Amanda Bradford on Pivoting in Founder Labs

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Week 4 at Women 2.0 Labs involved visiting advisors Hiten Shah and Cindy Alvarez from KISSmetrics. From Women 2.0 Labs, Team MyStyleGroupie blogs about their learning experience pivoting.

Amanda Bradford's Story

I will always remember week 4 as the week of the pivot. Not that I had ever used that term before Women 2.0 (except when showcasing my basketball skills of course), but let me tell you, you will learn and hear more about pivots than you will ever want to know with the Women 2.0 program.

Let me first give a little background.

Myself: I'm a Sales Engineer by trade, but did quite a bit of web programming and design back in college. In San Francisco I worked for Salesforce and Google -- not exactly what you would call the smallest shops on the block. Women 2.0 represented a chance for me to get out of the comfort zone of a large organization and really learn what it takes to start a business from scratch. My team was great - and very diverse! I like to tell people that we have the most "cross-functional" team of all: our business person designed our first logo, our engineer created the survey, and myself (the designer) sent out action items every week :)

The Idea: StyleGroupie was formed to make the shopping experience better for people we call "Jennies". Jenny's are 18 - 35, size 0 - size 12, fashionable, budget conscious but making a comfortable paycheck, busy and strapped for time. Jenny likes to shop at places like J.Crew, Anthropology, Barneys, Nordstroms, Urban Outfitters, H&M, TopShop, Zara, and Forever21.

"Women 2.0 really emphasizes the 'lean startup' methodology and the need to truly validate all assumptions with customer development prior to building, so we proceeded to interview our friends (and/or girlfriends)."

It just so happened that 3 of the 5 members of my group (aka 100% of the girls) also fell into the "Jenny" category. We all knew Jenny well, and we felt we knew the problems she had. We sent out some preliminary surveys digging into the pain points of online shopping. We found that the Jennies of the world were actually very contradictory, and gave us very mixed answers. Some said they had a hard time putting a fashionable outfit together, while others said they would never consider a stylist. Some said they couldn't find items that fit them well, while others said price, not fit, was the issue. Some said they had no time to shop, while others enjoyed shopping with friends. It was tough to validate or invalidate any of our hypothesis.

We analyzed the data in many different ways, and continued to brainstorm, and finally narrowed it down to three ideas that we thought our "Jennies" would love. I won’t go into details about each one of the ideas, but we sent out a simple concept test with a simple elevator pitch for each idea and got 120 responses back; with somewhat disappointing results. While there was a clear winner (40% of respondents were "interested" in Idea C vs 28% and 26% for Idea B and C), only 14 votes (11%) said they were "extremely interested" in the idea. We all knew (and had heard from the countless Thursday night lectures) that for our idea to be truly successful, we needed to solve a big problem where a good solution would put people into this "extremely interested" category.

We all knew we probably needed to narrow down our target market. We talked about targeting men, time-strapped mothers, or plus size women, but it was hard to leave Jenny. Jenny was safe and we all knew a lot of people like Jenny. We felt like we were close to discovering her "big" problem. However, after more and more interviews, brainstorming sessions, and disagreements (at one point I think we had brainstormed (i.e. argued) for 2+ hours), we came to slowly realize that the Jennies of the world seemed to have quite a few small, non-critical problems, and, more importantly, it was very hard to get Jenny's attention. We had been keeping a log of competitors to this demographic, and not only was our list at over 100 sites, many of these sites were very well done and very successful. Jenny had polyvore.com, chictopia.com, gotryiton.com, instyle.com - there was an abundance of fashion websites out there to suit Jenny's every need and solve all of her problems, big or small. While we realized we were in a very tough market, we decided to hold off pivoting one more day, until after our Thursday presentation.

"Then Cindy Alvarez from KissMetrics voiced what had been gnawing at us all week, 'You should think about narrowing your demographic, what about Plus Size? I know from my experience, this market is under-served'. That was the little push we needed to finally make the move. Our data (and our advisors over the last 4 weeks) had all been pointing us in this direction, but for some reason we needed to validate it and decide ourselves. We decided right then and there to take the leap and leave Jenny for good - she hadn't been treating us well anyway :)"

During our Thursday presentation, we talked about how we had decided on "Idea C" based on the results of our massive concept testing survey, but nobody on our team nor in the audience really seemed very excited about our idea.

"Great, another fashion site for young, fashionable women who have a gazillion websites offering similar (if not identical) functionalities", was what our audience’s expressions seemed to read.

So with one week left, we did the classic startup PIVOT. We left Jenny and turned to Nancy, where Nancy represents all the fashionable plus-size women who don't have the same clothing choices Jenny does.

Up Next: We have A LOT of customer development to do in the next 7 days, but already we can see from online research alone, that this is a large demographic that is very under-served from a fashion and clothing perspective. I feel like we can actually make an impact in this community! In contrast to Jenny, the plus size community seems much more aligned and able to all (strongly) agree that the lack of stylish clothing is a pressing (critical?) issue for this community. Finally, a real problem for us to solve! Refreshing!

With this decision, we unleashed Clay and Shan, our resident twitter experts, to start the "tweeting frenzy".

Post Note: StyleGroupie's pivot to the plus size community was met with great success at the final pitch night. 2 our of 3 of the investors present chose StyleGroupie as the company they would choose to invite to an investor meeting, and StyleGroupie also won the audience popular vote. StyleGroupie is sticking together and working to launch a minimum viable product in the next 3 months. Stay tuned! Visit www.stylegroupie.com to find out more.