You're Not Alone: Lessons Converting a Service to a Product
I sometimes feel like a basketball player as an entrepreneur. Top of the arc, high pressure in front of me with a hand waving in my face. One foot is planted.
The other is moving back and forth, pushing and turning to find the best direction to go. The very next dribble is critical, you see.
I’ve been an athlete my whole life. Never pro, but always committed.
Still to this day I wake up early, run, lift, and move, learn new sports, and push my body hard.
Basketball for me was a break from soccer, volleyball, running, marathons and some of the other athletic pursuits that I held. But there’s no other sport like it.
And when we would play at the park, it got serious. We didn’t want to get schooled. And it just so happened that the place I grew up, PG County, was one of the best basketball counties in the nation, and has been considered to be a production machine for NBA players.
Unlike some other of my sport pursuits, basketball’s rules lend way to ‘the pivot.’ Thankfully, I learned about the pivot before business, but I understand the sport of entrepreneurship way better because of this. So let’s observe the pivot a little today.
Let’s talk about how in entrepreneurship, the pivot isn’t ‘pushing and turning to find the best direction to go’ and is instead a company's forward momentum converted to a new direction - all happening while you try to keep at least one foot on the floor.
Inside the Ortus Academy production factory, we’ve made several pivots.
We’ve grown from a pivot of service to product to a pivot into new markets. Both are complicated.
Given COVID-19-land is requiring many entrepreneurs to pivot rapidly, frequently and without ability to test, this article is an open share of some of the mistakes we made while in the full sprint/change of direction that is an entrepreneurial pivot.
While we all want to receive the ball stable and choose which direction to go, right now, that is a luxury few can afford.
So, vulnerable, we will be. A few mistakes we made:
THE USER EXPERIENCE IN THE PRODUCT SHOULD MIRROR THE SERVICE
Converting a service to a product sounds relatively straightforward. But it can get complicated.
We made note of all that went into our service. The ethos, the functionality, the processes, the outcomes, and STILL made lots of mistakes. Namely, when we started converting online, we felt the need to conform. How else would people buy in? Wouldn’t the market play nicer if we just stick to what works?
We wanted to play by the rules of the education landscape. We wanted to adhere to what had been done. We desired functional approval by the organizations and systems we deployed into.
But when we were providing a service, we were confident in being different.
What a mirror this experience was to my life - always trying to fit in as Aaron the _________(insert whatever everyone else was: athlete, artist, author, speaker, etc).
When I accepted me for me, the fact that I’m different, I could then look at our challenge as a business team differently. We were different. That was more than OK, that was important.
But let me make sure this point lands; It's bold and underlined:
Being different is hard.
What we learned was that converting our service to a product really meant that we had to keep navigating this commitment to our cause, mission, and vision with a surgical precision that was unparalleled before. Small details mattered big.
If you’re in the process of converting, take the time to really assess your service for what it is, not what you think will work. Mirror your values, mirror your mission and mirror what made the service special. If you try to convert and haven’t thought through that element, we’re happy to help - and whether or not we do, you should seek out some unbiased feedback on what the special sauce actually is.
Get committed to your service conversion by nailing down what’s really magical about it. Then, and only then, dive into the conversion.
THE PERSONAL TOUCHES MATTER
We started as a youth education service - offering a sporting experience to young adults in the landscape of money. It was high energy and created some star power for us. Experiences and moments last so much longer than words in a lecture.
But what could we do if we weren’t with someone? How could we make it personal?
Think about what makes education special. I don’t mean school - I mean learning. Learning is special when your professor or teacher shares their energy with you. You can feed on their passion - it’s visceral.
So we decided - no powerpoints. If we used animations, they’d only be thrown in sparingly to change up the mix. Otherwise, we committed to being on camera and breaking the fourth wall. High quality, TED-talk style videos, with camera personalities larger than life. We had to make it seem like we were there with someone. That we cared. That we enjoyed the hell out of the process of making it.
Because when you have a service, you’re there with a client.
You can listen, learn, and see what makes them smile. You can adjust on the fly, you can intuit.
But when you make a product, you lose much of that.
It’s only through intense intentionality that you can create the kind of sticky, powerful personal touches in a product.
In raw form, simplicity in a product is true thoughtfulness.
If you can consider your experiences, your failures, your successes, the questions, the upsells, and all the components of selling, marketing and growing services, then you are ready to build. Take time to reflect on these.
LEAN IN ON YOUR PREFERENCE FOR SPEED OR PRECISION
I suppose you could call it buyer’s remorse.
We built so much that we no longer use, like a snake that’s former skin rests in the grass only until it decomposes to the breeze.
And I am fully responsible for that. Those costs don’t go away. What we learned was worth the costs. Still, we spent a lot because well - see points above (haha!). But we did it fast and got it out in the market for testing and feedback.
We built in a platform that we’re graduating out of - from one that would play nice with formal education to one that stands beyond it. We built to go into schools and rattle the system, but the rules weren’t ready for social, emotional, and financial intelligence revolution (at least not then). We built a website to appease, and then had to redefine what our intended language and funnels looked like if we built it to be courageous instead.
We changed our sales model from product to subscription and evolved our content to serve under a guiding principle - that money, more specifically financial acumen, is not about age but about (life) stage.
So we had to let a lot go. Lots of videos. Lots of writing. Lots of materials. Lots of flyers. Lots of data. And we’re okay with that.
Someone might call it wasteful spending. I call it an education.
But we could have been more precise. It might have spread out the costs a bit more, but may have taken more time.
Precision or speed - which is your personal preference?
These are differences of perspective and play-styles. Admittedly, it is not incorrect to say we experienced some waste, because in theory we no longer use some of what we built. That language suggests that if something is built and not used in perpetuity, it was wasted. The speed we experienced allowed us to test, get feedback and iterate quickly.
That was valuable and mirrored our play-style.
The opposite has its perks, too. Lower budgeted organizations may need to be precise, especially with current market conditions. Precision does take more time though - and if you take a long time you may miss your mark. Bottom line: It can prove super valuable to those that really know their niche and can be meticulous because they understand what people need and want.
As you go through this, you’ll have two options.
Precision: Spend your time reviewing each detail and getting the help you need to make the right choices. Here you can make sure your alignment is clear and your path forward minimizes error and saves you capital, it just takes longer.
Speed: Go forward, make the mistakes, and look back with a short memory. While this may cost more, many of the lessons will be really valuable and it will increase your rate of iteration.
I choose to always live in the latter, as that’s more suited to my personality. Either option above is a very positive process to undergo.
You’ll spend more money through your pivot if you do this, but you’ll likely learn more.
Depending on your business position and your tolerance for risk, you should process this before your decisions, or again, bring in support.
I like jumping out of airplanes, ziplining across ravines, and rolling around a jiu jitsu mat with a target on my chest. So my risk tolerance, and stance on the cost of learning and building something that stands the test of time, may not line up with yours.
You have the option - be meticulous, or build the boat as you row it. Just don’t fall in between.
These lessons all come back to basketball’s concept of a pivot. If you stand and hold the ball with both hands, swinging it from hip to hip not sure of which direction to travel, pushing off of a moving foot while one hold’s your position, only one thing is guaranteed:
You’ll never go anywhere.
Eventually, you have to take the risk.
Learn from our risks and our position, and get after it.
If we can be a support for you during your pivot, reach out. We can offer some guidance through our Navigator program like we have with several companies.
Whether you do or don’t, the three lessons above may ground you in what’s going to be necessary for you to be successful. Learn from our mistakes, so you don’t make the same.