A Real Pivot… Happy Melly Group

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In my book Startup, Scaleup, Screwup, I write about pivoting, patching, and persevering. Right now, Happy Melly is pivoting. (Happy Melly is 100% owner of the Shiftup workshops.)

Our first attempt failed.

The original idea for Happy Melly was to create a network of entrepreneurs and small businesses working together as one ecosystem. The idea didn’t work because we had no organizational structure. People could basically do as they pleased and this confused many,. And though some successful initiatives emerged from the network, we had no funding, and I personally did not see a positive return on investment.

Our second attempt also failed.

The next idea for Happy Melly was to create a happiness association for professionals who would enjoy being part of a community. This didn’t work either because our business model did not offer enough benefits for people to sign up and renew their annual memberships. Everyone was already a member of several communities. Why pay for yet another one?

Now, it is time for our third and last attempt.

I am still convinced that entrepreneurs like being part of a network that supports them and that aims to increase their chances of success. I also still believe that professionals appreciate being part of a growing community that strives for more happiness at work. In other words, we need a change of strategy without a change of vision. Our entire business model requires a redesign, but we firmly stick to our purpose. In Lean Startup language, this is the very definition of a pivot.

Happy Melly’s vision and purpose (updated)

We aim for a world full of happy workers.
We lead by example; we teach people how, and we help them along the way.


Happy Melly Group

After months of conversations and deliberations, I have decided to turn Happy Melly into a holding/group structure. Its function will be similar to that of a business incubator and accelerator: launching new startups, taking a stake in promising ventures, and helping its portfolio of businesses to become scaleups. In this new innovation funnel, Happy Melly will have different stakes in different startups. Sometimes, we will own the full 100% of a business. Other times, we will be happy with just a small percentage. In every case, we will do our best to help the company grow up.

There are many differences between Happy Melly as an informal network and Happy Melly as a formal group. Here, I will list the ones I find most important.

First, I have noticed that many small investors like owning a piece of a bigger pie, even when that means that each of them owns a smaller portion. Taking part in a holding company, which itself owns multiple startups, is a safer bet than having a stake in just one individual venture. This is precisely what many investors do when they pool their money in accelerators and angel funds. It reduces the risks and increases the opportunities.

Second, one company with a total of 25 workers, fast-growing income, and unique technologies is a much more interesting business partner than several small startups that each have only revenues but no technologies, or only technologies but no revenues. Whether you like it or not, size matters in negotiations with funders, customers, and vendors.

Third, a small central group acting as the support structure for dozens of independent units nowadays seems one of the best ways to scale up in a VUCA-rich environment. All startups and scaleups remain independent by operating their own business models. However, using central services provided by a group enables startups to lower costs, scale more efficiently, and focus on their customers.

Perhaps most interestingly, by operating as a group, we can build a company where every unit reinforces the work of the others. Each of our startups is in the business of promoting ideas for better work-lives, but all have different business models. When seen holistically, we could grow a comprehensive ideas-to-innovation platform.

Happy Melly Group
Here you see the structure of Happy Melly Group.

As of now, Happy Melly Group owns a stake in four different businesses. Three of those are partly owned by crowds and/or other founders. Our next step (May-August) is to reach out to each of these owners and invite them to swap their stake in a startup for ownership at the group-level. They will have a smaller piece of a bigger (and safer) pie. When this is done, and everyone participates at their level of preference, Happy Melly Group will be on the lookout for new ideas and new partnerships (from September). New startups could join our innovation funnel, and we can work on scaling up our existing businesses with new partners.

In my new book Startup, Scaleup, Screwup, I describe that some business model changes are too small to be called a pivot and too large to be called perseverance. In the book, I introduced the term patch for the category in between: a tactical change rather than a strategic change. Well, this is definitely not a patch! Happy Melly Group is a genuine, full-blown, honest-to-God pivot. And I feel better about it than any pivot I’ve ever done before.


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Note: Currently, the Happy Melly website shows the former business model that we are pivoting away from. A relaunch will follow soon.

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