How Amsterdam’s tech sector is coping with the pandemic
At times, the pre-coronavirus (COVID-19) world can be hard to remember. In the blink of an eye, life changed dramatically. Lockdowns kept people indoors, testing centres sprung up and wearing a mask became part of everyday life. Every sector has been impacted, including technology. Product launches have been delayed, supply chains upended and in some cases, layoffs have followed.
Though there have been plenty of hardships, it’s not all bad news. Companies that help people work from home have continued performing strongly. The need for IT support and security has also fared well, and tech outfits whose specialities provide what clients need to endure the crisis are rising to the occasion, leading to unexpected – but very welcome – growth.
When life gives you lemons
Many organisations prepared for the worst when the coronavirus became a global crisis. Insurance company Lemonade was no different, and braced itself for the rocky road ahead. That path turned out to be far smoother than anticipated though, and its team was happy to see that many of their fears – including a forecasted drop in cash flow— wouldn’t come to pass.
“With millions of people fired or furloughed and billions in lockdown, COVID-19 has transformed the world, insurance included,” explains CEO Daniel Schreiber. “While most have suffered, some businesses have actually benefited from this transformation. We were seeing a rapid progression in our business and in our key performance indicators before the pandemic hit, and we’ve largely seen those trajectories continue despite it.”
Unlike many insurance providers, Lemonade doesn’t rely on brokers. Instead, it utilises behavioural economics and artificial intelligence and uses bots – known as Maya and Jim – to help customers find policies best suited to their needs. Throughout the pandemic, it’s kept paying claims and selling coverage, and even released new products. The US company, which was founded in 2016 and launched in Amsterdam last April, even became 2020’s best IPO debut after listing itself on the New York Stock Exchange in June. It turned out that even when stuck at home, people want the security that insurance can provide.
Schreiber is also pleased that the company has been able to help those affected by the crisis through its Giveback programme, which allows customers to donate unclaimed money. In 2020, it’s given over $1.1 million USD to worthy causes, including Direct Relief, which provided medication for 50,000 ICU patients fighting the virus.
“The global pandemic has hurt so many in so many ways,” says Schreiber. “More than ever, we’re grateful that our business allows us to take care of our customers while they take care of their communities.”
Finding ways to help as demand rises
Other organisations have found ways to lend a hand during the crisis as well. Nulab – a collaboration software company which was founded in Japan and has its European headquarters in Amsterdam – gave away its chat app when the outbreak started. “It helped a lot of people start working remotely, get organised and communicate,” says Alessandra Granelli, the company’s PR and influencers manager. “It was just a way to say, ‘we are supporting you.’”
Nulab's apps and programmes make it easier to work from anywhere
That same generous spirit inspired business solutions, consultancy and IT services provider Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) to show essential workers some love. As the sponsor of the TCS Amsterdam Marathon, it had a surplus of shirts that are usually given to runners. Made from soft, stretchy material that doesn’t rub or chafe, they were a welcome donation to those handling long shifts in busy hospitals.
Both companies have also seen a higher need for their services because of the outbreak, giving them each a boost. Nulab’s apps and programs are helping thousands work from home offices, while TCS Pace Port – the organisation’s innovation hub in the Zuidas business district—is guiding clients through the digital transformations required to weather the crisis.
“The outbreak has impacted our lives in so many ways and we have not been an exception,” says Lalit Karwa, who heads TCS Pace Port Amsterdam. “But we have seen both positive and negative effects. On one hand, footfalls are low as people aren’t able to travel, while on the other hand, the crisis has accelerated the need to innovate. Because of that, we are seeing more demand from clients wanting to explore new ideas, business models, and digital solutions to suit their needs.”
Members of the TCS team in Amsterdam, before working from home became the norm
Home is where the heart is
German appliance brand Miele has also seen an increase in sales over the last few months. During lockdowns and quarantines, people have invested in everything from new vacuums to complete kitchen transformations to improve their houses and apartments. Through its Miele X hub, the company is helping its global affiliates ensure their online presence is consumer-centric, but managing the growth they’ve needed to keep up with demand has been intense.
“Miele X in Amsterdam is our newly founded digital hub for Miele, so our objective is to understand consumers to the fullest and ensure a superior online experience,” says managing director Cindy Groenke. “We combine different areas, like digital marketing, ecommerce, data and technology, and work together to deliver a great online experience for our customers that seamlessly connects to the offline world.”
Cindy Groenke of Miele X
That requires finding and hiring new talent, though. “We started in January 2020 with just three people and our key objective was to recruit,” she says. “The challenge was hiring people that you’ve never met in person. They have an interview, but have never been to the office, and they have to decide whether or not to join. There were people coming from abroad, including South Africa, the UK and Italy, just to work for Miele X. Imagine making such a big decision to move to a new country during the coronavirus crisis.”
Making newcomers feel like part of the Miele X family has also required extra effort. “At the moment, we’re working from home,” Groenke explains. “But we also need to find ways to bond virtually since many people are new and we have to make sure that we grow together as a team.”
The Miele X office in Amsterdam
Amsterdam’s tech sector is innovative – and enduring
Whether tech companies in Amsterdam are struggling or doing more business than ever before, they have all been changed by the outbreak. Despite the stress and unexpected surprises though, the innovative spirit that defines the sector endures.
“The pandemic showed how a crisis can pose a threat, but also give birth to new ideas,” says Granelli. “In Amsterdam, we’ve seen a lot of cool new tech taking form, and a surge in creativity revolving around tackling the impact of COVID-19. Consumers also showed that there will always be a need for products and services that offer a solution to a problem. And these new solutions will also become an omnipresent part of our lives.”
While the way we live is likely to keep changing in the months ahead, hopefully the tech world will keep coming up with things that make it a little easier. Experiences vary, but they also reveal that the Dutch capital’s tech sector is strong, resilient and adaptive, even in the face of a crisis.
Learn more about Amsterdam's tech sector.