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7 Female-Led Companies That Pivoted And Profited During The Pandemic

Lindsay Tigar  |  November 6, 2020

Times are tough, but a shift in strategy can boost the bottom line. These rockstar women tell us how they profited during the pandemic.

The pandemic has been an uphill battle for many small businesses across all industries. In what felt like an overnight shift, entrepreneurs were forced to make tough decisions with their employees, had to shut down their stores, or in some cases faced the reality that their product or service was no longer relevant. Though these times are a stressful experience for any leader, many savvy CEOs amped up their creativity and shifted their strategy to reflect the current environment and economy. We spoke with seven inspiring female trailblazers who shared how they not only made changes, but also managed to pivot into a profitable new future during the pandemic. 

“Don’t be afraid to test, shift and implement.”

Before the pandemic, Alpha’a sold limited-edition artwork to real estate projects. Now, they connect augmented reality content via QR codes to build community, empower human connections, and promote social-distancing through artwork. The CEO and co-founder, Manuela Seve, said during conversations with their clients, they realized many were seeking ways to differentiate themselves from competitors by adding local, community-based elements. That’s where Seve and her team saw an opportunity: “We knew artists, independent curators and galleries were struggling since they were still extremely dependent on brick and mortar locations and physical interactions,” she says. “This led to a realization that we could plug in video content of artists talking about their work and their connections to projects and cities.” 

And with this pivot, they saw significant success. In fact, record-breaking, since Q3 2020 was the strongest in company history, created a total net revenue of $43K, gross revenue topping $60K, a 174 percent year-over-year growth, and a 95 percent quarter-over-quarter. For female leaders facing tough business decisions, Seve recommends utilizing the design-thinking formula. This means a very simple pilot with low-lift, seeing how the market reacts, and then deciding the next steps. 

“Focus on building your community.”

Before the pandemic, Janie Buu sold her company’s products, Kana Skincare, through retail stores and online. But as COVID reared its head, Buu knew they needed to pivot to stay relevant and meet their goals. While still selling their products, they also launched subscription boxes and developed a weekly virtual beauty class. By partnering with established subscription box companies, she was able to focus on in-home sampling programs, allowing more people to learn about Kana. “With the themed monthly programs of subscription box companies, shoppers can stay safe while receiving full-size products in the mail,” she says.

And since the ability to meet face-to-face was limited, they decided to craft virtual skincare programs weekly via social media, where they would address different skin issues, mental health concerns, and overall education around CBD for anxiety. She says these new additions were a smart choice for her bottom line. 

To figure out what your customer base needs, Buu recommends focusing on building your community. For example, if your business is online, she says you may want to implement minor pivots that cater to your demographic. Or, if your business is purely brick and mortar, she suggests teaming up with other local companies to create benefits for repeat shoppers. “Cross-promoting each other’s businesses will make your communities stronger whereas a rewards program will gain a higher client retention rate, in this case, you will have both,” she adds. 

“Keep your original vision for your brand in mind whenever you make big changes.”

Like many leaders, Louisa Booth had to get creative once the pandemic rippled throughout the world. As the founder of Popfresh, her company offered no-dent hair ties, self-heating eye masks, and hair accessories. But when COVID hit, her team was inspired to create portable wipes and sanitizers. So far, they’ve found success in sales in their own storefronts and their retail partners, like Kohls and Anthropologie. 

Booth says entrepreneurs don’t need to go completely back to the drawing board when a crisis hits. Instead, small changes can have significant impacts. “Keep your original vision for your brand in mind whenever you make big changes,” she shares. “You want to be able to adapt to the times without losing your brand identity, and ensure that any new ideas will have long-term appeal.”

“Remain committed to solving a problem.”

Like many families, Missy Narula’s daily routine changed once the pandemic began. Narula is the founder of Exhale Parent, a legal and financial advisory for new parents. Her husband also works full-time, and pre-pandemic, they had childcare for their three children. But with COVID they were tasked with caring for their kiddos while still maintaining the demands of their work… As stressful and chaotic as it was, Narula turned on her entrepreneurial brain and moved into the consumer product space with a device that makes diapering easier, Diapertainment

The fodder came from her own parenting hurdles, specifically the challenge of changing their 1-year-old, who simply wouldn’t stay still during a diaper change. Narula says that to keep her babe busy, she’d often hand off her phone as a distraction. That’s when the idea hit: what if she could mount her phone on the wall, so her kiddo could watch during a change? It’s been a gamechanger for her personal — and professional! — life. Since launching in September, sales are already outpacing projections.  

