gears

If the plan is not working, change it.

Image: A set of railroad tracks that diverge
Credits: Felipe Martinez Quiroz and Raquel Gómez Fernández

We talk a lot about startups whose story unfolded according to plan, but not enough about those that have evolved.

This is strange given that agility and adaptation is largely what startups are known for.

Of the dozens of companies doing a major product pivot in 2020, I am excited to highlight three Philly startups have stepped up to share their stories.

These teams are wiser for learning from these pivots - much wiser than if their first product attempts were wholly affirmed.

I hope you can cheer them on as they open a new chapter.

Weachseats

Entrepreneurs: Sarina Chernock and Matthew Weaver

Core Concept

Allow underutilized spaces to generate revenue by listing as workspace so remote or on-the-go workers can easily access reliable space cheaply.

Instead of working from your couch or a co-working space, work from your neighborhood restaurant.

The restaurant is empty during the day anyway. The kitchen staff may be doing food prep. But the seating area is all yours.

It’s quiet. They’ll have food. And it’s right around the corner from your house.

Image: A restaurant converted into a coworking space
Courtesy: Weachseats

Original Use Case

Work from a local bar or restaurant that has unused space by day. They have real seating, wifi, small meeting rooms for calls, and provide unlimited coffee. The kitchen is doing food prep for the evening, and the seating area is all yours.

And it’s right around the corner from your house.

Image: Screenshots of the Weachseats app that show how to reserve a restaurant to co-work from

Restaurants love the concept. They especially like the potential to generate knock-on sales on a quick meal for members while they work.

Currently, their target users users are habitually switching between venues – their house, a coffee shop, and a Weachseats restaurant.

And the challenge is getting users to show up at the same locations at the same time to create the “co-work” vibe. Users consistently say they don’t want to feel isolated and want regular company.

The Pivot

Invite remote professionals to come work from your home. Or go work with another professional in their home and pay them a small fee.

After testing with actual users/locations and interviewing target users, Matt and Sarina found that their core users were always most comfortable working from home. Their challenge was that home felt too isolating and unproductive without other people around, which is why some of them begrudgingly used co-working or coffee shops in the first place.

The concept and pricing is being tested in early trials.

Now they have to figure out how their original app can help solve the new logistical challenges that entails: coordinating multiple guests into the same location, balancing desired amenities with what’s feasible, and allowing guests/hosts to “vet” each other before they meet in person.

Stepwise

Entrepreneurs: Stacey Mosley and Mjumbe Poe

Core Concept

Use “open data” that’s been recently published by the City to help developers or lenders identify properties that are ripe for redevelopment. Data is now available from departments like Zoning, Licenses and Inspections, Streets, city owned properties, and Parks and Recreation.

Original Use Cases

Use Case A: Allow residential developers to discover nearby properties that have a high “Redevelopment score.” Developers now have a more thorough and more data-driven way to search for potential deals than manually sifting through auction listings or walking around the block.

Image: A screenshot of the original Stepwise/FixList app showing how to filter housing properties by their Redevelopment scores

The majority of “house flippers” are small, family-run operations who aren’t necessarily looking to retool their process of identifying properties; they like Stepwise but trust their gut more.

There are a small group of professional housing developers who find this tool extremely valuable; they see it as their main tool to source and validate deals. However this group of users is small and not growing.

The vast majority of “professional” developers focus on commercial properties; they see Stepwise as an occasional companion. They want to see Stepwise have more comprehensive data - sort of like they are used to having for commercial properties. But that additional data might be expensive to source on a wholesale level.

Use Case B: Allow lenders who are approving loans for blighted properties to have the knowledge of a “local” without having to live on the block.

Target lenders are slow to adopt; they still want to use their street knowledge to make the approval decision. It is also difficult for this niche product/market fit to scale because traditional lenders are increasingly shying away from residential property redevelopment.

The Pivot

Partner up with a lender or developer to put together a fund to invest in properties that have a high redevelopment score.

The idea here is to prove how Stepwise’s data product can be used to discover higher-yield and potentially lower-risk properties that others may have overlooked. It also allows Stepwise to generate more immediate returns that the company can quickly reinvest in its technology team.

This new path also allows Stepwise to learn intimately how urban redevelopment deals get sourced and financed, so that they can modify their tool to fit a broader user group.

Their team has already secured a partner, and together they have successfully purchased their first few properties using insights from Stepwise.

ROAR for Good

Entrepreneur: Yasmine Mustafa

Core Concept

Wearable device that allows you to discreetly send SMS alerts when you are feeling unsafe.

Original Use Case

Use this device as a safeguard during a solo run or a walk alone at night.

The company had to balance building a device that is small and discreet enough to be worn but packs powerful features that can help in an emergency situation (e.g. audible alert, haptic feedback to know the device has been activated, lights to indicate battery levels). Ensuring an affordable price-point was a challenge with the cost of manufacturing.

Image: A person wearing the original device, Athena, around the neck

The Pivot

Focus on the 58% of hotel housekeepers who experience sexual harassment on the job. They tend to be women of color and immigrants. Seventy percent speak English as a second language. Housekeepers are groped by guests, solicited for sex acts, or worse. They put themselves at risk every day when they go to work.

Image: An iPad app showing off how hotel owners can manage safety alerts from their house keeping staff

Cities and states have recently started requiring hospitality employers to have a panic button solution to address this issue. ROAR pivoted their outdoor location-tracking technology to work indoors. The challenge was to overcome dead spot coverage (poor WiFi or cell signal) while still ensuring that the platform was affordable to hotel owners and managers.

The financial burden has now been shifted from the consumer to the employer. Instead of manufacturing their own device, ROAR is planning to use existing inventory for the panic button until it is depleted. After that, they’ll use existing, off-the-shelf products, thus reducing their capital needs. They also leveraged their Bluetooth experience from building the wearable accessory to devise a patent-pending location tracking solution for their new platform.