Small Pivots Keep Start-ups on Track

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When three former investment bankers got together thinking about how to start a custom suit making company, one idea seemed pretty good. They wanted to use physical body scanners to take their customers’ measurements.

“It would be basically this machine that you stand in for about 10 seconds, and it captures pretty much all your body measurements you have,” said Warren Liao, one of the co-founders of this suit maker which later became Black Lapel.

Then they decided this is not going to work.

“The big thing that a body scanner prevents us from doing is to get access to people from all over the world,” Liao said, which makes sense, because we are talking about setting up heavy machinery in every store and customers going to the stores doing so would take a lot of time, which many suit wearing people don’t have much of.

So Black Lapel pivoted. “We kind of moved away from that. We made a tiny little pivot,” said Liao. They pivoted to the making instructional videos online teaching their customers how to take own measurements. The first year’s sale was six digits, and Liao said that they are expecting to quintuple the numbers by the end of this year.

Black Lapel is among many New York start-ups that are making small pivots to right their track.

Contently.com, a two-year-old start-up that connects freelancers with publishers, switched their pricing model from pure transactional to software-as-service model, which is better at centralizing data. Contently has also changed their customers focus.

“If you think of pivoting as keeping one foot rooted in the vision and one foot turning to move toward the best opportunities, then you could say our whole company has been a series of small pivots,” said Shane Snow, a spokesperson for Contently.com.

Datemyschool.com, which is a social dating network for college students, is another example. A recent relaunch of the website was done in the past few days.

“We knew we had to elevate the site in order to more clearly highlight datemyschool’s advanced privacy and top-notch security features, helping our users feel even safer and more confident discovering new people online,” said Melanie Wallner, a PR person with datemyschool,com.

Good news is coming from firms who invest in start-ups. “Generally we are very supportive of pivots,” said Chris Paik with Thrive Capital, the investment portfolio of which includes successful pivoted start-ups such as Fab.com and Instagram.

Thrive Capital usually makes 10 to 12 investments per year and less than five would pivot. “Generally in a company the only constant thing is the team, and it is what we are betting on, so usually we are very supportive of a pivot,” said Paik.

With start-ups going through constant pivots of various scales, advice are given by experts. “Start-ups should test the product as soon as the minimum viable product is ready and follow-up consumer research,” said Bryan Bollinger, NYU Professor of Marketing in an email, “In sum, no one can anticipate everything so what is most important is a willingness to assess the product/need/target market/business model at every step of the new product development process and be willing to iterate as necessary.”

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