Your business isn’t what you thought it would be. Now what?

Like within most industries, within the field of entrepreneurship, there’s a distinct “language.” Words that mean one thing to people like you and me sometimes mean something different to entrepreneurs; it’s a cultural thing. One example is the word “pivot.”

To an entrepreneur launching a startup company, a “pivot” is when you change the direction of your company because you’ve learned something new.

For example, maybe after talking to potential customers, you discover they’d never pay money for what you planned to sell because you’re not solving a big enough problem. Or maybe a large retailer releases a product just like yours, except more durable and less expensive, six months before you were planning. Or you realize your technology is better suited for that market, which is 100x bigger than this market. You get the idea.

The Story Behind Twenty2 Vodka

Recently, at the Scratchpad Accelerator “Pivot Day,” Jessica Jewell recently talked about some of the challenges and unexpected directions her company has faced in its six short years in business. Jewell and her husband, Scott Giablati, co-founded the Northern Maine Distilling Company. Their flagship product, Twenty 2 vodka, has earned more awards than any other American-made vodka.

Jessica Jewell, COO, Northern Maine Distilling Company

Jessica Jewell, COO, Northern Maine Distilling Company

The couple originally founded their business in Aroostook County intending to make potato vodka. Jessica grew up in that area of Maine. They wanted to start the business in the community and knew they had easy access to potatoes.

As they worked on perfecting the quality of their vodka, the couple starting researching the equipment they would need to scale their production. They decided to invest in large-scale distillery equipment made in Germany. But just as they were preparing to make this investment, the price of the equipment began to rise due to economic forces outside their control. Eventually, they realized they could neither afford to make the purchase nor wait for the price to drop. Instead, based on a suggestion from a friend, they decided to make their own equipment. Although it wasn’t in their original plan, they built, and now operate, seven small stills. Jewell said that although the decision felt incredibly overwhelming at the time, she ultimately believes it has led them to higher quality control than if they had purchased the equipment they had originally planned.

As time went on, the couple discovered they could not consistently produce a potato vodka that matched the high-quality neutral-tasting vodka they envisioned. Again, they were forced to make another tough decision: continue struggling with potatoes or try a different raw material? They turned to corn, and learned they could get much more consistent results. And while they found that Aroostook County is a great place to start a business and raise a family, Jessica and Scott realized the needs of the business required that they move south, so they moved their business to Brewer a couple of years ago, which is where they continue to operate.

Jewell says that all although all of these pivots were unexpected and seemed heart-breaking at the time, they have all turned out to be blessings. She encouraged the Scratchpad entrepreneurs to be open to change as they faced the unexpected.

Other Types of Pivots

In addition to pivoting due to the unexpected, there are strategic pivots as well. The following examples come from an article titled “Pivot, Don’t Jump to a New Vision” by Eric Reis:

  • Segment pivot. You look at your product and see if it could be used to solve a problem in more than one place: maybe a different industry, a new location, or different age group, like when enterprises become interested in your consumer-focused product.
  • Customer problem pivot. You realize after talking to your customers you could solve a different problem for the same customer segment. Like Starbucks switching from selling coffee beans to brewing drinks.
  • Feature pivot. You take one of your product features and reorient your focus around it. Like Paypal, when it realized their customers were more interested in email payments than PDA-based cryptography.

To learn more about startup pivots, check out these resources:

At the Scratchpad Accelerator, our tagline is “Where startups explore, pivot, and grow.” With the one month of the accelerator under our belts, our entrepreneurs have been exploring their markets and made some new discoveries; they’ve all learned some new things. As a result, they’ve made, or are considering making, changes to their business models. How those changes play out still remain to be seen, but no matter what, this month will be an exciting time for them. Please come to our Demo Day in December to see where they end up!

Hold the Date for the Scratchpad Accelerator Demo Day!

December 11, 2015, 4:00-7:00 PM

Demo Day is the “grand finale” of the Scratchpad Accelerator! Entrepreneurs will give business pitches to potential investors, partners and supporters. This event is open to the public, the media, and friends and supporters of Scratchpad.

Season’s Restaurant
427 Main Street

About the Scratchpad Accelerator
With full time support and access to industry experts and mentors, the Scratchpad Accelerator is a pilot program dedicated to helping startup companies uncover answers to critical questions about their businesses. The Scratchpad Accelerator is a University of Maine initiative in collaboration with the Maine Technology Institute.

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Founding Sponsor:

Master Craftsman Sponsor:

Bangor Area Target Development Corporation

Jennifer Hooper

About Jennifer Hooper

Jennifer Hooper is the Communications Director of the Scratchpad Accelerator. She's also been working in the Maine entrepreneurial ecosystem for the past several years at the Foster Center for Student Innovation at the University of Maine.