Spotlight on Ypsos, the FIELD 3 turnaround success story

Picture this. It’s Go Day, and you and your FIELD 3 team have started building a product-based business. You pitch to your investor section, and despite a few tough questions, you walk out feeling great and high-fiving each other. Then, after the stock markets open, you hear that your stock price plummeted from $100 to $10 almost instantly.

“We were pretty surprised,” Ypsos CFO Adam White (NH) says. “When your stock price gets killed, you start to see that inner-team conflict coming out.”

White is a member of the infamous TIE group, whose whirlwind FIELD 3 experience is something of a legend in investor Section G. The company’s initial product, a tie holding device, was blasted by investors for being unoriginal. So what do you do when your investors have no confidence in your business plan? Pivot!

“We took the signal from the market and brainstormed again,” White said. “Originally, we wanted a tangible, functional, down-to-earth product. The pivot was a complete 180.” After a marathon ideation session (see “Deep Dive into FIELD 3″), Ypsos decided to build a trip planning iPhone application.

Though already a few weeks behind, the team rallied, began development on the app and put out a press release in time for the second day of trading. Then, the stock price sank further, to $5.41 at closing.

“We were really pissed after that,” White said. “We had invested a couple thousand dollars in this product.” A meeting with FIELD professor Alan McCormack (see “Understanding FiMSim”) yielded an important lesson: the team had forgotten to include its ticker symbol, TIE, in its press release. No one in Ypsos’ investor section knew the group had pivoted.

On Launch Day, “showing that we put real thought and energy into pivoting made a significant difference,” White said. “It’s intimidating when you walk into a section that shorted your stock twice, but it was a great feeling when the markets opened to see that Section G trusted us and believed in our new business model.”

Team member Adelyn Zhou echoed White’s sentiments: “I was surprised because our friends who already presented had said, ‘Everyone’s on their computers, no one’s listening,’ but then when we were presenting, everyone was focused on our presentation.” Waiting with baited breath to see what TIE had to say for itself.

Needless to say, Section G was impressed with the iCantWait application. It allows users to create an event, such as an upcoming trip, and share it with friends, track expenses, upload a picture and have a countdown timer. The app is already completed and pending Apple’s App Store approval; it is expected to be available for free download this week (the future premium version will sell for 99 cents).

Revenue will come mainly from iAds, but also from strategic partnerships with travel companies like Expedia, Kayak and Hipmunk and marketing partners such as fellow Section H business Pop! Postcards.

After opening at a stock price of $5.41, TIE traded up to $75.50 per share before settling on a closing price of $44.07 per share, with total volume for the two-hour trading period at 116,300.

Implementing the turnaround was no easy feat for these six busy RCs. Each team member shone at various points throughout the semester as the energizer when Ypsos hit a motivational slump. The group also met during every optional FIELD 3 time, stayed late at night and came in early before class to put out a product in time for Launch Day.

“It was cool to see a lot of those FIELD 1 leadership skills come through,” White said. “It’s still a roller coaster of a ride, and it’s not over, but our team is definitely closer now than we’ve ever been before. We understand that our stock price is significantly less than many of the other FIELD 3 teams, but now we have the opportunity to keep building, developing, and experimenting and, to us, that’s the most important thing.”

Both White and Zhou offered candid advice to next year’s FIELD 3 teams. “We were creative, sometimes to a fault, but it propelled us through to the end and brought us back together,” Zhou said. “Always continue to iterate and be really creative.”

“Don’t be afraid to admit failure,” White said. “Pivot and press on with a new idea. And remember, FIELD 3 teams are temporary, but the friends on your team are the ones you’re going to keep in contact with over the next 20 years.”

Deep Dive

After abandoning the “Tie Guy” concept, Ypsos generated a plethora of potential business ideas. These included:

–       Importing exotic pets from Asia

–       Creating swim trunks with waterproof pockets

–       Selling politically charged socks, i.e. Mitt Romney’s face on a red pair

–       Organizing treks for foreign students interested in visiting American business schools

–       Developing a concert app to coordinate and share music events and setlists with friends

–       Expanding, a website that CFO Adam White had started with his brother that never took off

The team members thoroughly investigated each concept, including Five Forces analyses, calling distributors, and pitching to their own section. One night, sitting in a Spangler Project Room with plenty of food and wine on hand, the group started converging around the idea of long distance relationships and helping couples to keep in touch.

“That’s where the countdown came in,” Ypsos member Adelyn Zhou says. “It’s great to have something that builds anticipation. Maybe a picture that reveals itself piece by piece depending on how many days are left until an event?, relationships and a countdown timer came together.”

As is the norm for FIELD 3 teams, Ypsos sent a survey to classmates. Once again, feedback from the market suggested another pivot: there wasn’t a big demand for the relationships idea, but travel emerged as an “event” that people strongly anticipate, more than even birthdays and weddings. “That’s why we focused our MVP on travel; being able to share, organize and look forward to trips with friends, simply and conveniently.” And thus, iCantWait was born!