Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, we’ve been hearing stories of businesses that have been forced to shut down completely and, on the flip side, case studies of companies that have seen monumental growth (looking at you, Zoom!).
But what about those businesses caught in the middle? What has come of the companies that suffered great losses but have since been able to stabilize and survive the economic desert? Better yet, have any subscription businesses been able to transform that survival-driven pivot into transformative growth?
At the beginning of 2020, one such company, SnackNation, sold healthy premium food and beverage products to tech companies as a work perk offered to employees. However, with 42% of Americans working from home and another 33% out of work entirely as of June 2020, companies started canceling their contracts or donating their snacks to food banks.
Chelsie Lee and her team at SnackNation knew they had to make some difficult decisions. With the support of her co-founders Sean Kelly and Andy Mackensen, the team was able to carry out a full pivot and launched its new brand, Caroo, in the midst of the global pandemic.
Read on to find out how Chelsie Lee, co-founder and Chief Product Officer of Caroo, and her team crafted their strategy and what they learned from the process that landed them in contracts with 25% of Fortune 500 companies.
Big Decisions & Bigger Risks
Deciding to pivot your business in the middle of an economic hurricane doesn’t happen quickly or easily. “It wasn’t a single moment, but more of a gradual evolution of ideation and strategy, followed by quick action, which allowed us to shift, assess, and regroup in an iterative process,” says Lee.
SnackNation was a relatively large startup of 70-80 employees, so turning the company on its head would have massive repercussions for dozens of individuals and their families if the movement failed. Yet, Lee and her team were confident they could make it work — if they could make the right decisions and execute quickly.
The decision process started small and grew rapidly. The C-suite team recognized everything that would need to change if the company were to survive the new norm.
“SnackNation was too small for us. We were well known as expert curators of products, but the name limited us to food and beverage services,” says Lee. “We had to do a full pivot, which we knew would be far harder and riskier. We had to adjust our branding, our company name, our audience, and our offerings.
The way we acquired new clients also changed — before, we were working with a centralized mid-level contact, and now, we are selling top-down and bottom-up to team managers or department heads who are in direct connection with their team members and C-suite or HR-level leaders who want a centralized care platform for the organization.”
Success Doesn’t Happen Overnight
As a team, Lee and her colleagues decided they wanted to expand and, therefore, needed to be a company that represented more than just snacks. Now branded as Caroo, the company sells and sends care packages, either as one-time deliveries or as subscriptions.
The adjustment period was handled in short-burst phases, including on the technology side, the product side, and the marketing and growth side.
“Our nimble tech team made it all possible,” says Lee, reflecting on the massive role technology played in allowing the pivot. “Most e-commerce is one-to-one — you have a person that wants to buy something and you ship it to them at one address. We already had a system that could ship one-to-many. We were able to take that model and allow companies to give us their employee addresses so they didn’t have to worry about it, and we were able to handle it at scale.”
Even from the early stages of planning the pivot, Lee had growth strategies in mind. “There’s a viral nature to getting a care package and posting out on LinkedIn or on Instagram, and then having your colleagues see it,” says Lee. “That seems to be something that is really fun in this new space.”
Overall, the process was very iterative. The now-Caroo team was able to prioritize, adapt, and launch quickly while learning along the way.
Pivoting Your Business Takes a United Team & No Ego
The results Caroo was able to achieve were impressive. Not only was the company able to maintain its team, but it also experienced massive growth toward the end of 2020, thereby rebounding from the dips caused by Covid-19 earlier in the year.
“Now we have two distinct revenue categories: B2B and distributed channels,” says Lee. “Between the two, in December we saw a strong increase in sales, which is appropriate given the holiday season. Now, we sell to 25% of Fortune 500 companies, and we’re hoping to build on that foundation. Our goals for 2021 are to double from last year and, so far, it’s looking good.”
When asked what she attributes Caroo’s survival and success to, Lee says, “There was no ego attached to previously made decisions, which helped us pivot well. We remained open, curious, honest, and vulnerable. We made decisions together, then moved quickly.”
Caroo’s internal company culture and leadership team set the business up for success even when the forecast was bleak. Now, its leaders are sharing their experience and expertise with other subscription brands. If you, too, are considering a pivot — whether due to the tumultuous landscape of the Covid-19 era or other factors affecting your business — consider what you have that you can leverage to make your pivot as successful as possible.
“If you can’t or don’t want to do a full pivot like we did — name, branding, positioning, audience, sales channels, offerings, and all,” says Lee, “what small, categorical pivots can you make to adapt to the shifting market? What skills and strengths does your company have? What other product lines can you do with those skills and internal assets? What other products or services can you sell to your existing audience to accommodate the shift and support them in the process?”
As companies, we’re not the only ones hurting from Covid-19. Your audience, your customers, and your partners are, too. How can you leverage the internal strengths you’ve worked so hard to cultivate to pivot into something unlimited by Covid-19?
Pivoting Does Not Mean Failing — Quite the Opposite
The Snack Nation-turned-Caroo mission has always been, “Nourishing, inspiring, and caring for people to do the best work of their lives.”
According to Lee, “SnackNation allowed us to do the nourishing part, but Caroo has allowed us to really emphasize the inspiring and caring part because, with Caroo, you’re celebrating milestones of folks, like birthdays and anniversaries with their company.”
In 2021, Caroo plans on launching peer-to-peer gifting so you can celebrate a colleague for doing something wonderful in a meaningful way and provide that level of caring in a professional setting.
“For us, those words around ‘doing the best work of your life’ have always rung true,” says Lee, “and we’re excited to see that come out even more with Caroo.” Even the brand name is steeped in meaning. “Caroo” was derived from the Old English word caru, which means “care.”
Despite a forced shift, the Caroo team feels like it’s on the path it was destined to follow all along.