Pivoting necessary to extend business runway, says on-demand wellness platform

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On-demand wellness platform Sentuh had to halt its operations since the announcement of the movement control order (MCO). As its services are considered non-essential, the platform could not accept any new orders, says Sentuh Sinergi Sdn Bhd founder and chief executive officer (CEO) Ahmad Aizudin Ahmad Anuar.

“Being a start-up without any big funding, we were left with only two to three months' runway since the start of the MCO — now we are already in the second month. We knew we had to do something urgently to keep the business afloat,” says Ahmad Aizudin. 

To begin with, the company offered presale vouchers. Customers can redeem these vouchers within 18 months of the MCO being lifted. A portion of the income generated from the sale is given to their therapists, who are gig economy workers, says Ahmad Aizudin.

“As the platform is not accepting any orders, the therapists are essentially left with no income. To help them, we created a fund from voucher sales, to be disbursed to the therapists who apply for the financial assistance,” he adds. 

Launched in October 2018, Sentuh offers mobile wellness service, allowing its customers to book and enjoy a spa appointment from the comfort of their homes or even offices. It was clearly fulfilling a demand, having received an average of over 1,000 bookings per month before the pandemic erupted, forcing most countries into a lockdown.

Now that the MCO is in place, the platform has to look at offering essential services as well, says Ahmad Aizudin. It will start with physiotherapy. 

“We need to pivot the business to further extend the runway. One business opportunity is physiotherapy. Out of the 150 registered therapists on the Sentuh platform, about 30 are trained and certified physiotherapists. We have actually applied and received approval from the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) to run this business. 

“We are looking to launch the service sometime this week to our regular customers. Right now, we are still ironing out the standard operating procedures (SOPs),” says Ahmad Aizudin. 

Aside from physiotherapy-related services, the certified physiotherapists will also offer prenatal massage and modern postnatal care in the near future, says Ahmad Aizudin.  

There are a number of precautionary measures that will be in place to ensure the safety of both the physiotherapists and customers, he adds. For instance, the physiotherapists can only accept one booking per day. They will also be provided with face masks, contactless thermometers, sanitisers, disposable bed sheets and gloves. This means that the massage will be done with no direct skin-to-skin contact.

Both customers and physiotherapists are also required to complete a health declaration form before any bookings are locked in. If any of the parties are considered as high-risk, the bookings will not go through.

“We are also launching our mobile app, which will be equipped with a location tracking feature. By requiring the physiotherapists to check-in their locations, we are able to help with contact tracing if needed,” says Ahmad Aizudin. 

Moving forward, Ahmad Aizudin says the Sentuh team is thinking of other ways to expand the platform’s offerings. One option is to launch a marketplace feature. He explains that over the past two months, he has received multiple inquiries from physical spa operators to offer their services on the Sentuh platform. 

“Some of these operators have big human capital. One particular brand has over 30 outlets and employs around 500 therapists. It needs our help to support its businesses and provide jobs for its therapists. 

“We welcome this feedback and are now considering revamping our system to launch a marketplace for wellness services. This means that customers can choose from a list of merchants and services on the Sentuh platform. Of course, this is a longer-term plan which can only be offered once wellness services can be offered to the masses again,” says Ahmad Aizudin. 

Currently, the company is in the middle of a fundraising exercise. Aside from private deals, Ahmad Aizudin says the company is also interested to start an equity crowdfunding campaign.