2020 Highlights — The good, the bad, and the tech

I don’t need to reiterate that 2020 has been a strange year. We’ve all lived through it. But in the midst of this epic year, there was some good. People stood together in solidarity, technology raised to the challenge and filled the void when we were forced into lockdowns, and governments, companies and people worked hand-in-hand to support local communities. It was a year like no other, filled with shifts and acceleration of trends, but it was a year that will also leave positive long-term markers that will continue to shape the future of our society and our businesses. So as we look forward to putting this mighty year behind us, let’s take a look at some of the highlights we can be proud of:

2020 has shown us that, overnight, a local problem can bring the world to a screeching halt. Overnight, the world was forced into a shut down; measures were put up to prevent our healthcare systems from collapsing, and that meant keeping people away from each other. As a result, technology stepped in. It kept us connected, it allowed us to work remotely, shop remotely and even visit our doctors remotely. But what this sudden shift highlighted was the inherent need for human connection. Yes, we realized that we could depend on technology to keep our communities running, but the people behind the tech — the connections that we have at work, with our neighbors, with our friends and family — those connections are now more important than ever. And this new prise de conscience rattled a human nerve. During this time, we saw more unrest, more protests, social and civil dialogues, erupt. The crisis helped us face uncomfortable injustices that had settled over the years and allowed for an international forum in which to address the inequities in our communities. The crisis saw a spike in charitable giving, and in companies and governments stepping up to donate to those most affected by the virus. Consumers began demanding more from the companies they bought from and from the governments they voted into power; and that influenced conversations around inclusion and diversity inside the workplace. The crisis has allowed us to openly discuss the human need, and how to leverage technology to meet the growing demands around work/life balance, supporting our local businesses and decentralizing our economic hubs. In giving us a glimpse at a life without human connection, we have learned to appreciate it even more. This has, in turn, influenced the tech industry and society’s perception and understanding of how to leverage technology. Because this is the power and the beauty of technology. It is agile and is built to react to the demands of the moment. And the Covid-Crisis has been a tech accelerator, not only in Europe, which saw France as a leading host country for foreign investment in industrial and R&D projects, but across the world. In 2020, Mirakl earned unicorn status, joining a group of 500 billion-dollar valuation startups around the world. Digital adoption has taken a quantum leap at both the organizational and industry levels — according to this McKinsey study, companies acted 20 to 25 times faster than expected. In the case of remote working, respondents actually say their companies moved 40 times more quickly than they thought possible before the pandemic.

I am convinced that these new trends have pushed society across a threshold — and that what we have learned these past few months will trickle down into every aspect of the way we live, connect and do business, with humans at the core of it all.

The Covid-19 crisis helped us realize our interconnectedness. How a virus in China was able to close down a school in New York, 9 months later. Subsequently, we’ve been forced to work together across political and physical boundaries, because we’ve all shared a common goal. Scientists worked together and shared information to accelerate research for a vaccine against Covid-19; governments shared trends, medical equipment and even opened up their hospitals for the sick and dying at the peak of the virus. Global collaboration and supply chain integration is key. Private companies know how to create new uses for old supply chains, and that knowledge is an invaluable tool. Kazumi Nishikawa, principal director at Japan’s ministry of economy and trade, speaking at an LSE event on the comparative economics of the crisis, highlighted examples of Toyota manufacturing face shields, and electronics giant Sharp supplying masks. This is only one of the many ways these new partnerships — between governments and private companies — can help our society. Staying on top of the disease and answering the world’s increasingly global challenges will require the ongoing collaboration between various entities. Today, this can take the shape of repurposing supply chains. Tomorrow, it can mean partnerships between tech companies and governments to help individuals with little digital skills, overcome the challenges of isolation. Initiatives like Better Together, a newly created LSE Ideas platform, which aims to capture and inspire action by companies to work with government, civil society and communities across the world, is a step in the right direction and proof of what we can accomplish when we work together.

As we rebuild the world of tomorrow — tourism, banking, retail, finance, education — let’s continue to leverage global intelligence to support our communities. Let’s use the lessons learned during the pandemic, let’s continue the partnerships formed between governments, companies and local communities to build long-term solutions. Let’s leverage this crisis as an opportunity to build an even better future.

