The Big Pivot … How are companies shifting what they do, how they work, who they serve? … 100s of inspirations to survive and thrive in crisis and downturn

April 21, 2020

Adapt to survive

In the midst of crisis, companies are frantically adapting to survive and to support people in need.

We have all seen how global brands, have let go of their obsessions with luxury and profitability to respond in the hour of need – from Burberry to Inditex, Brewdog to LVMH, Dyson to Tesla – shifting production lines from perfumes to hand sanitizer, luxury fashion to protective clothing for medics, cars and cleaners to hospital devices and ventilators.

We also see a huge shift to support people locked down in their homes, isolated from normality, but still trying to live and work the best they can – cafes and restaurants offering home deliveries, theatres and cinemas opening in car parks where people stay safe in their vehicles,  sports competitions online like running a 5k or marathon alone but connected by Strava.

Pivot to thrive

Then we have the acceleration of new approaches, organisations who are set to thrive in a downturn as they respond to the new needs, and maybe lasting behaviours, of people.

Online shopping has more demand than it can cope with, Amazon to Alibaba, Deliveroo to Grab. Instacart, the fresh food delivered to you home app, recruiting 300,000 extra pickers and packers for example. Online education has become a norm for kids. Health diagnostics and consultations by smartphone, like Babylon or Good Doctor. They could all become normal.

And then we see organisations, particularly start-ups choosing to pivot their futures in entirely new directions. Perhaps its not a surprise that 57% of the Fortune 500 were born in a crisis, a time when everything is shaken up, new attitudes and behaviours emerge, old competitors fail, and people look for new help and hope.

