Prepared in Jan 2021 by Tomas Muҫa, a student of Epoka University
The Lockdown Economy is the United Nations registered initiative by the Think Tank AlterContacts to help small businesses overcome the challenges of the pandemic. This interview and its analysis were done in collaboration with Epoka University.
While it may be true that the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a severe economic crisis, with hundreds of thousands of businesses being closed due to the lockdowns imposed in several countries around the world, there are also cases of successful adaptation to the new challenges encountered by the SMEs, especially when their core business focus is technology.
This might be the case of Tirana Center of Technology (TCT), a relatively new, local, innovative business, located in Tirana, Albania, which provides career advancement trainings in IT and programming. During the Lockdown Economy interview, the two co-founders of this business, Gentjan Mejdani and Rezart Alija provide some insights related to the operational challenges that they faced during the lockdown, and how they adapted to them.
Even though it might sound peculiar to say that any business was prepared for the pandemic situation and the restrictions it constrained in everyone’s lives, these two entrepreneurs and the staff of TCT had already been undergoing online trainings more than one year before the pandemic hit, through a project called Risi Albania. Since this was the case, their transition to fully online courses was smooth, as Genti and Rezart call it. The staff of TCT is composed of a team of experts in IT, programming, and networking, who are well aware of the benefits that technology provides nowadays, as well as of the means of its usage for online instructing.
Once the first COVID-19 cases were reported in Albania on March 8, 2020, and the lockdown was imposed by the relevant governmental bodies, TCT decided to move all its courses that were previously held physically in their laboratories, online. But, almost half of their training sessions were already being conducted remotely even before the COVID-19 crisis. This is why Genti and Rezart saw no reason to pause their activities and the learning process of their students for too long. Although the pandemic brought the two entrepreneurs in front of some tough decisions, they decided to use the latest up-to-date software and state-of-the-art technologies to offer their online, live instructing at the highest possible quality.
On the other hand, just like most businesses in the countries affected by the pandemic, TCT faced a lower demand during the pandemic crisis, with the number of students showing interest to enrol in their courses decreasing. This decrease was, however, anticipated by the two business owners. Both Genti and Rezart are aware of the fact that the service they provide in the market, is not a necessity for people, who, in times of crisis, tend to focus and spend more on the essentials: food, water, medicine, an energy such as electricity, and so on. These priorities, drawn by the basic survival instincts, make businesses that offer other services or products to confront a reduction in demand.
Apart from this factor, another reason why the number of customers at TCT decreased, is the common mentality that online learning is not as productive as in-class instructing. While this mindset did not originate from anywhere, it definitely does not hold true in all cases, especially when the courses are taught by IT professional instructors, who use computers and the latest available software on a daily basis. A point that Rezart makes to oppose this way of thinking is that students who decide to follow IT-related courses at TCT will most probably be working in the future as software developers or network engineers — and both these professions, with all the technological advancements and cloud services available today, will require them to work online most of the time, even from their homes!
A strategy that the cofounders of TCT have followed to challenge the negative impression that online learning creates to people, is the “don’t-pay-until-you-are-satisfied-with-the-service” policy, as Rezart likes to call it. Since they have found it difficult to change the people’s mindset, they have decided to implement a very clever policy to attract new customers: the student that may be interested to follow a course at TCT is offered the option to follow the lectures for two to three weeks without having to pay anything. During these weeks, the student has all the required time to grasp the idea of how online courses are organized at Tirana Center of Technology and, only if they are satisfied with the service provided thus far, they pay the fee and continue the course; if they aren’t, nobody will ask them a single dime for the lectures they have already followed.
While these are some of the strategies that TCT uses to attract more customers and to ensure them about the quality of their services, Genti notes that they are the first business in the Albanian market to offer such kind of services for people who want to develop professionally or advance in their careers in IT-related positions. Rezart adds to the argument that the pandemic is changing our era and this whole century and if technology-oriented businesses cannot make it through these difficult times, then which business can? The pandemic is challenging the traditional companies and forcing them to change their means of operating to online, remote working.
The two managers of TCT are planning to add more classes that students can take online, even classes that before, it was unthinkable that they could manage to do remotely. On the other hand, Rezart and Genti raise the issue of reliable internet connection and electricity disruptions, problems that, even though having reduced significantly during the years, are still not uncommon even for the most developed regions in Albania. Such problems, when occurring to them or to their students, are “dead-stoppers” for their business operations. Apart from that, they strongly advocate for the creation of a government fund that would subsidize online trainings for those who want to follow them, by keeping in mind that these people will be the taxpayers of “tomorrow”, thus making the country and the society as a whole better off.
The insights that both managers, Rezart and Genti, provided were indeed very helpful in understanding their business operations and strategies during the pandemic, how they adapted to the challenges encountered, and how they successfully surpassed them. Such a business model and its flexibility in adjusting to the changes in the macro-environment is definitely a successful example to be followed by all the companies facing difficulties in the current situation of COVID-19.