Not all successful businesses turn out exactly as their founders had originally intended, thanks to unpredictable factors that got in the way of their startup plans.
Too much competition, a lack of market interest, or simply bad timing can send a founder with an otherwise promising business idea back to the drawing board. But there is an alternative to scrubbing it and starting again. You can pivot; and by changing a key element of your startup: your product, your target audience or even your skill set, your business can flourish.
Garçon Wines was launched in 2016 as a B2C U.K. subscription service, offering bottled wine that could be mailed through a letterbox. However, a significant amount of media attention surrounding the launch of the company’s unique flat wine bottles, at the time covered only by U.K. IP protection, generated a surge of global business enquiries.
Recognizing the greater global opportunities – the U.K. consumes an estimated 1.7 billion wine bottles a year, globally, the figure is around 33 to 35 billion bottles annually – Garçon Wines pivoted to become a B2B wine wholesaler and packaging provider. It began in the first half of 2017 and was completed a year later when they shipped the first consignment of wine to their first customer Bloom & Wild.
CEO and founder Santiago Navarro says: “As a U.K. B2C wine company, the ceiling for our potential success was evident. Even if we were wildly successful, this would be relatively small in comparison to being a multinational B2B drinks packaging company, starting with wine.”
The company secured investment from entrepreneur Ryan Howsam, with a first tranche of £100,000 at a £1 million valuation. They also worked with their patent attorney to extend their IP portfolio across 35 countries, and at the same time started developing an advanced eco, flat wine bottle in the U.K., one of the first drinks bottles made entirely from 100% pre-existing recycled PET, instead of single-use plastic.
“We knew the challenge, the risk, and the effort required to pivot would be significant,” says Navarro. “However, as an entrepreneur, I believe that one benefits from a rare comfort with risk and the vision to aim big, and that is definitely what we chose to do.”
Garçon Wines has achieved international recognition as a benchmark example of sustainable packaging, selling wine and packaging across the U.K. and in the Netherlands, and due to launch shortly in the U.S.
Tech startup UENI builds over 3,000 business websites every day in its mission to ‘make all of the world’s businesses visible online’. But it didn’t start out like that.
CEO and cofounder Christine Telyan says: “Our original idea was to create a search engine or marketplace for local service sector businesses, and we started off by digitizing the information of three million businesses across Europe.”
The idea had been to partner with existing communities, provide them with an app for their users and, within it, embed the UENI search engine so they could search for and find local businesses. However, building the other side of the platform, the customer side, was painstakingly slow, as partners loved the idea but then wouldn’t come back to them for months.
“You cannot let other parties dictate the growth of your business,” says Telyan. “What was great about building the supply side and digitizing millions of businesses was that we controlled the pace. So, we simplified our efforts and went directly to the business owners with an offer of a free online presence. Since adopting this model we’ve not looked back in our mission to get all small businesses online.”
A key lesson in any business pivot, she says, is to never forget your original motivation. “We stepped away from the search engine marketplace idea back in 2017, but the need to solve the customer’s problem has stayed with us.”
To date UENI has raised over $30 million in angel investment and is active in the U.K., Europe, North America, Mexico, Brazil, and India.
After a long and successful City career in investment banking in 2012 Marie Brown quit her job and set up a business that helped small, local craft businesses sell their wares, mainly gift items, online.
“Many of them were solopreneurs, mainly women, who had fantastic businesses but were severely constrained in their ability to grow the business by their own time and skills,” she says.
She quickly found that she didn’t really enjoy selling other people’s goods, but realized there were other ways she could help, making much better use of her skills. In 2016 she pivoted, from a business that was selling their products for them, to a business that helped their sales by building them good, affordable websites, and rebranded as Beyond the Kitchen Table.
The idea for the pivot emerged from her own need for a new website and a staggering quote of £6,000 from the local web design agency that had built her original website. Other quotes weren’t much better, so Brown decided to teach herself and built a website that was suitable for her own business needs.
She says: “I realized that other small businesses also needed websites more appropriate to their needs and budgets. Most importantly, they needed someone who would understand their business and what they were trying to do.”
She took training courses, built websites for family and friends, went back and rebuilt her own website, and learned as she went along, investing around £5,000 on skills training and coaching.
The pivot took around 18 months to complete and has resulted in higher revenues and lower running costs.
“The client base is different because my clients are now small business owners rather than the general public, and I’m thrilled to see them achieve growth in their businesses,” says Brown.