Navigating the ever-changing landscape as an early stage startup

"I've got a million dollar idea, and it's going to change the way [insert disruption here]!" Says almost every founder at the beginning of their startup journey.  Honestly, in one form or another, that should be the mindset of every founder. If they don't believe in their own vision, how are they supposed to convince their employees, shareholders and customers?  But what happens when an idea isn't that great? Does a startup simply just die? Perhaps there are clues that are being ignored: startup’s transformation starts with the humility of the founder and the willingness to embrace change.

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GROM got accepted to the MaGIC accelerator in Malaysia in 2017, during the initial kickoff Q&A, one of the founders asked this question: "Will there be any classes in the program that can teach me about pivoting? I think we need to pivot." Many people laughed at this question! (Including the mentor). This was the very first day of the program after all.  Long story short, the company did end up navigating their pivot by the end of that program.

It was a weird first question on the first day of an intense 3 month program, but the problem is very real for any startups at every stage.  Looking back, GROM's first product was a pair orthopedic sandals that looked good and worked great. Our test users loved them, and we thought we had everything lined up for success.  We even built a custom scanning app for doctors to scan their patients' feet, combined with 3D printing technology, we would be miles apart from our competition. Further into the project, we realized that there was a production hell on the horizon (we feel you Elon), we all worked hard to adjust and adapt. The feedback from test users have been great, but we were having a tough time translating into a profitable product.  It was clear that the customer acquisition cost was higher than we initially thought.

The scanning app however, was picking up traction for doctors to prescribe bespoke medical insoles. Now with a reliable insole supplier onboard, we pushed to improve the app and the backend. The opportunity to be in Malaysia helped us further with additional sales opportunities.  We spent weeks hammering out new pricing models, and reaching out to our existing customers for feedback. Luckily, we had a very vocal and active customer base who were only too happy to give us the information and guidance needed. I would say more than 75% of our app features are the direct result of customer feedback.

Fast forward to today, we have built a SaaS platform that helps both doctors and producers provide bespoke medical devices to those in need. There are still plenty of directions our product can grow, but keeping a finger on the pulse and listening to customer feedback is in my opinion the best way to predict.  The opportunities and signals may not always be so apparent, I considered ourselves lucky in a way. The other part of this story is the need for companies to realize whether or not their dream product is still relevant to the market. Startups do not have the luxury - compared to more established companies - to make mistakes. Many will likely run out of runway before taking a product down and starting something new.  But hey, that's just the reality of running a startup.

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