Learning when to pivot

Finding the right niche market to target is often a big decision, and for Giles Palmer, CEO of social media monitoring company Brandwatch, it took more than one pivot.

Putting it bluntly, Brandwatch wouldn’t exist today were it not for three significant pivot points in the evolution of the business.

Back in 2000 I started a business that built websites for anyone and everyone. This was before the days of WordPress and the deluge of similar open source web publishing platforms that now offer this service for free. At that time, I’d call us a straight up tech agency that delivered a ‘one size fits all’ service. But there was an obvious problem with our business model: servicing everyone meant we had no focus and we weren’t unique. We were a small company in need of a niche.

That’s where our first pivot point occurred. We were fortunate to hire someone with specific expertise in 2002 which meant that we could shift our focus to local authorities. This was an untapped market – there were over 350 local authorities at the time – and we knew who to target and how to target them.

We picked up business from over 25 local authorities, transforming into a profitable business with a turnover over $1 million. Things went well for a while, but before long we realised that our niche gave us little room to grow. In a way we had the opposite problem to the one we initially experienced: we had become too niche. That’s when we decided to pivot and change direction once more.

The next project we embarked on was the construction of a search engine for the legal and financial sectors, designed to seek out very specific sources of information. Our ‘specialist search engine’ was unique and gave us a valuable differentiator, which was definitely a step in the right direction. But due to the targeted nature of our product, we had to charge a premium for our services. It was a hard sell: an immature product for industries which were comfortable using similar (and more established) services like Lexis Nexis and Factiva.

We were making progress, but we still needed to find a niche that appealed to businesses across all sectors. That’s where our third and final pivot point came in – creating what was essentially a real-time search engine for social media, with the added advantage of measuring influence too. That’s how Brandwatch was conceived. This pivot point propelled us into a sector that was growing fast and made us unique: creating a solution the likes of which no-one else had managed to deliver.

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Hunter Ruthven

Hunter Ruthven

Hunter was the Editor for GrowthBusiness.co.uk from 2012 to 2014, before moving on to Caspian Media Ltd to be Editor of Real Business.

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