because they were limiting their discretionary spend. To generate cash flow, the EGN team had to innovate. Instead, they invited existing memberships to subscribe as individual members, rather than corporate members, and implemented a monthly subscription payment model, payable by credit card. That helped generate cash income.
Being an SME based in Singapore is a godsend. Nick said, “We are blessed to be in Singapore. SMEs in Singapore have a good deal of government support and grants to tap on and there is a good reason for this support – SMEs form a significant part of the economy, accounting for about 99.5% of the country’s enterprises and 70% of the workforce.”
To keep business going, EGN adapted by mobilising their staff, speakers, and peer group facilitators, to adopt Zoom as a platform, and reorganized EGN’s networking events, talks, and confidential peer group meetings, to take place online.
As time marched on, and people continued to work-from-home, more business folk, denied the opportunity to meet and greet colleagues around the office water cooler or coffee machine, sought out networking opportunities. They needed other people with whom to share their wins and frustrations. Thus, EGN’s membership grew.
That put pressure on EGN’s team, and the government’s Job Support Scheme (JSS) windfall gave EGN the impetus they needed to risk hiring more staff.
“It gave us an opportunity to scale our business despite being in the midst of a pandemic,” said Nick. “Once we knew we could receive JSS funds, we swiftly took action and started hiring employees. By the end of the year, we had hired 7 full time staff, all Singaporeans.”
“While typically, this would be a large investment for a small company like EGN Singapore, the founders believed in the business model and felt that networking would be more ever more important due to the changes and challenges that senior executives are facing as a result of Covid-19.”
“Now, we are constantly innovating and evolving our business model to fit the needs of our members in its current climate. By engaging with our members to seek their constructive feedback for improvements, we then set about implementing their suggestions.”
Why focus on networking?
Nick says that, “The purpose of networking is not only to develop relationships to source more opportunities, but also to learn new skills, gain fresh knowledge of current best practices, and to exchange of information with like-minded peers.”
“At EGN, we strive to provide a hotbed of topics and discussions that will spur our members to become the best version of themselves professionally. Members themselves share their expertise during talks.”
He adds, “But importantly, we create niche peer groups where members can discuss their business challenges and strategies confidentially. By deconflict these groups of competitors, members are assured that they can share their challenges privately, and to crowdsource solutions. We even go as far as to ask each member of the peer group to sign non-disclosure agreements.”
The path forward
Now that the Singapore government permits more people to gather in person, by following strict protocol EGN members are once again meeting in person. However, given that the online meetings format suits some purposes, EGN will continue with a hybrid model of in-person events and online meetings.
The government’s foresight with the JSS program was beneficial and helped EGN to turn the business around. Nick believes that the innovations they have made to the business model are enough to sustain hiring all of EGN’s new employees. And while new members continue to subscribe, attracted by word of mouth referral and an organization that really puts networking to work in a positive, fulfilling manner, for those reasons too, established members keep renewing. The future is bright at EGN Singapore.