Examples of Pivots

  • San Francisco. Airbnb has taken its Experiences business online during lockdown, making it the primary offering of the brand, with home cooking, tango classes, magic tricks, and much more from around the world to your sofa.
  • Kottayam, India. Manorama Weekly, a family entertainment publication, has seen record sales and a 30% rise in circulation thanks to a collab with the Kerala government which entailed free vegetable seeds included in every copy.
  • Singapore. Creative agency BBH Singapore has developed an Animal Crossing campaign for the popular holiday island of Sentosa – the country’s first branded virtual destination on Nintendo Switch – with 36 bookings available each day.
  • Amsterdam. Vegan restaurant Mediamatic Eden is trialling a new method of socially-distanced dining with diners seated in separated greenhouses overlooking the water, named ‘serres séparées’ .
  • London. Transparent screens, hands-free doors and an in-house barista: some of the measures that architecture and design studio Weston Williamson is bringing into its office –  outlined here  with some excellent illustrations.
  • Detroit. Fisheye Farms has gone from selling its produce to restaurants to residents after partnering with Steward, a platform for investing in sustainable farms, to set up an e-commerce platform.
  • Tokyo. Creative agency Whatever has teamed up with designer Akihiko Kimura to create WFH Jammies – combining the formal look of a shirt up top with loose comfort everywhere else
  • London. Craft brewer Five Points is recreating the draft beer experience in people’s homes by offering specially-made five litre kegs of beer.
  • New York. Influential streetwear brand Sprayground has launched its new Miami 305 collection using 3D animated models in a short film.
  • South Korea. CJ CGV, a major cinema chain in South Korea, has gone completely contactless using robots, automated snack bars and unmanned ticketing systems.
  • LA. The robata grill has been fired up at MTN in Venice as Juan Hernandez and Pedro Aquino, chefs de cuisine at Gjelina and MTN respectively, have launched a Oaxacan pop-up restaurant – takeaway only.
  • New York. Condom company Trojan has  launched a free online cookbookcalled ‘Rising Time’, including sensual bread recipes and food photography. Recipes include ‘Get A Pizza That Booty’ and ‘Knot Without A Condom.’
  • Shanghai. Cosmetics brand Lin Qingxuan closed 40% of its stores, but redeployed 100 beauty advisors as online influencers to engage customers virtually, driving over 200% sales growth.
  • UK. An ancient water mill mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 and now used as a tourist site has relaunched production following flour shortages due to the rise of at-home sourdough baking.
  • Amsterdam. Community-driven delivery platform Roodkappje has launched, allowing volunteers on a jog (or out to walk the dog) to deliver parcels around the neighbourhood.
  • Helsinki. For those who aren’t escaping their home is this multifunctional work-from-home station, the Fem Desk, from office interior architecture agency Fyra.
  • Minnesota. Loll Designs has designed a hospital field bed out of recyclable, easy-to-clean and hygienic High Density Polyethylene (HDPE), using leftover material from its outdoor furniture line.
  • Colombia. Fashion brand Maaji has launched a colourful collection of protective clothing using recycled plastic, from face masks to body suits.
  • Czech Republic. Unpasteurised and unfiltered beer can go bad quickly – coming along to help ‘save’ the bottles is this initiative which connects local beer lovers with hundreds of breweries in trouble.
  • Melbourne. Vaughan and Nathan Mossop, founders of design studio Neighbourhood Creative, have launched Take Away, a cookbook series that gives restaurants and chefs a way to earn much-needed cash.
  • Amsterdam. Sick of your couch? Amid plunging occupancy rates, hotel brand Zoku has launched ‘Private WorkLofts’ – for €50 you get a kitted-out workspace for the day, plus room-service lunch, stationary and supplies.
  • London. Knitwear brand Country of Origin has teamed up with design agency IYA Studio to launch Hande – an organic, alcohol-based hand sanitiser brand. The operation was set up in two weeks at an industrial space in Peckham.
  • Boulder. Trident Booksellers and Cafe has launched a ‘mystery bags’ delivery service. For $50, it will arrange and hand-deliver bags with four to six books chosen by staff – plus a bag of coffee or tea.
  • Berlin. Jan Horeis of Studio Horeis Florist has teamed up with restaurant The Hidden to create ‘DIY dinner with flowers’, a package with prepared food ingredients and flowers.
  • London. Online fashion brand, Rosie On Fire, launched its own dedicated website to sell lockdown-related packages to UK consumers. The consumer boxes on offer include the “Lockdown Birthday Kit” and “Lockdown Date Night Kit”
  • Texas: EVO Entertainment has converted its carpark into a movie theatre. Drive-in movie theatres are popping up everywhere, led by AirGarage, which already monetises and manages parking lots for small businesses.
  • London: Fashion rental brand Rotaro has temporarily become a food delivery company promising fresh food and vegetable boxes delivered to your door in 48 hours.
  • NYC: Streetwear brand Chinatown Market has doubled down on useful social content, deploying Instagram TV to teach how to customise sneakers or tie-dye. Sure, lots of brands are going down this path, but they’re doing it particularly well.
  • Berlin: Michelberger Hotel has turned its restaurant into a grocery store, selling fresh produce, bread, juice, healthcare products and its signature coconut water drink, Monkey Michelberger.
  • Silicon Valley: Animal sanctuary Sweet Farm is raising funds by allowing people to pay for Zoom cameos from llamas, goats, turkeys, pigs and other animals – with prices ranging from $65 to $250.
  • San Francisco: Hims and Hers – best known for hair loss, erectile dysfunction and skincare medicine –  has expanded its telemedicine services into virtual Covid-19 self-assessments.
  • Sydney: Stagekings, creators of specialist structures for music and art events, have started designing, manufacturing and selling stand-up desks and other ‘isolation’ office furniture.
  • Seattle: Event photo booth company, The Snap Bar, have adapted their operations to launch ‘Keep Seattle Smiling’ – gift boxes that help struggling local businesses.
  • London: Musician booking platform Encore have launched a new initiative that allows customers to book artists to create personalised music videos for friends and loved ones.
  • Melbourne: Clothing brand Scanlan Theodore have repurposed their factory in Fiji to manufacture (rather chic) PPE – starting with gowns.
  • Bali: Documentary production company Far Features have launched a new initiative called the Far Found Project – repurposing old footage, and that of their customers, into brand stories.
  • Coventry: Graphic design agency Twenty Two Digital are now primarily focusing on building websites for businesses without an online presence, creating sites in 24 hours.
  • Cape Town: Normally makers of high-end swimwear, Granadilla has focused all of their attention on ‘Granadilla Eats’ – working with local farmers and small businesses to deliver fresh food boxes door-to-door.
  • Beijing: Liu Wei has designed new line of stylish protective wear. The Chinese designer’s three-piece range is all made from waterproof, anti-static, dust-resistant fabric with a germ-resistant layer underneath.
  • Richmond: Advertising agency Little Creatures has created a website called Keep Calm and Nom Nom to direct locals to restaurants and breweries that are struggling.
  • London: Previously focused on making EV chargers and software, EO Charging has collaborated with Brompton Bikes, Octopus and Formula E to create free online lessons for kids on topics such as sustainability and energy use.
  • Ottawa: Cannabis company Canopy Growth is launching a series of instructional ‘how to’ videos on Instagram including ‘How to roll’ and ‘How to clean your setup’.
  • New York: Horderly, an in–person home organisation service, has created a new virtual service in the space of three days. Start off with your book shelf, and arrange the books in a rainbow colour scheme to honour frontline workers!
  • Berlin: Fashion designer Ylenia Gortana has teamed up with fashion lab/creative space Unit 26 to create designer surgical masks by hand.
  • Bristol: The micro gin distillery Pyschopomp is using its equipment to make 100ml bottles of hand sanitizer for hospitals in return for a donation.
  • Faroe Islands. Now you can explore the islands thanks to a camera-wearing local who responds to your commands from anywhere in the world, to virtually show you around the islands.
  • Tokyo. Short-term rental company Kasoku offers spouses apartments to avoid ‘COVID divorce’. It is marketing its empty fully-furnished apartments as a way for stressed couples to get some time apart during the lockdown.

