Pivot, pivot, pivot!

Over the last 2 months, life had turned upside down for Adar. COVID-19 had impacted Swoosh, his startup in a big way. The company’s product was a tool that allowed marketing teams in bigger organizations to plan budget allocation according to their marketing goals.

The turn of events was quite significant for Adar. First, he quit his job in January to start the company. Then, he realized that because the end of the financial year was approaching, companies were not looking to allocate new marketing budgets in February. At best, they would start planning March. As a result, February was gone without any users on the platform.

Adar spent March speaking with 3 big airlines to get them to use Swoosh to optimize their yearly marketing budget. As India went into a strict download, the airlines almost stopped engaging with him entirely. Marketing was not critical for their operations, so budgets for marketing were naturally cut.

Adar was in turmoil. He spent the first few weeks of April watching TV and digesting all kinds of speculation around when the lockdown would be lifted. Anxiety was at its peak, but looking at the layoffs happening around him, he didn’t even feel like approaching clients for spending money with him.

In May, he was still watching TV. It looked like airlines were not going to open up any time soon. Adar spent the month sleeping on his couch deliberating how to keep his company alive. He had enough funds in the bank for about three months before needing an additional investment. Of the three engineers he had hired, he let go two of them, cutting down his team from four to two people. There was very little work to do since no clients had signed up yet.

As a result, they had not made any revenue. Towards the end of May, Adar had almost wrapped up his plans of a startup. He could no longer take it. The company was dying a premature death, and Adar was ready to blame it on the virus. The virus had killed the plans of thousands of founders like Adar so far.

 He started looking for freelancing jobs so that he could earn enough to pay the bills. But the virus was ruthless. Most of the companies had cut their hiring budgets. No one was looking to hire him. His personal savings, which had been dipping with each month that passed, were now enough for only two more months.

With almost no physical activity since the lockdown started, his health started taking a dip too. He developed an unusual backache that would start every evening and go until late into the night. He couldn’t sleep, so spent an unusual time thinking about what his future would look like. Maybe I should do this? Maybe I should do that? He kept thinking.

But today he decided to take control. Enough of the seclusion and anxiety. He needed to be among people. He shaved his thick, overgrown beard, used a rubber band to tie his hair behind his head, and stepped into his shoes that were gathering dust for a long time now.

He stepped out.  

The excuse – go and eat Falooda. None of the online grocery companies delivered Rishi Da’sFalooda, so Adar had to step out. Ever since Rishi Da came into his life, whenever Adar passed through the stall, he would get one. The Falooda was simply the best you could get in the city. A tall glass filled with cherries, some Falooda Sev at the bottom, a whirlpool-like pattern formed by the rose syrup and Chia seeds floating on top – this was the best Falooda he had ever had.

As the city was now allowed to open up, Adar was hopeful that he would find Rishi Da’s stall open. Adar was looking forward to leaving all of his worries behind and focus on a day full of enjoyment. Though there was no news of a vaccine in the near future, he was still excited. The world was starting to open up – with a ray of hope that businesses would soon start opening too.

Everywhere around him, people walked with different types of masks, some colourful, some plain; some had vents for air to get in, whereas others looked so tight that Adar felt suffocated just looking at them. Around Rishi Da’s stall stood 5 people, as always. But Rishi saw no one eating Falooda. On walking closer, he realized that Rishi Da was not even serving Falooda. He pulled down his mask to see if the mask, which was still on his nose, clouded his judgement.

No, it didn’t. He walked up to Rishi Da.

Kya, dada?” he asked. There were bundles of designer face masks where otherwise the vessels and ingredients would be. On the far side of the stall sat the dull light-blue coloured masks, and on the near side sat the fashionable masks.

Rates were displayed behind the masks. From Rs. 15 to Rs. 250, all kinds of masks were available. Behind the counter where Rishi Da would usually have his cooler, sat bottles of hand sanitizers – all of them pocket-sized. Priced at Rs 25, they seemed expensive than the ones available in the market.

“What happened to your Falooda business?” Adar asked. He felt bad that Rishi Da had to kill the business. He was also disappointed that he would not be able to eat Falooda today, and probably never again.

“What to do? No one is eating food outside anymore. And, what better to sell now than masks? In fact, I am making more money now than I used to when I sold Falooda.”

“But, how could you change your business so easily?”

“Who said I’ve changed it? When times go back to normal, I’ll go back to selling Falooda if masks are not required. Simple.”

Was it actually that simple? Rishi Da had pivoted his business to sell a product nowhere close to his original business. He was now selling to a different type of customer; had no expertise in selling the product from before and didn’t know how to make the products.

With a cheerful mask on his face, Rishi Da kept spraying sanitizer from a bottle onto the stall.

“I am taking extreme care of the stall. People now care about all this stuff. Though I am not convinced that this virus is such a big deal…” Rishi Da said.

“How did you figure out what type of masks to get and where to get them from?”

“Oh! That was easy. Google helped find out about masks and their prices. I have some friends working in factories. One of them mentioned they are not making clothes anymore, but designer masks.” He pointed at the designer masks.

Adar was stunned. He had spent days being depressed that his business was not taking off – whereas here was a businessman who had pivoted his business to deal with the pandemic, and not only pivoted, but made more money than he used to before.  

Adar’s original line of thought, which was to shut down the company if nothing worked, had taken a U-turn.

“If Rishi Da can, even I can!” he kept thinking on his way back after buying a mask from the stall.

Adar went to his co-founder and jammed about how they could pivot the business. Within the next five days, they pivoted their marketing tool to focus on online grocery chains. With local chains operating through many parts of the country, they had instant demand.

“Okay, and why did we not do this earlier?” His co-founder asked Adar a month later.

“We kept deliberating, but did nothing. Maybe we should have just tried it out,” Adar replied.

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