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Advice for startups: Pivot early and often

Posted by Grace Townsley

November 15, 2021    |     4-minute read (649 words)

For many startups, the ultimate dream is to go public or get purchased by a mega-player like Google, Apple or Amazon. 

In a recent podcast with “Startup Success,” Munjal Shah shared his incredible story of building three successful startups – and what he learned along the way. 

How Shah started Andale, Like.com and Health IQ 

Shah’s first startup was Andale, a company that made selling faster. He started Andale at 26 years old, and within five years sold the company to Alibaba. And with that first taste of startup success, Shah was hooked. 

Shortly after the sale of Andale, Shah started his second startup, which became Like.com. The technology was originally developed as a visual picture scanning technology that allowed the site to categorize your photos using facial recognition, allowing for easy picture organization. But Shah quickly realized that this one-time service wouldn’t make for a sustainable business. So, he pivoted.

Like.com had already developed visual search technology that was innovative at the time. Shah decided to rebrand the technology as a shopping search engine, able to help users find matching clothing or decorative pieces based on the aesthetics of a photo. Within a few short years, Google purchased Shah’s company. 

Health IQ has a slightly different origin story. While running a 10K, the day after selling Like.com, Shah experienced what he thought was a heart attack. The experience was a wakeup call. And it inspired him to develop a health company that would encourage and incentivize people to improve their health, but wouldn’t shame them for not being healthy yet. The company, now seven years old, took off. 

The commonality between these three startups – pivoting early

Each of Shah’s three startups share the story of pivoting and developing along the way. While in the middle of running each company, Shah noticed his technology could be used in a new way. Shah put it this way – 

“I’m more interested in being successful than being right.”

He explained how he watched other startups fight for what they thought their company needed, but ended up being wrong about what exactly that was. These companies grew to a point, then without pivoting, they eventually failed. Most of them waited to pivot until they were already out of money. But Shah says that what sets a successful startup apart is the ability to see a pivot point and act on it while you still have the financial backing, and successful track record, to do so. A pivot to climb out of a hole is much harder than a pivot while you’re at the top. 

Shah’s advice to entrepreneurs

Shah tells entrepreneurs not to create a company to please investors, but to care for customers. An investor may turn down an idea or argue that the market doesn’t need what the startup is selling, but Shah says to focus on what the customers want and need. If they’re willing to buy what you have, you’ve obviously found a pain point.  

Shah also encourages entrepreneurs to have the courage to try out a new industry or market sector. While we find comfort in sticking to what we know, he says to not be afraid of doing something different than your last job or the startup you just came from. Sometimes an outsider’s perspective is exactly what that industry needs. 

No matter what industry you’re in, it’s vitally important to surround yourself with a strong, capable team. When you’re in a new industry, bringing in team members who have the experience needed to bring success to your startup can be a game changer. 

The bottom line is to keep moving and don’t get locked into one startup idea. When you keep an open mind and flexible attitude, you’re able to pivot before it’s too late.  

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