Links to more pivots

  • Covid Innovations: 100s of meaningful COVID-related innovations, worldwide. Segmented by industry. Brought to you by the teams behind TrendWatching.
  • Board of Innovation: Defining the new “low touch economy” and co-created tracker of companies who are shifting to new business models as consumers seek safety in distance.
  • Sifted from the FT: 19 European startups have pivoted in the face of coronavirus, from producing medical gear for the first time to swapping fashion sales for “lockdown kits”.
  • Refine and Refocus: New Orleans bow ties to Scottish dog walkers, Spanish publishing firm keeping kids happy, and hand sanitzer with a hint of marijana in Massachusetts.
  • Maddyness: 19 businesses pivoting in response to COVID-19 from supporting health workers to homeworkers, keeping kids entertained, and old people staying positive.
  • Forbes: How brands have pivoted since the COVID-19 outbreak, from Kora Organics to Daily Harvest, Obagi and Theragun, Havianas and H&M, and Yes Way Rose.

There are hundreds of stories of companies adapting, or whole-heartedly reinventing themselves.

How will you pivot your business? 

Shifting your business from surviving to a rapid strategy of thriving is completely possible. There are hundreds of examples, inspirations to follow, but there are also some important steps. Of course every business is different in terms of finances and resources, market and ambition. These all matter, because surviving and thriving is much more than hanging onto sales:

  • Step 1: Cashflow … Immediate strategies to preserve cash, resources and adjust your business to the immediate changes. Example questions: What is your current cash position? What is your burn rate? What accounts receivable can you secure?
  • Step2: Reimagine … Using existing resources to shift to meet new demand and client realities. Example questions: What do we currently offer that we can still deliver on? What changes could we make to still fulfil orders? What new adjustments can we make to what we offer that fits the current situation?
  • Step 3: Survive … How to diversify revenue and bring down costs. Example questions: Is there a new revenue stream that can be started now? or in the near future? Given the nature of employees working from home, is there additional downsizing to costs to be considered
  • Step 4: Thrive: How to pivot your business in this new reality. Example questions: How do you reframe your business in the face of likely economic downturn? What customer behaviors and attitudes will change and how can we adapt to them? What can we provide that will be in demand going forward?

Reimagine with purpose

A lot of my work recently has been around business purpose. There is no more important time than now to find a sense of direction whilst everything else is chaotic and changing.

Finding your bigger idea is more important than ever right now – like sailors in stormy seas, we need a rough direction to head in, but this is your choice – not just what you do now, but your bigger ambition, passion and goals. With a clear sense of purpose, even the stormiest seas can seem less bewildering – or days locked in your home, might seem like a unique opportunity to pause and think about where you are going in life and work. With a clear sense of purpose, you can steer your way through and out of today’s chaos, to find a better tomorrow.

