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Lessons from Mind Candy: How to pivot

Sometimes, a startup needs to pivot to survive. Ed Barton gives us his tips on how best to manage it, from his experience at Moshi

By Anisah Osman Britton

Ed Barton

Eight years ago, Mind Candy’s online game Moshi Monsters was all the rage and had been played by 100 million kids. Then growth slowed, revenue diminished and its CEO stepped down. When Flash was killed by Adobe, Moshi Monsters was closed down. But behind the scenes, Mind Candy had been experimenting with all sorts — including a children’s “Instagram” — until it landed on child wellness app Moshi. Ed Barton, previously founder of kid’s education platform Curiscope and now chief operating officer at Moshi, gave our Startup Life newsletter his top tips on building a new company within an old one.

Be explicit about what the team is buying into

At early-stage companies, pivots are part of the culture of learning while trying to find product-market fit. As a more established company with history, processes and structure in place, it is harder — especially when you have highly specialised employees. You have to get serious buy-in if you want them to adjust their roles. It has to be a conversation, say, “We won’t just shift nicely into a new model with instant product-market fit — we’ll need to resume an all-hands-on-deck energy, where your roles could potentially evolve over time.”

The team needs to be comfortable with this shift or you have to bring in new people to drive change quickly. For us, rallying the team around our values of children’s health and wellbeing and showing how perfectly timed we were to ride the wave in the industry was and is key.

You need to reset expectations

Creating a new product means you have to reset expectations around the KPIs you can achieve and how you achieve them. Your marketing or sales teams shouldn’t be working to the previous goals of a well-defined company. So slow down. It’s easy to turn on the same well-tested marketing taps but if they’re not plugged into a new coherent vision of what you’ve become as a brand, and you don’t know who exactly your customer is or what exactly the product they’ll love is, you’ll just end up losing money.

“To chart a new path, you need different people with different outlooks — you can use new team members to find that startup energy again”

The value of being fresh meat

To chart a new path, you need different people with different outlooks. Coming in after a pivot like I did helps shed the old company identity. I won’t make decisions on the basis of what worked (or didn’t!) previously by virtue of not having seen any of that. Also, you can use new team members to find that startup energy again and to inspire them to build beyond the levels the company reached previously.

Make use of anything that is transferable

But it is important to remember, as old and new team members, what worked before and to use that to your advantage. For us, our past work within the kids industry gives us a lot of credibility. It also proved we know how to resonate with kids en masse. We want that association. Our brand name is a call back. We say we’re the team that brought you so and so. We talk about it. Our Moshi Monsters audience may be 16 to 21 years old now, but they’ll have fond memories so will recommend us or come back to us as they have families of their own. We use our reputation to drive Moshi’s success.

Anisah Osman Britton is coauthor of Sifted’s Startup Life newsletter, which comes out weekly on Wednesdays. Sign up here.

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