She believes finding success as an entrepreneur means thinking about ways to make life easier for others by exploring the issues you experience personally. “Exhale Parent helped educate me on the legal requirements of maternity leave, and Diapertainment truly does make diapering much easier in my home,” she continues. “In the hard times, it truly helps to be committed to solving a problem that you know intimately.”

“Pay attention to customer feedback.”

When Caroll Lee created the meal kit and wellness delivery service, Provenance Meals, she was dedicated to sourcing organic, prepared meals and cleanse programs to busy people in New York City. They are all free of gluten, dairy and refined-sugars, and packed with essential nutrients. In response to the pandemic, the company began shipping nationwide, expanded their local courier service in the Greater New York area, and they added more products to their lineup. 

This decision was prompted mainly from customer feedback since so many of their clients began leaving their apartments in the city and relocating to suburban areas. Initially, they expanded their delivery zones to Long Island, Westchester, and Connecticut. Then, as millions in the country began to face financial troubles, Lee ran a four-and-a-half-month 20 percent discount on all products. “Amidst so much uncertainty, we were in a unique position to provide our clients with tools to prioritize their health and wellbeing. We wanted to make sure we were doing everything we could, as a small business, to make it possible for people to do so,” Lee shared.

This goodwill was returned, and they’ve seen a 78% increase month-over-month on sales of their Feel Good Fix and Wellness shop products. Overall, their revenue is on track to double year over year. Lee’s best advice to entrepreneurs looking to profit during the pandemic is to ask the core question: ‘How can we be of service?’ “Really pay attention to your clients’ feedback, what they’re asking for, and make changes to fulfill their needs,” she continues. “We’ve been able to connect with a larger customer base at a more accessible price point, thus driving new sales and effecting positive transformation in more people’s lives.”

“Follow your intuition.” 

Before COVID became a household name, Shay Spaniola’s company, bunglo, sold zen textiles like bedding, pillows, shower curtains and more. Now, they’ve shifted their focus to producing reusable, organic cotton face masks. The biggest reason for this shift was the shutdowns around the world that made it impossible for Spaniola to receive the fabric necessary to create their signature products. When she searched for masks for her own family, she kept hitting ‘sold out’ roadblocks and had an idea. With a warehouse full of inventory that wasn’t selling, she realized she could repurpose them to meet the public’s current need. 

So, she pivoted and partnered with a Los Angeles-based manufacturer to produce double-layered, reusable face masks, resulting in employing eight seamstresses. In April alone, the face masks generated $120,000 in sales. Her advice for others facing down dark days of their business is always to trust your gut. 

“Never give up if your idea feels divine inspired. Your vision is a gift, stay focused on the essence of that vision, and the rest will fall in place. Don’t worry about how you’ll get from here to there; just make progress every day. Follow your intuitive next steps, even if it’s against the grain of what you ‘think’ you should do,” she shares. “The twists and turns are adventures from the universe to see if you can hold on. If you don’t let go, you will have a hell of a time and sometimes, you find a pot of gold at the end.”

“Never assume, always ask.”

Pre-pandemic, Ellen Yin’s company focused on offering high-ticket, done-for-you Instagram marketing services for their clients. However, the pandemic has inspired Yin to shift and to start offering digital courses and programs. They knew they needed a much more accessible price point, so they created Hashtag Hacks, for $27, hoping to reach new entrepreneurs affected by the pandemic that couldn’t afford their annual membership or private services. “We still wanted to be able to serve these entrepreneurs and help their businesses grow in a meaningful way with hashtag strategies they could implement in a single afternoon to begin seeing immediate increased visibility for their business online, as many of them were in the transition of focusing heavily on online marketing for the first time,” Yin explains.

Since the offer went live in March, they’ve welcomed 3,500 new customers to their community, and generated more than $132,000 in annual revenue. Plus, in the second and third quarters of 2020, their company has surpassed their total revenue in 2019 by more than 78 percent. 

Yin says her best piece of advice for fellow entrepreneurs looking to profit during the pandemic is never to assume you know what your current or potential client wants —  instead, ask them. And, don’t worry about having something complete before dabbling. “Lean into your curiosities and learn as you go. We didn’t have everything mapped out perfectly before we started, but we knew we needed to stay flexible during these uncertain times and show up for our audience with a solution that met their needs,” she says.

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