The world of business rarely stands still. Technology advances, consumer demand shifts and way we live our lives changes. We speak to four founders from the Virgin StartUp community to shine a light on why start-ups pivot and shift their focus to survive, and how they manage to succeed.

Photo of Ayesha Pakravan

React to change

Businesses have to be agile and able to react to what’s going on around them or risk getting left behind. In the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak, Ayesha Pakravan moved quickly to switch the focus of her business, The Plattery, to support people in need and reduce wastage in the food industry.

With the business catering for private events which were now cancelled for the foreseeable future, Ayesha started to sell food boxes to help supply homes, before switching once more to providing free meal deliveries for vulnerable people in her local community.

She said: “As an entrepreneur running a new business, every new month is exciting. March was due to be my busiest yet, before all events were cancelled. My income was gone, and I had a lot of produce, so I had to do something. I started selling the boxes, with an optional pay-it-forward fee to help others in need, but when I saw the amount of people who really needed some help, I decided to change the business again. I decided to use 10% of the previous month’s profit to feed people who needed it.

“As an entrepreneur, essentially giving your product away for free isn’t great, but when you drop off food to a man who hasn’t eaten in four days or a man who hasn’t eaten a hot meal in two weeks, it doesn’t really matter.

“Looking ahead, it’ll all help my business because I’m learning all the time, especially about wastage in the food industry.

“I’m always thinking of twisting and turning. I think you either have it or you don’t. You never know when things will change so you have to be ready to constantly adapt and ride the waves.”

Get with the times

Technology and trends are advancing all the time, which means the way products are manufactured and services are delivered, plus how things are marketed and how we consume them are in seemingly constant flux.

Venetia Archer founded Ruuby, which was originally designed to offer a list of salon appointments via a mobile app. But after a while, Venetia changed direction just slightly to home in on her niche: at-home beauty services.

She says the hardest part was getting the technology right and not losing the customers they’d already built up.

“We made the changes slowly,” Venetia said. “We had built up a strong client base who were loyal to the salon bookings system we had, and we didn’t want to lose them - we needed to bring them with us… In the initial period, we had to be creative in trying to make our limited tech solution work and we had a few beauticians point out the very obvious fact that it was hard to update their availability from a desktop, when the very nature of their work was mobile.”

Understand your audience

Finding out exactly what your customers need and looking at what they’re currently missing is a major part of success. A product might be perfect, but founders may have to look at different ways of cutting through to their audience – maybe via packaging, marketing or even just magnifying the story behind it all.

Milly Elvis launched her business, Box of Intimates, with the help of a Start Up Loan from Virgin StartUp, starting out with an online marketplace before pivoting towards a subscription service after lots of testing.

She said: “It’s important to test the market prior to launching any new products. You must understand your customer and speak their language and create a persona to give you guidance to start with, but keep in mind that your customer may be different than the one you initially anticipated, and that's completely okay.”

Focus on what sells

If a start-up has multiple products or services, it’s likely some will be more successful than others. For those deemed less successful, founders have the chance to modify them into something better, or simply put more attention on those that have gained more traction with customers.

Ross Kemp, the founder of Asap water crafts, set out to create life-saving jet boards but expanded the product range to cater for thrill-seekers after seeing demand and a gap in the market.

“Rather than focusing on the product, we had to shift mindset and focus on the experience,” he said. “We are selling exploration and freedom on the water.”

Founders and businesses need to be adaptable – that is true more so now than ever. But now is the time to regroup, rethink and change your plans if you need to. Things are different now for many people and many businesses – so you may not be able to continue doing the same thing in the same way. 

It will take entrepreneurial thinking, creativity and flexibility to survive and thrive at a time like this. But take inspiration from these founders and look at ways you can respond in your own business.

Find out more about how Virgin StartUp can help you and your business today.