Those of us who start a business tend to do it because we have something to offer--and, let's face it, because we're strong-minded individuals who know what we want. That's our strength, and we tend to play to it.

The problem is, knowing what we want isn't the same thing as knowing what our customers want. And that's where the very thing that drives us--our single-mindedness--becomes a weakness that could potentially threaten our success. To succeed for the long term, entrepreneurs must learn to embrace change.

The Art of the Pivot

Many factors require fast adaptation, such as the following:

  • Technology may change. For example, the on premise solutions that make up an early-phase success may be supplanted by cloud offerings if the company isn't able to quickly change and adjust.
  • Market factors may intervene. In the SEO world, as an example, each new policy by Google can make profound differences in the online marketing strategy a company can or should pursue to succeed.
  • Customer preferences can make or break the strategy you initially choose. Regardless of preparation and what you believe the customers want, their actual purchasing actions may take another direction entirely. This is the factor that required us to find and enact the "second act" of our own.

When Boostability began in 2009, we started with a do-it-yourself model--a product that would give small businesses a way to DIY their own SEO services. We were certain that this product would be well received.

Our reasoning was clear and filled an obvious need. SEO boosts the visibility of any business on the Web, which is vital for businesses of every size and financial scale. But historically, SEO services catered to large organizations in a way that didn't scale to small- to mid-sized business needs. So Boostability offered its DIY model as an easy, cost-effective method for small businesses to leverage the power of SEO. We had something everybody needed, so we began thinking that everyone would buy.

It was a harder than we thought. Within the first year, we almost went under. We racked up a grand total of $7,000 in revenue that year. The problem? We didn't ask the customers what they wanted. We assumed we knew what they needed. And our sales pitch revolved around telling customers--insisting, really--that with our product, it would be easy to do SEO for themselves.

They didn't buy it. They didn't like the idea of DIY SEO, nor the product that would make it happen for them.

At that point we could have given up, packed our tents and gone home. We knew what we wanted to do, after all. We wanted to give customers a product they could use to build their own visibility on the web. It was easy. It was affordable. It was exactly what they needed.

And all of that was absolutely true. But so was something else: What they needed wasn't what they wanted.

If we'd kept on driving down our own road, insisting we were right, we wouldn't be here today. Instead, we made a sharp turn to success by asking ourselves an entirely different question: Our whole concept is DIY...but what if customers don't want to do this for themselves?

Success Incorporated

With that question, everything changed. We re-vamped our approach, converting our DIY tools and platform into a Do-it-for-you service built around the customers' needs. Then we enabled other businesses to use our platform as a means of providing SEO to their customers. This seismic shift produced a range of partners that spanned everything from white-label vehicles (like yellow pages) to advertising agencies, PR firms, web design companies and yes, even other SEO service providers.

Converting our DIY platform to a Do-it-for-me service made the service transparent, affordable and incredibly effective.

All of this occurred when we realized that fundamentally, at every juncture, we were finding so many customers who just wanted us to make it happen for them, but who needed to see exactly what was happening to see and understand the value received.

Four years later, we've grown to $35 million, and our customers and partners are growing with us.

It's been a crazy-busy five years. But the most important lesson we learned is this: Embrace change. Shift and evolve to turn your problems into revenue streams. Too often, new companies go down just one road, relentlessly, until the road becomes a rut and the rut becomes a graveyard of the potential they could have achieved. Too many entrepreneurs who may not fear change are fearful that dramatic change is an admission or an indication they've failed. Consider this concept: failure is not a destination or an embarrassment; but an opportunity. Pivot here to succeed.

Travis Thorpe is the CEO of Boostability and was a finalist for the EY Entrepreneur of the Year award Utah Region.

Published on: Jul 2, 2014