Sprouter is a social media service that started a few years ago with one idea of how it could help entrepreneurs. But last week, it relaunched with a complete change of heart. The reason: One of its features was greeted so enthusiastically by its users that it decided to run with it.
Originally positioned as a Twitter-like service for entrepreneurs, Sprouter attracted thousands of users, as well as hosting increasingly popular events that attract hundreds of attendees looking to network and see demos by aspiring entrepreneurs.
Along the way, Sprouter launched a question and answer service that quickly attracted so much attention that it became a new and more exciting opportunity than the original idea. As a result, the Toronto-based company decided to do a "strategic pivot" to focus on a new direction.
To get more insight into why and how the decision was made, and how it happened, I interviewed Sarah Prevette, Sprouter's founder and chief executive officer.
Question: What prompted the "pivot"? What were the key issues or considerations that made this decision happen?
Answer: The change is a direct response to feedback from our community. We saw an element of our service that was getting far more traction than the product we had thought was our core feature, and decided to double down and focus on what was most successful.
Q&A was originally created to augment the plethora of services Sprouter was offering to entrepreneurs, but it became apparent that it was the service that members found most valuable.
The redesign is about focus. We want to concentrate on quality advice for startup founders and how we can best deliver expertise on demand. Too many features confuse users and spread internal resources too thin. This redesign simplifies the experience for our users and allows us to focus all of our resources on this one specific aspect.
Q: How was this process managed?
A: Redesigning an established community is a delicate task. We engaged our members in the process and tested everything. We communicated upcoming changes, solicited feedback, and continue to be engaged in dialogue with our membership. Ensuring a smooth transition was no small feat but our team worked tirelessly to make the switch seem seamless.
Q: What were the key considerations in making it happen effectively as possible?
A: Feedback, feedback, feedback. The key consideration for us is always our existing members. We are fortunate to have an engaged community that we can solicit feedback from and work with us to improve.
We evaluate our design for both usability and usefulness. We want to provide real value to entrepreneurs in clear, easy-to-use way.
Q: What were the big lessons learned along the way? Was there anything that went particularly well, or not as well as expected?
A: Our big lesson in this redesign was how much our community wants to be able to engage with experts beyond just asking questions. Members were adamant about their desire to respond to advice and share their own feedback with others. We're continuing to look at different ways to accomplish this.
Q: . How is the new Sprouter is more relevant, interesting and valuable than the old Sprouter?
A: The new Sprouter better enables entrepreneurs to get advice from people they want it from. On the original site, users posted what they were working on to get feedback from those who saw it in a stream of posts. The new version facilitates answers from people who have related expertise and have had demonstrable success in that area.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Mark Evans is a principal with ME Consulting, a content and social media strategic and tactical consultancy that creates and delivers 'stories' for companies looking to capture the attention of customers, bloggers, the media, business partners, employees and investors. Mark has worked with three start-ups - Blanketware, b5Media and PlanetEye - so he understands how they operate and what they need to do to be successful. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshUniversity and meshmarketing conferences.