Simon Sinek gives a useful example of following your “why”, rather than your “what”, with relevance to my own area of business. If I can’t deliver keynote speeches or education workshops like usual, what could I do? Go online you say, but that’s not the answer, there are much bigger and richer opportunities. Or if you are an airline, don’t just think of your business as transportation, think about connecting people in new ways, helping them explore the world in new ways, or relaxation or entertainment, to satisfy their motive in a different or better way. “Why” lets you be more:

We have seen nations different radically in their approaches in their response to the crisis, from the high tech tracking of South Korea and Germany, to the laid back approach of Sweden and Netherlands, the chaos of governments in UK and US. Similarly, companies have different approaches. Compare two of the world largest online retailers, Alibaba and Amazon:

More “pivot” anecdotes

  • Airbnb announced a new global initiative to help house 100,000 healthcare professionals, relief workers, and first responders around the world during the COVID-19 crisis. Airbnb will waive all fees for stays arranged through this initiative.
  • accuRx have developed a video consultation service (in the space of a weekend!) and made it free for all frontline NHS staff. Patients don’t need to download anything and doctors don’t need fancy webcams or anything to use it. The statistics and feedback are incredible.
  • Top Cuvée, normally a neighbourhood restaurant and a bottle shop with a great bar becomes Shop Cuvée delivering food, drink and toiletries to their customers.
  • To help hospitals in fighting the coronavirus outbreak in France, the luxury group LVMH produced hand sanitiser at three of its perfume and cosmetics factories.
  • To support the NHS with medical equipment in the fighting against the COVID-19 crisis, Dyson has created the Dyson ventilator. It is efficient in conserving oxygen, bed-mounted, portable and doesn’t need a fixed air supply.
  • Tunisian taxi startup IntiGo has temporarily become a delivery service. For $4/hour, the company will deliver groceries and other products to customers.
  • In London, Experience Haus has created OpenHaus, a series of virtual workshops to join for free throughout April, to keep on learning while self-isolating.
  • Koru Kids are now helping provide emergency childcare to parents who are working at home. They are also working to train medical students to provide childcare to the children of NHS staff.
  • The Los Angeles-based food truck turned restaurant Guerrilla Tacos has just launched several ‘Emergency Kits’. The $149 option contains enough products for 60 tacos, plus a roll of toilet paper.
  • Signature Brew is paying out-of-work musicians to hand-deliver its ‘Pub In A Box’ product with glassware, snacks, a music quiz, playlists and beer.
  • Spiffy, the US on-demand car cleaning service have rolled-out a service to sanitise facilities and properties.
  • The UK’s Department for Transport will explore new transportation modes including e-scooters and e-cargo bikes, as well as bringing the on-demand model (popularised by services like Uber) to buses and other public transport alternatives, as well as using drones for medical deliveries. It has also announced funding of £90M ($112M) for three new Future Transport Zones to trial these new services.
  • ChargedUp, the specialist in phone charging stations created CleanedUp for venues to provide hand sanitising facilities for their customers, to keep everyone safe and give confidence during and after the COVID-19 crisis.
  • BrewDog has transformed its distillery in a bid to help with the shortage of hand sanitisers, by creating a new one for giveaways to those in need.
  • The Rapids have transformed their “Field Trip” workshops into “Remote Field Trips”, to help businesses seize opportunities, deliver mission-critical change and ride these rapids.
  • Netflix Party allows you to watch movies and TV shows with friends, wherever you are and also has group chat so you can react and discuss together.
  • 1Rebel, London-based fitness club has announced that it is willing to offer its gym spaces to the NHS for extra beds during the coronavirus pandemic. 1Rebel co-founder James Balfour has said that he believes the gyms have space for up to 400 beds.
  • In Canada, INKSmith, a startup that was making design and tech tools accessible for kids, has now moved to make face shields and is hiring up to 100 new employees to meet demand.
  • 3D-printing companies like Massachusetts-based Markforged and Formlabs are both making personal protective equipment like face shields, as well as nasal swabs to use for COVID-19 testing.
  • From sewing bow ties to making masks, New Orleans small business NOLA Beaux Ties, is pivoting to support health care providers responding to COVID-19
  • Scottish dog walking company has pivoted to delivering groceries and medicine to its elderly clients, free of charge.
  • Veoleo Press, a small publishing company of Spanish children’s books, has pivoted to a pay-as-you-wish model selling coloring sheets that are created by Latinx artists to maintain Spanish learning in the home during the quarantine.
  • Individuals are pivoting too. Boston based small business networking community,, has observed that restaurants and retailers are increasingly hiring out-of-work wait staff to deliver food and goods to consumers.
  • Edible Arrangements has also pivoted from offering elaborate bouquets of fruits cut in the shape of flowers, to providing assorted boxes of whole fruits like apples, oranges, bananas, and melon.
  • Even cannabis companies are pivoting. The Commonwealth Dispensary Association of Massachusetts, which represents 36 marijuana businesses statewide, announced that its members could start producing hand sanitizer to be donated to local hospitals.

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