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When your first idea is over: Sidekicker on the pressures of pivoting – StartupSmart

Abandoning the idea you started with to focus on what your customers are really after sounds like a no-brainer, but for many entrepreneurs it’s far from easy.


For Jacqui Bull and Thomas Amos of Sidekicker, the decision to focus on a more competitive aspect of their offering has been their hardest moment yet.


Bull told StartupSmart it’s been the scariest decision she’s ever had to make.


Sidekicker was launched in Melbourne in September 2012 to connect short-term staff to small and medium businesses.


Originally, the proffered sidekicks were intended for jobs such as event staff, basic administration and furniture assembly.


But Bull says they kept getting more and more requests for skilled staff such as accountants, customer service and marketing managers.


“The idea had always been to create a flexible, on-demand workforce, we just hadn’t worked out exactly what our customers wanted,” Bull says.

After launching in Sydney and Brisbane late last year, the team was rapidly running out of money when they decided to follow their customers and redefine their offering in order to give the business the best shot at survival, and investment.


“Having to find the best model is a challenge from a mental bandwidth point of view. It was draining and I thought about it constantly, wondering if we were risking a year of work only to make the wrong call,” Bull says.


The concerns were all-consuming and intimidating for Amos and Bull, who had walked away from well-paid jobs at major companies to take on the startup.


“Starting your own business is basically a leap of blind faith which is very daunting,” Bull says. “It was our own money on the table and we were about to bring in our first external capital, which meant we couldn’t do anything half-arsed.”


The decision to pivot away from basic tasks took Sidekicker from one competitor set, made up mostly of task marketplace startups such as Airtasker and Agent Anything, and put them in another more crowded and complex set, where small businesses, freelancers and even global outsourcing platforms were competing for the same business.


“It’s a big leap of commitment with a lot of risk, and let’s face it, not much understanding of what we’re doing yet,” Bull says, adding the hardest part was accepting their first idea was over and it was time to move on.


“You have to believe in your idea so much you can think it’s better than it is. To take yourself away from the idealistic version of your dream business and make yourself choose the model that’s actually viable, that’s tough.”


After many long and fraught conversations with her co-founder and advisers, Sidekicker switched focused and invested thousands in overhauling their branding and website.


“You get pulled in all directions and the stress got a bit overwhelming, but it gets both easier and harder when you’ve invested in the change,” Bull says.


The stress began to abate as customer acquisition began to flourish and they signed on their first few investors in a seed round for a couple of hundred thousand dollars they’re closing this month.


They’ve recently hired two new staff members. Bull says now they’ve straightened out what they’re offering, 2014 is all about growing the platform and customer acquisition.


This story is part of our Startups Are Scary series. If your startup has been through a tough time and would like to share what you learned with the wider start-up community, please get in touch: rpowell at startupsmart dot com dot au

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