The Startup Pivot: Changing Strategic Direction

On Wednesday 5/11 at 1 pm ET, we’re meeting with GiveGab CEO and Co-Founder Charlie Mulligan to talk about the pivotal maneuvers and strategic shifts that led to GiveGab’s rising success in recent years. Charlie will discuss lessons learned as an entrepreneur and offer advice on how you might apply them to your own startup. You’ll learn:

  • Why pivots are a common and necessary fact of life in startups.
  • How to decide when it’s the right time to pivot.
  • Best practices when changing strategy.
  • How to communicate around the pivot, both internally and externally.

I sat down with Charlie earlier this week to learn a bit more about him, GiveGab.com and his experiences.

Chris: What exactly is a pivot in the business sense?

Charlie: A pivot is a shift in strategy, which to me means you’re changing something significant (such as who your customers are or how you make money).

Chris: Is failure a necessary predecessor to a pivot?

Charlie: I would say failure is a common predecessor to a pivot, but not 100% necessary. If you discover a great opportunity in the mechanics of what you’re doing, it makes sense for a startup to pursue the bigger opportunity, even if the current one is doing OK.

Chris: I interviewed visiting e-ship lecturer Steve Gal from Johnson School at Cornell, and he described the pivot in the basketball sense: “You change your focus and direction, but you must keep one foot on the ground.” In GiveGab’s case, what was it that you gave up, and what was it that you gained in your organization’s pivot situation? What was the thing that kept you grounded through your pivot?

Charlie: Our pivot led us to change who our customer was (from universities to nonprofits) and how we made money (via fundraising vs. volunteer management), but it didn’t change our core as a connection portal between nonprofits and supporters. This allowed us to utilize a new strategy while still being able to build off our experience in the nonprofit world and our connections and partners.

GO HERE to register and to take advantage of our free 30-day trial subscription to the Women in Leadership Channel.

GiveGab, the Nonprofit Giving Platform, is an online fundraising and supporter engagement tool designed exclusively for nonprofit leaders. Charlie Mulligan has 25 years’ experience in entrepreneurship, corporate leadership, fundraising and sales partnerships. He has served as a speaker, mentor and consultant for businesses and nonprofits all over the world. His passion is helping mission-driven organizations gain the resources and skills necessary to succeed. Mulligan has a BA in Marketing from Penn State and an MBA from Cornell.

Know Thy Entrepreneurial Self, Build On Your Strengths

Here is a 5-minute excerpt from our recent WebCast for entrepreneurs, The Entrepreneurial Profile: Building On Your Talents. Professor Mona Anita Olsen, from the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell, walks us through the Gallup Entrepreneurial Profile 10 (EP10), a new talents-based assessment that helps entrepreneurs discover and develop their entrepreneurial talents.

If this excerpt has piqued your interest, I recommend you sign up for your free 30-day trial subscription here and enroll through the Entrepreneurship Channel. For best results, try the EP10 yourself ($12 cost) before viewing the WebCast.

After you complete the assessment, you’ll receive a personalized report that includes your unique talent profile. Prof. Olsen provides her contact info at the end of the session, so feel free to connect with her for advice as you prepare to build on your talents as an entrepreneur.

Strategies For Moving Your Startup Into a Bricks-and-Mortar Space

On April 6 we’ll be hosting a WebCast for startups called “Build Your Business: Real Estate Challenges for Startups” with Cornell alum T.J. Hochanadel.

As host, I needed to learn a few things about real estate strategies for startups, so T.J. and I had a conversation earlier this week.

What should a startup be thinking about when readying for the big move into a bricks-and-mortar address? 

T.J.: Every company has its own unique set of criteria that drive real estate decisions. Startups should look closely at a number of things, like price, geography, image, scalability, talent attraction/retention, commutability, life cycle of business — we’ll take a close look at all of these during our WebCast.

T.J., Can you recommend any tools or resources here that may help guide the startup toward an informed decision about real estate?

T.J.: Business execs tasked with the assignment of securing an office space should really consult with a commercial real estate professional who can represent tenants’ interests. The best commercial real estate advisors/brokers spend time understanding the business to help you formulate a strategy around your office choice.

Here at JLL, we have a really cool interactive tool called the Square, which is meant to help business executives grasp an initial understanding of a real estate strategy that best meets their current/future business needs. It really helps to guide the conversation going forward.

What if my company is focused on acquisition? Should that change my game plan?

T.J.: Each situation is unique, and it mostly depends on how the acquiring company underwrites the real estate obligation of the company being acquired. I think the argument could be that a company focused on acquisition would want to maintain high flexibility in its lease. However, I can recall several examples where a company was acquired shortly after signing a long-term lease.

What if I live and work in an area where the startup culture is not very dense or developed yet? Should I go where there is a culture and supportive infrastructure around startups?

T.J.: Again, each business requirement is unique. Generally, I believe successful companies tend to locate in geographies that will foster their growth. Tech hubs like NYC, Palo Alto, Los Angeles, etc. offer many advantages over less-developed hubs.

A business owner will want to consider the effects a geography has on access to capital, talent, and other unique business resources, and weigh those against cost of operating in those geographies.

How does company brand figure into real estate considerations?

T.J.: An office is a place that most of us “live in” every day, so it is inherently going to be a reflection of the brand. For the startup out there who is in the process of raising a large round of funding that will enable them to grow their employee headcount, they’ll want a home that will help them attract and retain talent. Or for the fashion designer who is looking to open a showroom, a client’s optical view of the brand image will be significantly influenced by the showroom. As discussed above, each situation is unique, and it is important to undertake the heuristic process to determine the best strategy for reach business. We’ll cover all this and more next week in our 1-hour WebCast.

