Startup Life/Opinion/

The power of the pivot — a first-person account by Jessica Ennis-Hill

Dame Jess Ennis-Hill tells us why learning to leap off her left foot has provided a powerful lesson when it comes to steering her femtech company, Jennis...

Jessica Ennis-Hill, founder and CEO of Jennis
Jessica Ennis-Hill

By Jessica Ennis-Hill

I’m probably best known for winning Gold at the 2012 Olympics, but what most people don’t realise is that I’m now an entrepreneur. 

After founding femtech startup Jennis, I’ve swapped acronyms like PB (personal best) for LTV (lifetime value) and it’s a completely new world. But there’s still a lot that I’ve been able to take from my athletics career about reacting and adapting — in other words, the power of the pivot.

I launched Jennis as a pregnancy, postnatal and general fitness offering back in 2019, with my goal to give women expert advice, body literacy and support. But we realised that the market was already saturated — just look at all the free content on YouTube. And, with players like Peloton getting cut-through during the pandemic, it was increasingly hard to compete. We had to pivot.

This is the story of how we went from general fitness offering to a digital platform that helps women improve their hormonal health through accessible lifestyle interventions. Every business is different, but here are four things we learned on the way: 

1. Involve your investors (and practise presenting the pivot to them)

Our first pivot involved us creating a science-backed app that enables women to move in line with the four phases of their unique menstrual cycles and the hormonal changes that take place during it.

We pitched the idea to our current investors as a first step. This gave us a really good gauge of how other investors would react and respond — and even managed to win us some additional investment from our early investors. 

“If I’m honest, we became far more interesting and ground-breaking to both our consumers and investors”

Investors have a vested interest in the success of your business, so make sure you’re open and transparent about your pivot plan and use their opinions and perspective to stress test your strategy and growth plan. 

Crucially, rather than entering a saturated market, we’re playing in a whole new category: hormonal wellness. And, if I’m honest, we’ve became far more interesting and ground-breaking to both our consumers and investors.

2. Don’t be afraid of tough conversations — and have them ASAP

Even though some of your team might be wedded to an audience group, idea or brand ethos, if it looks like your offering isn’t having the cut-through you intended, don’t hang around in the hope that things will change. Be led by consumers, be led by the data and move fast.

Our updated focus is on supporting women across lifestage-specific hormonal issues, such as perimenopause, the time when a body is transitioning to menopause. For some of our team, this wasn’t an audience that resonates, so they’ve moved on. And that’s okay! It’s a natural part of a startup’s journey. 

Pivoting means tough conversations. But if you’re talking to your target audience and really listening to what they want, you’ll be able to improve and pivot with confidence.  

3. Everything that came before can help you 

It can be easy to look at past decisions and wonder what we could have done differently, so I try see every decision, challenge and mistake as a learning for how we evolve as we move forward.

As an example, we spent a lot of time and resource on very glossy paid social ads very early on when the product was still at minimum viable product (MVP) stage. That didn’t yield the results we wanted and was a big learning for us. 

We’re definitely faster as a result of past learnings, we’re definitely more streamlined and, as a team, we’re closer for having talked through the tough stuff and come out the other side”

Now that we know that Google is the first port of call for women with symptoms, search is now central to our acquisition strategy and yields much stronger long-term results.

We’re definitely faster as a result of past learnings, we’re definitely more streamlined and, as a team, we’re closer for having talked through the tough stuff and come out the other side.

4. Know that nothing good ever comes easy

In 2008 I missed the Beijing Olympics after fracturing my right ankle. I’d been training for months and felt the strongest and sharpest I’d felt in my career until the injury, so it was a massive disappointment. 

I was determined to come back even stronger, but in order to do so, I had to learn to take off from my left foot for the high jump. 

It took time, practice and a lot of frustration but I was prepared for the struggle, I stayed committed and went on to win that gold. It’s this same attitude of perseverance and resilience that has helped me lead and motivate my Jennis team as we change strategy. 

Central to this is transparency and regular team meetings, where different functions are encouraged to share learnings, insights, challenges and next steps. 

As part of this, I like to lead by example, so I’ll report back honestly on every investor meeting, board meeting — the good, the bad and the ugly. We also talk a lot about our vision and the place we are headed. 

All of which helps to give us a healthy balance of grounding and enthusiasm.

Jessica Ennis-Hill is the CEO and cofounder of Jennis.

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