In the early days of the Covid Crisis, late February or early March, when we were still not quite sure of the dimensions of this pandemic, or the world it would leave us with, people came together. We helped each other on a small scale — picking up groceries for elderly and at risk people, standing by the window at 8 p.m. to support our medical community — and on a massive scale: companies pivoting the production of their products to make and donate hydroalcoholic gel and other PPE equipment. When French President Emmanuel Macron addressed the country for the first time, his words were clear : “We are at war.” And so, we all mobilized to fight this invisible enemy. In our case, at Mirakl and in partnership with the French Government, we created StopCovid19.fr. In 48 hours, we launched a B2B marketplace where hospitals could have access to precious material — masks, gels, PPEs — life-saving commodities at the heart of the crisis. In 48 hours, companies like Arkema or Shiseido donated hydro-alcoholic gel on the platform. We went on to offer masks when they were in scarce supply. Gloves, eyeglasses, hairnets. Anything front line workers might need. Eventually we opened it up to local municipalities, schools and companies. Since our initial launch back in March 2020, 225 million face masks, 1 million litres of hand sanitizer and 27 million PPE have been distributed to over 29K customers. It was a massive project that consumed us day and night, and that we did for free while at the same time running a growing business. But it drove us. Especially during the early days, it was the push we needed so as to not feel completely helpless. Because, in times of trouble and crisis, humans band together in solidarity. This is what Covid-19 reminded us of. We were driven by the number of buyers and the number of items on the platform — the first 500K liters of gel, the first 1 million masks; we were driven by the testimonials, and the knowledge that we were somehow contributing to the safety of so many, even though we were sheltered in our home-offices. But this culture of going above and beyond and working hard, together, these were ingrained in our company culture long before Covid. Having those core values has been our North Star during this pandemic, and it has bound us together. As Mirakl continues to grow internationally at a rapid pace, this core set of values will be critical in keeping us aligned just as we have been for these past nine years. Our values will anchor us in a common purpose and will help us continue to innovate and give our customers the tools to build and grow the marketplaces that will allow them to be the best in their class.

During the Covid-crisis, the sentiment of needing to rally behind a strong set of values has trickled down to the consumer, with 12 percent of consumers in Europe reporting to be buying more from brands based on their purpose than they did at the beginning of the pandemic. This is an opportunity for businesses to look at their global impact — review their mission and their purpose for doing business. Tech for Good is a start — a commitment to contributing to a better society — but it should not end there. The Covid-crisis has challenged us to collectively stand up and do more, and for that, we should all be optimistic.

I can’t talk about 2020 without mentioning the e-commerce boom. Retail saw more acceleration in 3 months than it had in 10 years. It’s been an amazing year of change in consumer expectations and consumer behavior. But why is this a highlight? The world was changing long before Covid-19. Mirakl is nine years old, and we created our company with the sole purpose of helping small and large players fight against the digital natives disrupting entire industries. These accelerations are happening in manufacturing, grocery, retail, automotive and even the energy sectors. But, it’s been an ongoing transformation. And though I often felt like the doomsday predictor — the guy standing on the soap box in the middle of the public square, warning of the repercussions of not digitizing — the pandemic accelerated the digital revolution. But it isn’t too late. Platforms who had already begun to transform industries pre Covid-19 were able to grow their footprint and their market share. Those who had yet to innovate, innovated quickly. Large and small businesses platformed, and were therefore able to give their customers what they wanted when they needed it most.

Agility, creativity and customer-centricity became the mantras of the Covid-Crisis business model. 50% of buyers are shopping for items they’ve never bought online before the pandemic. Netflix saw a spike of 16 million new sign ups. Telemedicine took center stage during the pandemic, with a 2000% increase, according to the Mayo Clinic. Grocery stores with omnichannel strategies saw business rise by 24x. There’s been an uptick of over 25% of people leaving big cities. These numbers are staggering and reveal a real change in consumer behavior that will be long-lasting. As consumer needs continue to change, it will be up to companies and businesses to evolve. But I no longer need to shout about the advantages of a digital platform business model. I don’t need to talk about resilience in the face of adversity; a competitive advantage and the agility to pivot from playing defense to chasing growth. The pandemic has proven this. But it’s not too late to adopt a new model; it’s not too late to give consumers what they want.

As we wrap up 2020 and rebuild a 2021 that reflects all of the changing behaviors influenced by the COVID-19 Crisis, I want to say THANK YOU. Thank you to those on my team, who have worked hard through this tough time to continue to arm our customers with the tools to innovate and persevere. Thank you for rallying behind our values and giving back, and thank you for championing the commerce revolution. Thank you to the people who put their lives on the line, the men and women at hospitals, grocery stores, and all along our supply chains, who kept our society running despite the pandemic. And thank you to our customers, all of you who dared to innovate long before the crisis, and have been able to see your businesses grow thanks to your vision and dedication to customer-centricity.

The global pandemic unleashed in 2020 pushed the world to the brink. It stripped society of its comforts. By forcing us to face our fears, we were finally able to release our potential to be better — better stewards of our planet, more compassionate members of society, better business leaders. For all the destruction and pain the pandemic has caused, it proved our resilience; ignited our creativity; highlighted the power of technology to take us into a new and inspiring decade. 2020 was the year of struggle; but it was also the year of triumph. 2020 was the beginning of something great. And for that, we can always be thankful. Jack Ma, chairman of Alibaba Group, said it best: “Never give up. Today is hard, tomorrow will be worse, but the day after tomorrow will be beautiful.”

Philippe Corrot is the CEO and co-founder of Mirakl. A serial entrepreneur based in Paris, he is passionate about societal and business digital transformation.