 

Go here to register and to take advantage of our free 30-day trial subscription to the Entrepreneurship Channel.

The eCornell Story: A Former Startup Helping New Startups Thrive

On September 7, 2000, the Cornell University Board of Trustees approved the creation of eCornell, a wholly-owned, for-profit subsidiary that would produce and deliver online courses authored by Cornell professors and extension faculty members.

With this charter, eCornell became the Ivy League’s first online education startup. Like any fledgling business, its founders — many of whom were Cornell alums — faced the challenge of defining and serving a relatively new market. Who were online learners? What did they need, and was it different from the needs of students sitting in classes on the Cornell campus? What expertise could eCornell bring to online learners that would set it apart?

Thirteen years later, we’re no longer a startup and we’ve found our niche. True to Cornell’s motto, eCornell has become a natural extension of the university’s ideals: the online outpost of “…an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” We provide a virtual community for learners at every stage in their careers, spanning disciplines and providing Ivy League instruction grounded in application.

But we haven’t forgotten our roots. Throughout the years, the eCornell executive team has been paying it forward, supporting entrepreneurs and new ventures at all levels — whether through undergraduate student projects, alumni startups, peer coaching, or new courses and certificate programs.

“We’ve been a strong supporter of Entrepreneurship@Cornell (Cornell’s university-wide entrepreneurship initiative) for years because we know there is a direct link between developing the management skills of new entrepreneurs and their ultimate success,” said Chris Proulx, ‘91, eCornell’s Chief Executive Officer.

Proulx and Rob Kingyens, Chief Technology Officer and Chief Marketing Technology Officer, regularly judge business plan competitions around the country and participate as coaches or panelists at entrepreneurship conferences. They also are dedicated to leading eCornell in a direction that meets entrepreneurs’ and business owners’ unique needs.

“Launching a new business is more than a full-time job. Many entrepreneurs, especially those who can’t yet afford to quit their ‘day jobs,’ don’t have time to go back to school,” said Proulx. “They need accelerated, actionable learning, at the right time and place.”

For entrepreneur Egomeli Hormeku, eCornell’s courses were a perfect fit, even while he was running and building a new multi-brand business.

“The structure of the coursework didn’t take away from my business; it only benefited the process. I thought the task of running five brands and taking courses with eCornell would be impossible. That definitely wasn’t the case,” said Hormeku, founder and CEO of The Hormeku Group, a holding company focused on mens’ fashion, cigars, spirits, and wine.

Hormeku completed eCornell’s Business Strategy: Achieving Competitive Advantage certificate program, a decision that he said allowed him to better see the business from all angles, fine-tune the practical information he’d already gained on the job, and learn how to compete in vertical markets some would consider daunting.

Like Hormeku, Adam Zembruski came to eCornell to fill a skills gap. But Zembruski, president of hospitality investment and management company Pharos Hospitality, LLC, needed to fill those gaps for his entire team, not just himself. Though Zembruski has decades of hotel management experience, his new venture was founded on a technical skill he and many if his employees didn’t possess: hotel underwriting.

“We formed Pharos with the intent to bridge the gap between real estate investors and hotel operators. These courses [in Hotel Real Estate Investments and Asset Management] have prepared me to anticipate and meet the needs of all of our current and future partners. The courses taken through eCornell were priceless,” Zembruski said.

If you’re registered for Startup Weekend, you also already know how important networking and connections are for entrepreneurs. At eCornell, this is another way we pay it forward: bringing like-minded, driven people together through courses designed for interaction. Fellow students become your sounding board and source of inspiration.

“The people I take courses with keep in touch with me, and we find ways to sharpen the vision of our career goals. These connections, and my eCornell courses, have helped me cut costs, strategically move more units, stay ahead of my competition, and realize new ways of being profitable. They took me from being a good entrepreneur to walking the road of becoming a great one,” said Hormeku.

For Startup Weekend Fredericksburg attendees, we’re continuing our tradition of supporting entrepreneurs. Save 25% when you enroll in any eCornell certificate program by June 30, 2013. Visit http://ecornell.cornell.edu/swfred and use promo code SWFRED to get started.

Featured Post on Startup Weekend’s Blog

Driving Innovation, Agility and High Performance

Want to know how Best Buy Canada and Reuters transformed their learning culture to became industry leaders in training and development?

Join Speakers Marjorie Van Roon, Best Buy Canada; Amy Thomson, Reuters and Joe DiDonato, Elearning! Media Group as they teach you how to develop a top-tier learning environment at your organization.

In this session, Joe DiDonato, editor at Elearning! Media Group, will share attributes of the best in class learning & development organizations. Discover how collaboration, innovation and learning culture all drive performance.

Join us on Thu, Dec 1, 2011 1:00 PM – 2:15 PM EST for a free webinar. Register here.

Entrepreneur Video Contest Winners

eCornell celebrates and encourages entrepreneurs in their quest to build great products. One of the most crucial steps involved in developing new products and services is to develop and articulate a clear understanding of customer needs. Believe it or not, many products are developed without a deep sense of how customers will use them, which often leads to products with low adoptions rates. With that in mind, our newest certificate program, A Systems Approach to Product and Service Design arms entrepreneurs with an eight step process to design and develop products the right way.

Congratulations to the eCornell Entrepreneur Video Contest Winners!

Our First Place winner, Pamela Swingley, won a scholarship for the eCornell Systems Approach to Product and Service Design Certificate program (a $3,500 dollar value). Our Second and Third Place winners both won 2 free courses each (a $1,250 dollar value each).

eCornell is proud to award Pamela, Jay, and Aaron – their submissions were inspiring and creative!