4 Things I Learned From Pivoting My Entire Business Toward Marketing ICOs

An Entrepreneur contributor talks about risk and reward, which don't always come as a pair.
4 Things I Learned From Pivoting My Entire Business Toward Marketing ICOs
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Entrepreneur Leadership Network Writer
Co-founder of Tailored Ink
7 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

At the beginning of 2017, after briefly hopping on the roller coaster ride of cryptocurrency and initial coin offering (ICO) investments, my business partner Dan Foley and I began to wonder, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could do this more often?”

Related: 5 Big Brands That Had Massively Successful Pivots

Until then, we’d been devoting 100 percent of our marketing efforts to traditional startups and enterprises. We’d been doing well at this, and our business was growing year after year.

But we saw the potential in the growing ICO market. Even though ICOs were (and still are) surrounded by regulatory uncertainty, we were excited to get our feet wet. We were hungry for more opportunities.

Fast-forward to the middle of 2018. We’ve pretty much pivoted our digital marketing business 100 percent toward marketing ICOs. And it's been a wild ride. Here’s what I’ve learned.

1. "Blue ocean" markets aren’t always obvious.

The first thing I learned is that pivots aren’t always easy to spot -- even if they’re staring you right in the face. You have to first recognize a niche or emerging market play that looks like it could be a blue ocean market (meaning an uncontested market space); then you have to start learning about something completely foreign.

This is harder than it sounds. Once you’ve been in business a while, your thinking is no longer as flexible. It takes quite a mental jolt for you to recognize a potential pivot, even one that's obvious.

For us, the jolt came back in 2017 when we realized how quickly cryptocurrencies and ICO tokens were gaining in value. Even though that market eventually crashed and burned in January 2018, we realized that the fundamental shift in the tech scene caused by blockchain technology and decentralized applications wasn’t going away.

Related: The Framework That Transformed the U.S. Wine Industry

Our intuition paid off. Despite the fact that the cryptocurrency market is still in a bear cycle, the ICO marketplace is exploding, and there aren’t many reliable marketing agencies that specialize in full-service, top-to-bottom ICO launches.

We picked our blue ocean market at just the right time.

2. Being one of the first to market is exciting, but also risky.

There are definitely pros and cons to entering any blue ocean market. The pros are obvious: it’s easy to brand yourself as a pioneer and expert because you have fewer competitors. This positions you to actually be a market-maker rather than a follower.

But the cons are very real, too: being too new or too different is a risky proposition. You can’t retrace the steps of pioneers before you, so you have no guidelines to rely on. And, if regulation begins to go against you -- it’s your neck on the line.

This is why market timing can be so important in a blue ocean play. Rather than being first to market, it might be better to arrive fashionably late -- but while the party is still happening.

When Dan and I started marketing our services to ICOs, we couldn’t find more than a handful of other specialty service providers. This worked to our advantage because we saw how the first few ICO market makers were getting business. We also saw why regulators went after them, and how we could avoid the same fate.

3. Change can be scary, but it’s also invigorating.

Speaking of taking calculated risks, I think it’s very important that entrepreneurs (or would-be entrepreneurs) take the time to assess where they are in their careers, especially if they’re "doing well" or "have a stable job." In my experience, those people may secretly be the most dissatisfied.

We all have our own families and financial priorities. To each his (or her) own. That being said, it’s easy to get comfortable and fall into a rut at work. If you ever begin to feel that your job is boring and you’d like to do something more exciting with your time, maybe the answer is to do just that -- find something more exciting to do with your time.

You aren’t a machine. Your interests, passions and strengths can and do change over time. So the job you're doing should change with time, too. Dan and I decided to pivot toward marketing above-board ICOs because we were ready for something new and exciting that interested us.

It was the right decision. The pivot has given us an infusion of enthusiasm, excitement and energy that I personally had lost in the day-to-day motions of running a business I already understood pretty well. Alternately, forcing myself to learn something new every day has been incredibly refreshing, and has kept me accountable.

4. Chasing ambitious goals can be the fastest path to success.

Here’s the craziest thing about our all-in pivot: We immediately started growing by leaps and bounds. All we had to do was put up a storefront. We were that one intrepid pick-and-shovel merchant right outside the gold mine.

The blue ocean marketplace we were entering had such a supply and demand gap that we immediately had a full pipeline with just a simple lead-gen funnel in place. One thing led to another. We quickly found referral partners through that same funnel, and now we have leads coming in from five different sources, just for ICO marketing.

All in all, we paid somewhere around $2,000 in Google Adwords costs before the June ban on ICO ads went into effect, and we got 75 to 100 solid leads out of it. Of those leads, five to seven already are (or soon will be) top-to-bottom ICO marketing clients for the remainder of 2018. And each of those deals ranges between $200,000 and $400,000 for the up-front presale costs alone.

In other words, even if we had closed just one ICO client, our ROI would be at least 10,000 percent.

Are Dan and I unsurpassed marketing geniuses who masterminded the perfect plan to 10x our business in one year? Not at all --but we’re pretty good at what we do; we recognized what we thought was a good opportunity; and we went for it.

You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.

While a pivot on paper may seem like a bad idea full of holes, actually executing a well-planned pivot makes you realize just how many companies leave opportunities on the table.

Because we were willing to take this risk, we set ourselves up as one of the few, reputable agencies working in the ICO marketplace. Even if ICOs eventually implode, we’ll be positioned as blockchain marketers for innovative startups for years to come.

Whether you’re looking for a better job, a career switch, a way to grow your business or a way to revive a dying business, you need to respect the opportunities that come your way.

Related: 3 Books Every Franchise Buyer Needs to Read

Many opportunities only come once, and then they’re gone forever.

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