Every small business has to make tough decisions. The toughest of them all can be when they pivot – that is completely change direction or focus. One business who has gone through this process is Mastered. Their Creative Director, Perri Lewis, shares their story.

Mastered is an online fashion education platform: they collaborate with industry partners and leading experts to create on-demand, multi-media courses for emerging designers.

But this time last year things were very different. The business was called The Amazings and they created craft videos with hosted by brilliant over 50s. Their audience was hobbyists who wanted to learn how to patchwork, embroidery, crochet and do similar skills and all the content was video.

So why did we change and how did we do it? Here’s three lessons we learnt by moving from The Amazings to Mastered, including how we achieved a major pivot, and why listening to your users is the most important thing for any business, large or small.

1. Two missions is too many

The Amazings was an incredible business: we worked with some of the most talented, inspirational people anyone could ask for. There were people like Gilda, who still showed her embroidered art in her 70s, and Betty, who patchworked everyday.

They taught on film in our online classroom and not only did we help them pass their skills on to a new generation of creatives, we showed the world that older people still have a huge amount to offer.

In eight months we taught thousands of people. All over the world we were getting great feedback, from students and from supporters too: the company were featured in almost every major newspaper, from the New York Times to the Daily Mail, and we had bloggers, start-up groups and many more people saying what great work we were doing.

Come Autumn, however, we realised that two of our missions were competing with each other. We wanted to showcase the talents of brilliant older people, yet we also wanted to provide the very best education to our students.

On our journey we were starting to meet teachers who weren’t over 50, but had so much to offer. Come the end of the year we realised that we couldn’t fulfil both missions properly, and so we had to make a decision to follow just one.

It wasn’t easy to move away from a mission that had touched the lives of so many, but it was necessary. There’s more on the change here.

2. Your customer voice must be the loudest

Our pivot wasn’t simply based on our mission, however. An integral part of company culture is to constantly talk to users, and to make changes based on their needs and wants, rather than assumptions we’ve made. And whenever we spoke to users about what they wanted from online education a few points kept being raised.

Students who were coming to us didn’t want to learn simply for fun – they wanted to learn for business reasons – to advance their career, to grow their label, to make money from their passions. And they didn’t want beginners’ stuff either – they could get that for free on YouTube. They wanted to learn advanced skills.

So we listened, and we pivoted. And it’s the reason we do what we do today – we offer advanced skills to people who want to make a living from them – and it’s why our customer base is growing and we’ve secured investment.

Our customer experience team are a key part of the company: every day they talk directly to potential and current students about how we can improve our offering.

3. Building a company is so much more than building a business

Having worked in big organisations of 500+ staff, it was a real shock to come to a company where creating a good company culture is such a big part of daily business. Every week our founder and senior management team make small tweaks to make the company a better place to work.

This isn’t about free canteens and table tennis tables in the office (although, yes, we do have a table tennis table and, yes, we have a weekly team lunch where we hang out together): it’s about making sure members of staff feel valued and that they’re all part of the wider mission.

The boss is open to all ideas, anytime day or night, and we act quickly. In my first week an idea I had over lunch that entirely changed the way we sold products: that afternoon we redeveloped the site to allow people to pre-order courses that hadn’t even been made yet.

Hires aren’t just made by one person – we all meet people to make sure they share our passion for democratising education and that they’ll fit with the rest of the team.

And even though we’re a small company, we’ve developed a comprehensive on-boarding process for new employees to make sure everyone feels like they can have a real impact on their own role and career and the wider company too.

For more information on Perri’s work at Mastered, visit www.mastered.com.

For more advice and stories from the School of Hard Knocks, click here.

Guest bloggers may post on this site. The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Hiscox or its employees. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within these guest blogs are not guaranteed and we accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations or any liability regarding infringement of intellectual property rights. Our social media house rules which also include details on how to contact us about any concerns you have regarding our social media channels, can be found here.