How Cloud of Goods rose from the ashes against all odds and scaled the gear rentals to 90 cities across America? 

Cloud of Goods scooter rentals, wheelchair rentals, and stroller rentals making happy travelers across America - Cloud of Goods

This is a story of hope, resilience, patience, self-belief and faith. This is a story of finding hope in hopelessness, finding strength in weakness, finding order in chaos, and finding light in darkness. This is the story of a stubborn entrepreneur and his startup team who refused to give up their dream to Covid-19 pandemic. I am Punsri Abeywickrema, the founder & CEO of Cloud of Goods. This is the story of how we survived Covid together as a team and scaled Cloud of Goods to 90 cities across America in 1 year.

 

In December 2019, Cloud of Goods was operational in 10 cities covering all the major tourist destinations from west coast to east coast to deep south of America. We were renting scooters, wheelchairs, strollers and many other things to travelers across America. Thousands of people were dependent on Cloud of Goods to make their travel plans a reality as Cloud of Goods was quickly becoming the sought-after scooter rental, wheelchair rental, stroller rental and other gear rental platform for travelers. We were seeing a bright future, the media was talking about CoG being the “next Uber” and we were talking to investors to raise the Series A round of funding to scale the already proven business model.

 

We heard the news that some new virus is impacting China, but life was going on as usual in the USA. I was traveling from city to city, meeting my staff and customers, pitching to investors, talking to the media and was seeing a future where Cloud of Goods was changing the world for the better. We were to be a great force behind realizing the United Nations Vision 2030 Sustainable Development Goals 11 and 12.  As we stepped into the year 2020, we had no doubt that it was going to be the year we rock the world. We were launching cities, growing across the country, our brand was getting recognized by consumers and we were on track to post a net profit by April 2020. 

Cloud of Goods Orlando FL warehouse - 2019

Little we knew about the Pandemic that was in the making on the other side of the world in Wuhan China. In January 2020, suddenly travel slowed down in the US and we missed our revenue targets, but things started recovering nicely in February as people had become immune to the Coronavirus news and we posted better than expected rental bookings in February. 

 

Happy travelers who rented scooters and wheelchairs from Cloud of Goods

As things were going well, I decided that it was time for me to make a trip to Sri Lanka where we had the tech team, so that we could plan the technology roadmap for Q2, 2020. I came to Sri Lanka at the end of February on a 3 week trip and I was to return in mid March. Towards the end of February, the media started talking more and more about this Corona Virus and how it might turn into a global pandemic, but still nobody had any idea how it might impact the world.

 

Cloud of Goods business kept slowing down week over week into the second week of March, but we were hopeful that it was going to be a minor setback and that travel will return to normalcy soon after the virus fears were over. I remember watching the news on March 12th and that is when I realized that the world is going to go into a period of lockdowns. Countries were racing to shut down travel, curfew and even marshal law was being imposed in some countries and the magnitude of the pandemic was finally being felt in America and around the world. I went to bed with a lot of uncertainty in mind, only to wake up to a shattered dream. I remember getting a call from one of my staff members from Las Vegas saying that the website credit card processing has been blocked by our card processor due to excessive chargebacks. Most of our inventory was out on rent in the 10 cities. We decided that safety and health of our drivers was more important to us than collecting our equipment, so we just let go of our equipment and stopped all delivery operations to try to keep our drivers from being exposed to the virus.

 

The following day, I logged into my Wells Fargo account and suddenly my world just collapsed in front of my own eyes. Cloud of Goods bank account has gone negative overnight and my personal bank account which was linked to the CoG account had gone to zero as well. I had never felt so lost or clueless in my whole life. 

 

We had no money to pay our drivers for the first 2 weeks of March payroll, so we had to call a company meeting, explain the situation and tell all the staff that the company had collapsed and we are no longer able to pay any of them. Following days, I continue to receive a nonstop stream of phone calls from angry employees who could not get their last paycheck, angry customers who could not get their refund. While the vast majority of our employees and customers understood that we had no options to get them paid and were sympathising with us, some did not understand that there was nothing I could do. For the first time in my life, I was called “a thief”, “ a fraud”, “a**hole” and many other words by ex employees and customers. Many people were bashing me and the company on social media. As a few days went by, some of the investors also joined the list of concerned callers and I have never felt so weak and hopeless ever in my life.

