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How to Build a Product Customers Want, One Tweak at a Time

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For the majority of startups, hitting on a product/market fit that’s a winning combination from the outset is rare. Many of the most successful companies today were the result of meticulous trial and error, including YouTube, Slack, and Twitter. Only after testing and recalibrating their product countless times did these companies hit on blockbuster market opportunities. 

One company that has mastered the art of the pivot is Restive Ventures’ portfolio company Everlance. Founded by Alex Marlantes and Gabriel Garza in 2015, Everlance started out as a business that provided free software tools to support freelancers. Today, it’s evolved into a mileage tracking and expense management app with over two million end-users. 

Like any company, Everlance made a number of smaller changes to its business over time. But it also made a few major pivots–moments of reconfiguring Everlance’s core product that differed from the original vision. At the Restive Ventures’ founder retreat in Los Angeles in April, Alex shared the three major pivots Everlance made over the past eight years in hopes of providing other founders with a roadmap on how to renavigate their company’s vision.

“Alex has this great concept of mini-pivots,” says Restive Ventures partner Tyler Griffin. “By  tweaking Everlance’s product along the way, he made the company more valuable.”

Pivot One: Discovering the Right Audience

When Everlance first started out, they were focused on offering a product for creatives and knowledge workers. However, the team was pleasantly surprised when they discovered that Everlance was a great fit for the growing gig economy worker. Eventually, Everlance transformed into a company that focuses exclusively on helping gig workers track mileage and expenses. 

Even today, Alex is surprised by the product that Everlance grew into. “I never thought I’d start a mileage tracking business,” he says.

But with time, Alex realized that a mileage tracker app was a big opportunity. About 40 million people track their business mileage a year and, when Everlance first launched, there was a glaring shortage of good software products to support them. 

When it came to deciding which parts of the business were most successful, it was the tools that worked from the beginning right away. “The moments of joy we discovered were when customers would say things like, ‘Wow, this actually tracks my drive,” Alex says. “But we had to do a lot of experiments to figure out what would actually be successful.”

Pivot Two: Charging Customers for a Product That Was Supposed to Be Free

Originally, Everlance planned to offer free products and make money by brokering additional products and services once it acquired enough users. This, however, failed to take off. “We launched the offer and sat around wondering if the email had actually gone out,” Alex says. “I think we made $3,600.”

By this point, the team had raised a small round of funding and investors were eager for the company to settle on a viable path to monetization. When an investor suggested that Everlance should have customers pay for its product, Alex joked that this seemed like a “crazy” idea. “We felt torn because we were giving up on what we saw as this innovative business model that was a part of our brand–giving an awesome product away for free.”

Eventually, the team rolled out a freemium version of Everlance where users were offered in-app purchases for additional tools and features. Despite their fears that the company might lose customers, Alex found that many users warmed to the idea. “We had a lot of people say things like, ‘Oh I just assumed you guys were selling my data. This is way better.’”

Pivot Three: Adapting to Meet the Needs of Businesses

Everlance initially started out as a consumer-focused product to support freelancers. But the company soon realized that many people joining the service were regular, corporate employees who had adopted the tool as a way to record their business mileage for expense reports at work. This meant that Everlance soon began marketing its products to businesses, rather than focusing exclusively on end-users.

“This was a big change,” Alex says. “At the time, it felt like we were abandoning the original vision. At first we found ourselves wondering: if we’re here to empower freelancers, why are we even talking about building products for businesses?”

But once the team dug into how corporate workers were using Everlance, they realized that tracking mileage data was an acute pain point for all kinds of workers, not only freelancers. “We realized that these workers were also hugely underserved and deserved a better product,” Alex says. “No one was building world class software for this audience, so we decided to do that and updated our definition of who we served regardless of employment status.”

For founders, the key takeaway from Alex’s journey is that pivots don’t have to be dramatic to make a massive difference in the company’s success. Listen to customers, analyze market data, and experiment with different strategies. Continually reassess how your product is best serving your customers. This doesn’t require monumental change, but even small tweaks can feel massive as a startup with a nascent product. Once you have the right level of conviction, don’t be afraid to pivot. It could just lead to the breakthrough you’ve been looking for.

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