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Weekend Warriors Discover the Pivot

Matt Harvey, Stanford University April 12, 2011

Is it possible to have an amazing product, but have no idea who it’s for? Absolutely, according to Idealab Founder and CEO Bill Gross. Before starting Idealab, the tech incubation firm that started Picasa and Overture, Gross started an educational software company called Knowledge Adventure.

In the early 1990’s, Knowledge Adventure was selling a reasonable number of their multimedia CD-ROM products, but as Gross explains in the video below, the company struggled to explain who their products were actually for. Gross even admits one product’s packaging claimed it to be, “fun for ages 8 to 108.”

While this is an understandable approach in trying to capture a larger audience, the result was less than effective in targeting specific customer groups. To attack this issue, the company mobilized their workforce into “weekend warriors,” deploying employees into retail outlets to demonstrate the products and gain direct customer feedback.

“We would have never, ever discovered it, if we had not been in the stores, seeing the confusion of [customers] in the aisle.”

Bill Gross on discovering the pivot

While this initiative boosted sales, more importantly, the effort illuminated a customer pain point that would become the basis for a major pivot. After each weekend excursion, employees shared stories and insights from their experiences with customers. One major observation was that parents were confused as to which product to purchase for their child. Was the cool Space Adventure product in their hands meant for their five-year-old or ten-year old child?

Knowledge Adventure subsequently built and marketed a product specifically for children just entering kindergarten. The result: the age-specific product sold “20 to 50” times as many units as the company’s other products. Off this success, the company would eventually build targeted products for children entering the first through sixth grades.

Pursuing valuable customer feedback allowed for the discovery of this major pivot, which Gross admits, “We would have never, ever discovered… if we had not been in the stores, seeing the confusion of [customers] in the aisle.”

View the entire ETL lecture from Bill Gross at ECorner.