Courage to Pivot
On February 24th, 2019 we interviewed one of the participants of the first cohort of the Canadian Women's Network Program, Serese Selanders who is the Founder & CEO of ORA - a personal safety startup.
In the first of our startup interview series we learn about the importance of taking bold decisions early when the right product fails to gain traction.
It is not enough to have great product that solves an important need - you also need to achieve the right business model and positioning - which may require some trial and error.
We learn from Serese that as a startup leader, you need to launch early and keep faith in your product - but also learn from from your mistakes and be prepared to make bold changes early if things don't go as planned.
Joanne: What is ORA and why is it needed?
ORA helps to keep people who live or work alone, and sometimes in potentially dangerous situations, safe.
We provide a discrete personal wearable device that varies from a belt loop clip to a pendant and beautiful jewelry. Follow us online for the announcement of our new name for our business line in the months ahead!
Joanne: Tell me where your business was one year ago.
We were about 6-7 months past launch and in the marketplace. And we were struggling. We were not getting the sales we thought we should be getting. We were asking ourselves if it we had the wrong customer segment … wrong positioning etc. We had some B2B interest but were focused on the B2C market but no traction there.
We wondered if we were perhaps too early to the market with that segment. We felt we had an infinitely better product than medical alert but we underestimated the power of that industry which been around for 40 years.
Joanne: One year later, where are you at today?
We are preparing to launch our new B2B brand. We are not getting rid of ORA, but setting it aside as our B2C product and we will be passive with it. I can’t let go of it completely because it’s why I started the business in the first place.
In the next 6 weeks we will launch a new brand focused on employers looking to keep their employees safe. We will have a new app, new features that businesses have asked for, exciting new partnerships and the ability to be more customizable. The new product is being built with the business user in mind.
Joanne: What have been the key learnings in that year time period?
I’ve learned a lot from people so far in my journey. I like to think that I’m a good listener, but yet just because you hear something, it doesn’t mean that it is easy to put into practice. Some of the things that I heard that made sense in my head like “be quick to pivot” and “don’t be married to your idea” … but I struggled with the hard decision of what that meant for my business. I should have been quicker to pivot and faster to realize that the opportunity was really on the B2B side. But I will say that I’m comfortable with where we landed and where we are now.
I tried to raise a round last year and I didn’t get any takers. Looking back, I can see why. Investors could see that we didn’t have a clear path forward and I know that they will see that now.
Joanne: Who/what has been instrumental to you and what suggestions do you have for others ?
The struggle that founders experience is real. I can see it a lot more clearly in others now having gone through some tough times myself. I think this is a bigger issue than people talk about it in the startup world. The reality is that it is really hard. It feels like there is lots of encouragement when you first come up with an idea and start, but there are challenges along the way and while it looks like the success is accomplished overnight, I know now that it isn’t.
So I encourage anyone reading this who is struggling to reach out to those you know and ask for support. It might be a simple phone call or text message, but knowing you’re not alone can make a big difference.
Joanne: What does the next 6-9 months look like for your business?
Launching the new brand. It might not sound like a lot but we have to hit the ground running. Thankfully we have some traction in B2B but I’m committed to us being really successful. It’s amazing how much work is involved with simply getting ready. We will focus on sales and look to answer the question on how to really scale and grow quickly. I will be focused on how I put this new product out there (and I am open to advice and mentorship).
At the same time as we start selling, I am considering raising money for our growth.
Joanne: If you had one ask that you could put out there, knowing that it will get to the person or people that need to read it -- what would that be?
I would love to have an expert at B2B selling --- someone who is willing to help get into the weeds in a granular way. Get underneath the hood and help us find success.
And my second ask would be on the raise. I would be grateful for a strategic advisor and how to best position the company and help me grow as a leader and CEO.