Hi everyone! As many of you may already know, when COVID-19 hit, we as a team had to grapple with the idea of pivoting our company in light of the impact on the hospitality industry. As some on our email list were able to see how we handled pivoting, I wanted to share more about that experience in light of how successful Office Otter has been.
As difficult as the year was for so many of us, we look back with pride at all that we've accomplished and the new energizing demographic we've been able to support. My hope is that anyone looking ahead to how to survive a pivot can look here for inspiration and hope!
TLDR: We were a travel management software company when COVID-19 hit. During our period of pivoting, we went through the Techstars accelerator, began customer discovery, and launched an MVP with 15 companies 3 months later. Best tip: talk to 100 mentors and 100 potential customers before launching. Since launching, we’ve doubled month over month, have an exciting and dedicated user base, and amazing investors backing our vision. Office Otter is a workflow software for internal operations roles focused on turning conversations into tasks seamlessly and quantitatively measuring how they work.
It all began in March 2020. We had just moved to Portugal to continue working with Techstars, one of the top accelerators in the world. Three weeks into the program, the sudden arrival of COVID-19 initiated the travel ban, the program shifting to remote, and US founders heading back home from Europe. Our team was terrified of the virus’s implications. No one had any idea the ripple effects this would have on the travel industry. We were disappointed that we had to go home after planning for this European adventure, and we had no idea what we were going to build next.
We began discussing other options for moving forward in a COVID-19 environment, but at this point, we still only felt confident enough to explore travel related ideas (ironically).
One of the most memorable moments of this time was our Managing Partner, Hugo, leading a conference call with the entire cohort the night before we flew home, assuring us that we were all going to make it through this. We needed that.
(Hugo teaching one of our final lessons in person in our Techstars Lisbon office)
April meant Mentor Madness! In a nutshell, Mentor Madness is a 3-week period at the beginning of the Techstars program where teams meet with around 100 entrepreneurs, investors and business leaders who volunteer their time to offer advice and help startups grow. Looking back, the timing of Mentor Madness and pivoting worked out perfectly. At the exact time we were debating which idea to pursue, how to pursue it, and what building in a post-COVID world meant, we had the opportunity to speak to 100 startup professionals from all over the world.
We dove in deeper to explore our ideas, which included: a flight API, platform for gamers, and tool for internal operations roles (guess which one we ended up going with…haha). Many people complain that Mentor Madness is exhausting—and it was. We were doing these calls on Europe time while in California, which meant going to bed at 5pm and waking up at 2am to start pitching ideas we didn’t even know if we believed in yet. However, in the end, it was critical to saving our company.
If you’re considering pivoting, I like to say it’s important to talk to 100 mentors and 100 potential customers. That’s the formula.
(The beginning of many Zoom calls)
That leads me to the next phase of pivoting: customer discovery! My favorite. We began to hone in on the idea of creating a tool for people in internal operations roles. This was a role I had been familiar with in corporate travel management, and I strongly felt they were underserved and overlooked from a technology perspective. However, a hunch is not enough to go on to launch a product.
So I publicly announced my plan to hold 100 interviews with people working in internal operations roles to identify potential product opportunities. The response was overwhelming—my calendar quickly filled up with people from all over the U.S. interested in talking with me. In fact, over 24% responded to a cold email agreeing to help us with customer discovery. I hoped that the interviews would reveal to us patterns in demographics, pain points, needs and a sense of the competitive landscape. But at this point, I really had no idea how this would pan out…
By June, I had completed about 40 interviews with office managers all over the country, picking up valuable intel about the challenges they faced. To my delight and surprise, my interviewees were predominantly women who shared very similar work experiences, likes and dislikes. Almost all of them were organized, smart, thoughtful, detail-oriented, and loved people and serving others.
I was inspired and energized by their stories and resilience to maintain excellence in their roles during the pandemic. They were eager to share about how they performed their multifaceted roles as well as the unique experiences and challenges they had faced in their careers.
The interviews quickly revealed to me that this segment of the workforce had long been neglected. What struck me most was that I heard similar themes repeated over and over. My three primary takeaways were:
These interviews confirmed our beliefs that there was a need for a new task management tool for office managers and others in similar internal operations roles (thank god!). We subsequently and quickly created our first prototype of Office Otter, a simple to-do list that integrated with all main communication channels to create tasks instantly and collect them in one location where they could be easily viewed, organized and marked as completed.
Our prototype was an instant hit, with companies excited to join. We decided we would launch the product if we could get 15 companies on a waitlist, which we reached in one week. We decided to launch four weeks later (internal scream of excitement and nerves).
(As you can see, even our first mockups had a travel focus.)
We launched Office Otter in mid-July with the 15 initial companies onboarded! The day we launched we were so nervous…what if people didn’t like it once they used it? What if management would shut them down before they got to try it? What if our MVP just broke? (haha)
As it turned out, the launch was a hit! Usage was up, tasks were being made and completed, and users were loving it.
Since then we have continuously improved the platform—thanks in large part to ongoing feedback from our wonderful users around the country. We pride ourselves on listening closely to user feedback and building the features they ask for—and to be honest, they have truly paved the way to creating Office Otter into what it is now.
Office Otter integrates with the most popular communication channels, and users have created over 20,000 tasks to date. We have over 250 companies currently using Office Otter, and our users spend hours a day on our dashboard. In other exciting news, we have received two additional investments from existing investors, and our growth is doubling every month!
We’re really proud of how the product developed in just a few months in 2020 including:
Looking forward to 2021, I could not be more proud of our team for its endurance, optimism, and for entrusting me with the opportunity to lead them; our investors, who wholeheartedly backed us and believed in our determination to successfully pivot; and finally, to our amazing users whom we couldn’t have done this without. We are so thankful that you have opened up your stories, experiences, and hopes with us so that we can make all your product dreams come true! Our inspiration is the impact the product is having on internal operations employees, making their jobs and lives easier than ever before.
“Office Otter has seriously changed my life. It has helped me tremendously; I've taken down my sticky notes that are everywhere, and I feel so much more professional. I’m being so efficient it’s almost kind of scaring me, and I can’t believe how much time it’s saved me.
I just keep it open on my desktop all day, and I never forget anything now. What I like the most is the convenience to be able to send something right over from anywhere and know that it's there in one central place!" - Wendi, Circle CI
“My phone used to be full of voice reminders and now it’s completely clear because I use Siri to make tasks with Text and send to Office Otter! I love how many ways I can interact with it... it’s like I can speak multiple languages to my tasks.” - Amy, Calendly
“I call Office Otter my memory saver! On Sunday night I got an influx of tasks in Slack, and when I remembered that I had Office Otter, I squealed! It's honestly crazy that it doesn't already exist. It's so easy and intuitive.” - Sarah, Sendoso
We have big plans for 2021 and beyond for Office Otter, which include:
Lastly, I want to give an extra warm thank you to those *first* 15 Office Managers who were the first people to give Office Otter a chance and have always been so gracious and encouraging to us: Katrina, Haley, Alexis, Melissa, Erica, Amy, Sarah, Emilee, Amy F., Nena, Colleen, Tatiana, Paige, Wendi, and Rachel, we couldn’t have done it without you! Thank you for all the support, and cheers to Office Otter Nation!