Education / Guest posts

3 tips for overcoming your first pivot

Edbacker's Gary Hensley shares his story.

The Edbacker team. (Photo courtesy of Gary Hensley)

This is a guest post by Gary Hensley of Edbacker, as part of the 1776 Takeover of Oct. 12, 2015.

Pivot. What does that even mean?

As entrepreneurs, we are just trying to make it work. From the product to the business model we are constantly tinkering with all of it in hopes that the customers will come and revenue will flow. And maybe if we are lucky we can change world along the way. ☺

1. It’s not working

You always hear those stories of the company or person who persevered and made it big. But we don’t hear about the changes they made along the way that made them great. When I started Edbacker, to tackle educational funding gaps, I was convinced that what I was building was uniquely positioned to solve this problem.
As I started chatting with schools and investors I kept hearing the same thing. How are you different than fill in the blank? I had great answers to this question that got very technical and these responses were generally met with resounding silence. I assumed at the time it was because I had done such a great job answering but it was probably because they knew there was no convincing me I was wrong. After a few months of the same questions and slow growth, I asked myself “How am I different?”
Listen to the market — investors, customers and advisors — for answers. They are usually right.

2. Now what? Customer discovery

I took some time to design a series of short tests. I was sure of the funding gap issues in education but who is currently filling the gap? Parents! What if we shifted away from schools and shifted to parents. An opportunity presented itself after getting off the stage from 1776 Challenge Cup.
There was a parent named Craig Cummings who was looking to raise money for his kid’s science classroom, and $190,000 later we were on to something. Parent organizations are the horsepower behind this issue because they have the most vested interests in seeing their kids succeed. With a handful of customers we realized this was an untapped market and what we really needed to build was a CRM lite with data on fundraising, volunteer signup, events and communications.
One-stop shopping for parent organizations. How did I know it was working? I stopped hearing the “how are you different” question. We had revenue. We were growing.

3. Iterate, build, explore, prioritize 

One problem down and 1 million more to go. We needed to look at every angle of this funding gap. Who else could care about this besides parents? What segment of the market is this right for? Things are starting to work, but the clock is ticking. It felt like we were a new company about every two weeks. We were learning so much so fast and then building the new knowledge into the process. Every level of the company from product to business model was constantly evolving. As it turns out we were solving different problems for different stakeholders in this equation. Not sure this process really stops. The focus just gets sharper and sharper the more you do it.
So what does it mean to pivot?
It is easy for me now to look back and see it, but in the middle of it all it was chaotic and stressful. So my advice for anyone if you want to survive is listen and if it takes a pivot, deviation, 180-degree turn or a lean canvas (h/t Donna Harris), then do whatever it takes.

Companies: 76 Forward

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