Knowing when to adapt and make strategic changes can help make or break a startup business. Sometimes, the market will tell an entrepreneur what those changes need to be.
Savvy startup owners will be able to read the tea leaves and make timely adjustments.
After launching in 2016, Buffalo-based software company RepHike saw rapid growth in its ability to establish brand ambassadors on college campuses for products and services. The buzzed-about business received seed investment from multiple sources, including StartFast Venture Accelerator, The Tech Garden, and Launch NY.
But toward the end of 2017, co-founder and COO Olivia Goldstein noticed a need to adjust RepHike’s focus, based on a shift in demand from its customers.
“Prior to where we are now, we were basically in the campus marketing space,” Goldstein said. “We rebranded to move more in the direction of micro-influencer marketing.”
According to entrepreneur.com, a micro-influencer is an individual who holds a small yet fiercely loyal social media following—usually in the 5,000 to 50,000 range. Their opinions are trusted more akin to a good friend than a celebrity trying to push a product.
“A lot of the customers using our software were using it to identify students on campus who were micro-influencers—students with larger social media followers, ones that had brand appeal—to share their products and services.”
Goldstein added that at the time, she and the team at RepHike (which today includes co-founders Shashank Roy and Abhishek Menon, plus a full-time business development representative and three interns who work in digital marketing and software development) took a step back and saw how customers were using their software to find these micro-influencers. And as they interacted with their clientele more, they discovered customers were less concerned about whether brand ambassadors were students or not.
“They were telling us ‘I care more if they’re the right person to be promoting my product,’” Goldstein added. “’Are they using my product? Do they have similar followers? Does their content align with mine?’”
Refocusing and rebranding RepHike as a tool to discover micro-influencers came as the result of months of listening to similar feedback from clients and experimenting with what could help the startup increase its own growth.
“Experiment one was online and experiment two was offline—field testing, sharing products with peers and colleagues, et cetera,” Goldstein said. “So we were testing with those two methods to see which was a better fit for us.”
Online won the competition.
“From the beginning of this year we ran a lot of experiments to see what would drive the most growth,” Goldstein added. “And once we decided to focus on micro-influencers, we doubled down on that and went forward with marketing and getting the word out.”
RepHike officially re-launched in June with new branding and a refreshed logo, but the seeds of the company’s pivot toward focusing on micro-influencers were sown months ago by paying attention to what its consumers were asking for.
Goldstein says the changes have paid off.
“I think the rebranding is where we saw the push in our growth—where we got the right messaging down that sat well with customers,” she said. “And we definitely felt it. We’ve seen 300 percent growth from last quarter to this with the rebranding.”
In the short-term, Goldstein says that RepHike’s main focus is completely sales driven and that the company has “aggressive but definitely attainable” targets for the end of the year. In the long term, she added, the system and software utilized by RepHike is set up so customers can find influencers mainly on Instagram, but they are looking to expand to platforms like Twitch (for gamers), YouTube, and LinkedIn.
When asked what she thinks entrepreneurs need to look for when contemplating a pivot for their own startups, Goldstein said it needs to be well-thought-out and not a rush to judgment.
“It’s not an overnight decision thing,” she said. “We didn’t wake up one morning and just decide that things needed to change. It was a long process based on observing our business and getting feedback from customers.”
She also advised that experimenting with things could be a great way to figure out whether or not a pivot in a company’s business plan is the best course of action.
“It should be in your blood to always be doing experiments because in startups, it’s about how fast you can grow and how far you can go,” Goldstein added. “I would say for anyone not sure if they’re in need of a change, you’re probably not running enough experiments to figure out how fast you can grow.”