It’s been two years since the World Health Organization declared Covid a global pandemic, and since then nearly every facet of business has been upended. While hundreds of thousands of businesses did not make it, those that have survived have done so out of sheer determination, the goodwill of consumers, and ingenuity. They’ve also challenged their own revenue models, set fire to their business plans, and learned more in the span of two years than some people have in an entire lifetime.
Some founders ran up against a hard wall: Their businesses may have been great ideas pre-pandemic, but they needed a new way to be–a pivot–if they were going to keep their companies afloat once Covid upended the world.
What did it take to reformulate a business during the pandemic, and move from a model that wasn’t going to work within the new normal, to a pivot idea that did? Over the past few months, we’ve spoken with several business owners who pushed forward in a very new direction–and found success–to learn what worked for them. While their business models are all quite different from one another, there are several shared themes in what made their pivots successful.
Every business owner needed to take some breaks for mental health, dealing with Covid, and more. Some had special events requiring a break: The founders of Bandwagon Fan Club and former Align both had babies during the lows of the pandemic, and took the time they needed. A consistent theme for all founders pulling off pivots was the notion of “put on your oxygen mask first.” If you’re not in a position to take care of yourself, you won’t be in a position to take care of your family, your company, and your team.
Founders who successfully pulled off a pivot came to an assessment sooner rather than later that they were not going back to their old way of working. That means deciding your restaurant isn’t a restaurant, in the case of Mei Mei, that your basketball coaching and events aren’t resuming any time soon, in the case of Aviv Nets, or that assisting companies in providing child care to employees just isn’t going to be a possibility for a while, as in the case of Helm Life.
All of these were solid business models before the pandemic, and may well be solid business models again. But instead of tilting against windmills for however long the pandemic would wear on, these founders made decisive moves early on, to go in a different direction.
Nivati cut all but about 15 of the 1,200 massage therapists it employed, and nearly all executive positions, as well. Mei Mei kept the people it could productively deploy, but had to let go of the rest.
Founders spend an immense amount of time recruiting and building a company culture, and then cultivating relationships with team members. It can be hard to let that go, but a company that can’t afford to keep anyone, because it kept too many people for too long, isn’t doing team members any favors.
Mei Mei’s founder redeployed its team from running a restaurant to producing video lessons in dumpling making, and then marketing, manufacturing, and shipping dumplings nationwide. Nivati had massage therapists who brought side-hustles like yoga instruction and life coaching to the fore. If you’re going to pivot with the people you have, they often have to pivot, as well. Who your team members are and what unique skills they bring can help guide you in your new direction.
All of the companies that successfully pivoted had some kind of existing customer base. Interacting with those customers to find out what was needed amid a world-changing event was a key guide.
Bandwagon Fan Club reached into its client relationships to discover an entirely new way of working with sports teams and personalities, and live-event producers, in shifting to NFTs. Nivati and Align found ways to serve their existing corporate clients through new platforms that addressed newly understood needs, in this case, wellness services and employee surveys, respectively.
It’s always a good idea to listen to your customers describe their needs and wants and to consider moving in new directions as a result. In a time of massive upheaval, it’s not just a good idea–it can be what keeps your business alive.
When Mei Mei shifted from a conventional restaurant before the pandemic to providing online video lessons in dumpling-making and selling their dumplings nationwide, the shift meant hearing anew where their customers wanted to buy their products: in farmers’ markets and online. That meant building an entirely different business than the restaurant they’d run for years. Align and Nivati, meanwhile, pivoted from onsite businesses to providing virtual services.
The lesson? Getting bogged down in one vision of the world you’re serving, because of physical locations, could cut you off from opportunities elsewhere.