Big pivots and a cautionary tale.
By Filippo Yacob
In December 2022, after 18 months working on our bootstrapped start-up URSOR, my Co-Founder Joe and I, sat in a dimly lit pub for a difficult, somber conversation. Saddened, deflated, and a little bored. We began debating how to wind down URSOR...
We’d had 2 years of bootstrapping our quest to a safe kid-first Internet discovery tool, but just 3 months after launching URSOR in September 2022, we realized that URSOR was not going to work as a B2C proposition. We were ready to throw in the towel.
SPOILER ALERT! We decided not to. We pivoted. And today, in April 2023, as we quietly celebrate our first significant post-pivot victory, we reflect on the process and journey so far. This post isn’t a list of lessons, or actionable insights. It’s more of a journalled brain-dump on how we almost quit URSOR.
Hopefully there’s something useful here for you.
WE DID EVERYTHING BY THE BOOK!
URSOR’s B2C offering was by all accounts a pre-launch slam dunk. A gem of a case-study from a Venture Building, Strategy Planning, Brand Positioning, Product Development and Early Growth standpoint:
- We organically signed up more than 500 early adopters to the service, and conducted consistent and unbiased surveys to validate the problem we were solving.
- We crafted great personas, conducted extensive market research alongside in-depth competitor research. The service was simple and elegant. The commercial model, easy to execute.
- We designed our product iteratively with a group of 100 early users. Carefully analyzing data, going on regular user calls and building what they asked us to.
- We packed our product with love handles, delightful interactions and joy. For both parents and children. We made the product functional, fun and beautiful.
- We created a great brand. All the bells and whistles. Dreamy metaphors, stunning visuals, fun and approachable messaging that really hit home with our target audience.
- We priced our product sensibly, offering extensive free trials, with reasonable monthly and yearly subscription plans. Keep your kids safe online for less than the price of a cup of coffee!
- The launch was compact, well coordinated, well received, with an enormous amount of love and cheerleading by our early adopter community. Steeeeam!
We did it all by the book, and all the superficial signs of early success were there. Handsome pre-seed investment offers (which we thankfully turned down), invitations to speak at conferences, spontaneous sharing of our content by the community, and requests for interviews by the mainstream media.
So far so good.
A FACE-OFF WITH REALITY
Everyone was excited. We launched! And then crickets... Suddenly none of our early users cared! To our surprise, they stopped using the service shortly after launch. The product worked flawlessly. The tech was solid. We built what the customer asked! We priced it accordingly. So why? Here’s what we learned:
- Building a product for an end-user (a child), that isn’t the buyer (a parent), is very difficult. The correlation between purchase (parent) and value from use (child) isn’t there.
- Parents wanted URSOR to fix the Internet for them, but don’t want to do any of the work! When it came down to it they didn’t want to pay for the thing they said they would!
- A user telling you they want to buy something, isn’t the same as a user actually buying it. No number of surveys can really predict commercial success. The proof is in the purchase!
We did everything right! The problem of keeping kids safe online throughout their ever earlier digital childhoods is a real one! We built exactly what our users told us! And yet, we spent 18 months building the wrong thing, + 3 months desperately trying to make the shoe fit! It was December 2022.
It was at that point, that my Co-Founder Joe and I, sat in a dimly lit pub for a difficult, somber conversation. Saddened, deflated, and a little bored. We began debating how to wind down URSOR...
But then, out of the blue, an email request from an enthusiastic teacher landed in our inbox - “I love URSOR, but I need a version of this for my school. If you can build it, I'll pay for it right away!”. Then another email from a similar teacher with a similar request came, and another one, and another one...
And just when I thought I was out. They pull me back in...
To be continued...