 

The world was in disarray with the pandemic, my life was completely destroyed, but I could not show it to even my family because I did not want to add to their list of worries. So, I sat in front of my computer for hours and kept trying to figure out how I am going to recover from this. Every avenue was blocked, the world was closed, I could not even go find a job.

 

One of the things that has really helped me to navigate in life is that I am usually calm when the world around me is crumbling down. That is because I do not worry about the things that are not in my direct control and I only focus on the things that I can control. I still remember writing down all the things that are going wrong in my life and crossing out the ones that are not in my control. 

 

Cloud of Goods crumbling, not in my control, therefore I do not worry about it. Losing all the money, not in my control, therefore don't worry about it Punsri, I told myself. Past employees, angry customers, and angry investors calling me names, I am not a thief or a fraud or an a**hole, so do not worry about it Punsri because there’s nothing you can do to stop people calling you names I told myself. 

 

Having my other company IncubateLabs, the tech development center in Sri Lanka still operational, now that is in my control to keep it operational and I knew if I put all my energy into it, I could grow that business again. That was the only hope I had and the best option at hand to try to recover. So, I started putting all my energy on the one thing I had left, the one hope I had left to pull myself out: IncubateLabs.

 

Since then, I decided to focus on finding projects for IncubateLabs, learning Artificial Intelligence, Data Engineering, and many other things including Python programming. Through some helpful connections, we managed to secure some good projects for IncubateLabs. By mid 2020, IncubateLabs was turning back into profitability and we had grown our team from 5 employees to 20+ employees within 3 months amid the pandemic. 

 

By October 2020, we had rebranded IncubateLabs as iLabs, moved out of our small office that had the max capacity for 30 employees into a new 4 story office building with modern facilities and the workforce was reaching 50 employees. 

 

By this time, the world was getting comfortable dealing with the pandemic, news about a potential vaccine gave humanity new hope, people in the US were starting to get back in touch with us asking when we are re-opening. We kept getting many emails from past customers asking whether we are operational again and we started receiving many messages from customers who really wished CoG would come back. As we saw website traffic going up again, I decided that I want to explore a new CoG launch with a pivot. Yes, my company IncubateLabs was making a profit, but that was not nearly enough to rebuild the fallen startup Cloud of Goods in its original shape as building warehouses with rental equipment and a delivery fleet was too costly. So, I decided that, instead of owning our own inventory, it was the time to accelerate the company to our original long term vision, which was an equipment rental marketplace, in which many suppliers would provide the rental equipment instead of us owning the inventory. I called up Gateway rentals (Scott) in Orlando and explained to him the model I envisioned. Cloud of Goods had built a strong brand over the years and we were going to leverage our brand equity to get customers, but we would partner with local rental businesses to fulfill those orders. Kind of similar to Uber model where the platform provides the booking and a local partner fulfills the order. Using the profits of IncubateLabs, I assigned a dedicated team to rebuild the CoG tech platform as an equipment rental marketplace with the goal of entering 2021 with a new Cloud of Goods with new hope for the future.

 

We did a limited launch on January1, 2021 and started getting orders within hours. Our newly acquired Artificial Intelligence, Search engine optimization, data engineering, and content marketing capabilities would make Cloud of Goods grow much faster than the pre-Covid era growth rate. 11 months into the re-launch, now we are partnered with over 50 local rental businesses, expanded to 90 cities across the United States and just launched our first international city, Cancun Mexico. 

Amazing growth of Cloud of Goods in 2021

 

It’s been a tough 20 months with many ups and downs, but having gone through that, we are more resilient than ever. Covid has made the CoG business model so much more efficient, we are a better unit because of all the turbulence we faced. CoG is Back and ready to grow into every corner of the world in the months and years to come! We know we will continue to face many challenges, we know we will have many failures and successes, but rest assured we will continue to march forward until we realize our vision!

 

“Praise and blame, recognition and disregard, gain and loss, pleasure and sorrow, come and go like the wind. Rest like a giant tree in the middle of them all” -- Buddha