Founders decide to pivot their businesses for two main reasons. Either they sense something isn’t quite right with their model, or external influences force them to rethink their operations. COVID-19 has been the catalyst for countless pivots including those of these four startups.
Tasting wine online
Wine tasting events have become extremely popular over the years, but the COVID-19 pandemic brought the social sampling the latest sauvignon blanc to an abrupt end. Far from being deterred, Marco Castelanelli, founder of wine tasting event company Club Vino found a way to take his business online.
Castelanelli founded the business two years ago after a decade of working in the wine industry in Italy. “I worked primarily with producers and was always fascinated in the story behind the bottle which inspired me to create Club Vino,” he says.
Each event was based around a particular wine theme, and hosted in some of the most prestigious hotels in Manchester and Cheshire. In March the COVID-19 crisis it hard and fast, with the banning of all social gatherings and the closure of bars, restaurants and hotels, rendering the Club Vino model completely redundant. Then Castelanelli started getting requests from regular clients asking if he could supply wine and host the tastings via a video link.
“There it was,” he says. “The obvious way for our business to move forward during this crisis; Club Vino wine tastings in the comfort of your home’.”
Customers can order a home tasting package from the website, which includes a themed case of bottles, printable tasting notes with food pairing suggestions, and a video link that guides them through the wines and explains the story behind the bottle just as if they were at an actual event. “This is a more scalable business and complements perfectly the physical business we have built so far,” says Castelanelli.
Digital art auctions
The Auction Collective connects art to art buyers, with a focus on young, independent artists who are disrupting the industry. Their recent curated auction ‘Green Perspectives’ explored the way that artists are responding to climate change, with one artwork selling for £1,800.00.
But with COVID-19 putting paid to conventional auctions, in less than a week, founder and leading art expert and auctioneer Tom Best has transformed the company and taken his auctions completely online, with live streaming options for real time bidding and the world’s first downloadable bidding paddles that bidders can wave during the auction.
Best is also working on developing an online shop where independent artists can sell prints and other merchandise, and will be partnering up with OwnArt to offer monthly payment options to buyers. They will be the first auction house to benefit from their scheme.
He says: “Part of my mission is to make auctions more normal and fit for other consumer behavior and to help independent artists sell their work.”
Optimizing sports training from home
Sports recovery business MyoMaster creates innovations that enable athletes to train harder and perform better. The business was founded last year by Lottie Whyte and her husband, England and Harlequins rugby player Joe Gray.
Before the crisis hit all their revenue was generated at sporting events, such as the London Marathon, and from selling into gyms. When COVID-19 forced the cancellation of all these events and the closure of gyms the couple feared they would have to close the business and were preparing to have tough conversations with their small team. Then they saw the space open up around at home workouts, and in the space of a fortnight, pivoted to become an ecommerce business.
Whyte says: “We had everyone in the team focusing on updating our website, finding influencers, creating content, and figuring out how to do digital advertising – we’ve all been up late doing online courses and learning as we go – and we’ve created an online store.”
The founders invested £2,000 in digital advertising spend, taking advantage of the currently low cost of ads as bigger brands pulled their spend and their big marketing campaigns, creating opportunities for smaller brands to increase their visibility.
“What we used to sell in a month, we are now selling online in a single day,” says Whyte. “There are real opportunities out there for brands that can sell online and provide people with products that can bring them joy at home.”
Inspiration for families in lockdown
Before COVID-19, Kidadl operated as an online platform for discovering and booking family events and experiences. With its community of parents going into lockdown, the company has found new ways of providing a service by pivoting to become an online destination for ideas and inspiration for stay-at-home fun and learning. The new Kidadl homepage launched for lockdown now lists over 1500 free activities and resources to make family life in lockdown much easier.
Cofounder Hannah Feldman says: “We’ve pivoted by doubling down on editorial output within the business. Our writing team, comprised mainly of part-time working parents, is producing the kind of content other parents need at this critical time.”
For this bootstrapped startup the pivot has meant diverting funds from other areas of the business currently in hibernation, such as sales and marketing. Around 70% of its monthly burn rate is now entirely focused on content production and output.
The move has paid off, with visits to kidadl.com already seeing an increase of over 500% from a strong baseline. This is also tracking across social media with Kidadl’s handy lockdown timetables, virtual Easter egg hunts, and daily guides to online classes reaching over 120,000 families daily.
- Ask yourself if you really need to pivot. “In a crisis we often respond to things more abruptly than if we had time to consider things more thoroughly,” she says. “It may seem like everyone’s pivoting, but that doesn’t mean you need to. Give yourself a sanity check first.”
- Start with the basics. You may be able to change your business format from offline to online, but if you can no longer physically do what you were doing before, be more radical with your thinking. “Turn the ice cream van into an organic fruit and veg van, or open up a paid membership site for your clients that you can’t see in person,” she adds. “Nine times out of 10, when people think they can’t pivot, they can.”
- Think ahead, not just about the here and now. “You need to do all you can to drive revenue today, but you also need to be building the business you want to be running in six months’ time,” says Wasmund.