Entrepreneur

How we threw away everything & gained everything in a pivot

About eight months ago, we shut down our offices in Boulder, Colo. I had moved out to California about a year prior, and as the lease came up in Boulder, it was an easy decision to close the office.

But not for the reasons you think.

Our company, Graphicly, has grown up over the past couple of years. We started as a company focused on building a marketplace for digital comics that allowed for sharing and discussion, and over the beginning of our life, as many startups do, we learned several hard lessons.

Yet in the midst of that learning, one truth continued to float to the top: We wanted to change the world, and changing the world meant making decisions that hurt in the immediate but would lead to a clear path.

In building a marketplace of content there are inherent issues. Early on I explored if focusing on business model would bring us the lever to move the world. Sometimes in moving the world slightly the level is simple. I started to talk to innovate folks in other industries.

“Own your future.”

I was sitting in David Pakman’s office in New York. David, as CEO of eMusic built a streaming, subscription service that leveraged licensed music and indie bands into a $70 million-per-year business.

Those three words — “Own your future.” — rang in my brain. Living in the world of licensed content created a world where the license holder had all the power. We could not build a big business without their consent. Our lever just got longer.

Over the next few months I chatted with more and more folks. The comments were the same. Get out. You are fighting a pending ceiling.

In October of 2011, I was standing in my kitchen in Boulder. On the other side of the phone was Micah Laaker (head of product) and Dan Theurer (head of technology). They had just pitched me on the idea of dumping everything we had built over the last year or so, and extract just the tools that publishers cared about.

“You want to change the world,” they said. “Let’s help publishers understand and transverse the ebook world. It’s a horribly messy and dark place. There are eleven file formats for Kindle, iBooks and Nook. Let’s help them.”

“You want to throw away everything?” I asked. “All that we built? All that we spent all that money on? Move beyond comics? You believe this is our lever?”

They both said “yes” in unison.

I remember sitting there for a couple of minutes. Fear and worry building in my chest. What if we were wrong?

Then I remembered that the two people on the other end of the phone were not only brilliant, passionate people, but my friends. I chose them to help me lead the company into the future. If I couldn’t trust them at this exact moment, when could I?

I took a deep breath.

“Let’s do it. I am not sure if I 100 percent believe in it, but I believe in the two of you. I have your back.”

Over the next several months we started building a SaaS tool for publishers that makes converting, distributing and promoting digital content faster, better and cheaper than any service on the planet.

Fast forward a few months into March of 2012. Why March? Because in that month, we did more revenue than in all of 2011. By end of 2012 we had more than 6,000 customers. We ended 2011 with 300.

By September 2012, we had dove completely into our new lever, and started to see different ways to use it. And as the new business accelerated, we decided to make another huge shift.

We went completely virtual. By forcing us to use our tools remotely we could see what our customers saw and work faster to innovate.

So we closed our Boulder office, and we leaned into our lever.

micahMicah Baldwin is CEO of Graphicly, an entertainment and digital content publishing platform designed to deliver what authors and publishers need to share their work with audiences. Previously, he was VP, business development and chief evangelist for Lijit Networks (acquired in 2011). Baldwin sold his previous startup, Current Wisdom, in early 2007. This post originally appeared on his blog, Learn To Duck.

Top image via Luna Vandoorne/Shutterstock


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