Partnering and pivoting in times of crisis: an interview with SME CXB HUB /CXB Tech Co-Founders Alexis Grabar and Claire Bonniol, in London and Paris

When the pandemic began, CXB HUB was a three-year-old SME specialising in consultancy, training and technology in all aspect of CX (customer experience) and EX (Employee Experience). But like many small businesses, the crisis forced them to pivot their business model. Their solution was to partner with Ksubaka, a tech SME working in the gamification of customer experiences which provides a temperature detection kiosk, accurately measuring the temperature of an individual without the need for physical contact. Here, co-Founders Alexis Grabar and Claire Bonniol discuss how they responded to the impact on their business in real-time, and the experience of launching a new offer under pressure from the COVID-19 crisis.

 

What impact has the pandemic had on your business?

The COVID-19 crisis has impacted strongly our business in the UK and France. Even though we kept three-out-of-four big clients (Engie, Veolia, Ogic), we lost sixty percent of our pipeline for 2020 in less than four weeks. Our revised business plan for 2020 is now 50 percent below what we thought we could achieve in February 2020. Though we think we will recover 50 percent of those projects in 2021, and achieve our initial revenue goal for 2020 in 2021.

 

Could you describe your decision-making process when you first considered to pivot your business?

The first indication we had was in France, which was affected by the crisis two weeks before the UK, and then here in Britain. We had to move quickly to a digital-only solution to keep our clients and propose new solutions for new business. The first decision was to offer our CX coaching free of charge to help our prospects and clients refine their priorities, and this crucially was also a way for us to better understand their needs during the COVID crisis. We transformed our physical CXB HUB Afterworks into digital CX Afterworks to gather additional information. From this research, it was clear that our CXB HUB clients needed help with customer communication and employee safety.

 

What gave you the confidence to pivot in this way?

The key was finding something which kept communication going with our clients and prospects. And we knew we could respond to the need for security in many companies, who need to reopen their facilities, shops and offices, while offering maximum security to their consumers and employees. It was also clear that all budgets for consulting were frozen for at least Q2 and Q3 2020, whereas some budget for security was still available during the summer 2020

 

How did the partnerships with Ksubaka come about?

The discussion with Ksubaka started two years ago at a Retail Forum of the French Chamber. We always wanted to work together, and even before COVID-19, we had signed an NDA agreement and were looking at common opportunities. The COVID-19 crisis accelerated this cooperation, as they too had to pivot in their business. We created CXB Tech to distribute their products in the French market.

 

What are your projections for the success of the product?

We will make the first sales in France this month. Our goal is to break even this year by selling roughly 350 CXB TECH temperature kiosks, equal to about €500,000 in sales in France, UK and other European countries. We have a team of six senior sales staff, who are covering various industries across France, UK and Europe.

 

What advice would you give to other start-ups and SMEs looking to re-position their businesses?

The key learning of the process is that when you are hit by a crisis you need to move very quickly and find new ideas for growth when everything looks bad. Listen to your clients closely – media reports are not enough to understand the changes happening in businesses. Involve your team and friends in the definition of new working processes or new services. Share, dare, CARE, and work hard.

 

In addition to a new product line, you also leverage other forms of fundraising. What advice do you have for other businesses to keep their cash flow alive?

The COVID-19 crisis gave us the possibility to raise about £100,000 of debt financing from HSBC/BNPParibas combined thanks to the Bounce back loan schemes and the support of BPI. This was in addition to the £200,000 equity we raised for the business the last two years (we are three-years-old). The advice to early stage businesses is always work closely with your banks as they can be very helpful to bridge equity fund raising rounds.

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