Guillaume Martin came to Chicago from Paris to grow his photo sharing startup Pictarine. Here why he joined Excelerate Labs and how Pictarine will change how we share pictures.
Before Excelerate, Xing Meng and his team were at MIT and Boston University, developing a complex algorithm allowing for tagging of images in videos. His company, Orbeus, joined Excelerate Labs to figure out how to scale this technology in a successful business.
Cureeo is an online marketplace for art buyers to discover original works by artists across the country. This week, we put the spotlight on Maida Swenson Fortune, founder and CEO. She explains the story behind Cureeo as well as why Excelerate is such a valuable experience for her team.
Each week of the summer, we will be profiling a different Excelerate 2012 company. In this week’s spotlight, Sharon Schneider, CEO of Moxie Jean, gives viewers a behind the scenes look at how Moxie Jean operates and what they hope to achieve from Excelerate Labs. Stay tuned for the other 9 company spotlights coming soon!
What was the initial insight behind the BabbaCo idea?
The idea for BabbaCo came about at a pivotal moment in my life – I had left brand management at Kraft and was on maternity leave. So much changes when you become a parent. The huge shift in my own life made me realize that there was this great opportunity serving others adjusting to life with children. I wanted to make fun, educational products for parents to use with their kids.
BabbaCo was also my second entrepreneurial venture. At 19, I started a successful baking business out of my college dorm room at Brown called “Jessica’s Wonders”. It was an amazing experience and taught me that I could be an entrepreneur.
What changed, when and why? What was it that your customers told you or your team discovered that prompted the pivot?
BabbaCo began with me literally experimenting with products in my kitchen. By the time I applied to Excelerate, a few years later, I had built a successful business with a product that worked, and which customers liked, but I knew that something was missing. I ended up having a conversation with one of the mentors on my second day at Excelerate, which shifted my whole perspective. I realized that by altering distribution and going direct to consumers via a subscription- based model, I was able to really drive customer engagement with our product. I had been missing out on how to truly leverage the strength of BabbaCo brand’s. By shifting the business model I could own the dialogue with my customers and engage with them on a deeper level than I had previously.
How did you adapt the business plan?
Our whole distribution model changed. We had previously sold through physical retailers and Amazon and now we had to become an e-commerce company. With that same mentor’s encouragement, we revamped everything over the next few months – our site, the back end of the business– to become an e-commerce company instead of a traditional manufacturing business.
What did you ultimately learn about pursuing path B over path A?
I think the biggest lesson was discovering the importance of matching your business’ structure to its end goal. For BabbaCo, it was much more about what went into a box, it was about how we built relationships with our customers. Once we had that insight the company grew exponentially faster in the next five months than it had in the preceding few years. A pivot isn’t about changing the entire purpose of your company. It’s about working effectively and matching the best business model to your company’s vision.
Could you have done anything else initially to have foreseen the need for this change?
Without Excelerate I probably wouldn’t have thought about changing the business model. I had pre-conceived ideas about subscription-based businesses that turned out to be overly simplistic. The pivot gave us a lot more information with which to run the business. Whereas previously we had struggled with inventory management and customer demand, now we could really see what was working and what was not.
What advice would you offer other entrepreneurs facing the need to pivot?
Firstly, you really need to know your business inside and out – what’s working, what needs to change – really break it down into its component parts. You have to be honest with yourself about where the business stands today before deciding to change it. Secondly, you need to be very scientific in understanding how a pivot will impact the entirety of your business – inventory, cash flow, operations, brand message etc. You have to keep that holistic picture in mind while at the same time retaining the vision for where you want it to go as an entrepreneur.
What do you think has enabled you to be successful in making the transition? is there anything you would have done differently? More quickly?
Speed was certainly important. We tested our assumptions and moved as quickly as we could! I also learned the importance of hiring the right team. You want people with the gusto and determination to make things happen. They have to be comfortable with a bit of uncertainty and yet ultimately share in and support your vision.