There is a dirty little truth in the startup world. Everyone pivots. But what does that even mean?
Pivot is basically a shift in your business strategy to adapt to feedback. Sometimes it’s a small shift to change how you monetize your app or product; sometimes it’s a major shift into a completely different market.
For instance Instagram was originally a check-in app, Twitter was a podcast discovery platform, and YouTube was a video dating site.
So what causes a pivot and why does everyone do it?
Startups often initiate a pivot when they jump over their target market validation. They end up building something that is a solution in search of a problem (rather than building a solution for a real problem), which is really easy to do. Trust me, I’ve put a number of startups down myself when I tried to chase a shiny feature that turned out no one wanted.
For businesses that subscribe to the lean startup methodology, a pivot is just part of the process. The general idea with the lean startup is a circular plan that uses a build-measure-learn feedback loop to continually refine your idea and target market fit.
When do you know it is time to pivot?
Over time, you will start to feel things you haven’t before. Here are some things I’ve noticed as we’ve launched products into the market.
You don’t have the resources to grow your user base
We have a startup that, when we got the MVP up and started acquiring customers, we didn’t have the resources to properly onboard the clients. As a result, we were paying a lot of money for trial signups but didn’t have the next steps to retain them onto the platform.
This was a complete oversight on my behalf. To prevent this from happening, make sure you have a plan in place for lowering the bar for people to give you money. One trick is to be 100% focused on customer support and have someone who is personally onboarding your first 100 customers. You will learn so much from talking to them and their needs.
You’re not passionate about the business model
It’s really easy to chase after what seems like an easy win or going after the money; however, it will wear on you. You need to be committed to solving your target market’s problem.
You don’t know much about the industry
If you are going into an industry you don’t know anything about, you’re going to have a big learning curve. This is why it makes a lot of sense to validate the problem and target market before starting.
My first app I took to market was in the wedding space and thought it would sell itself. What I ended up doing was going from every wedding vendor to wedding event location door to door in the hopes of selling it as an add-on to their services. That really wasn’t something I wanted to be doing and we shut it down not long after that realization.
Your best customers aren’t using the platform in a way it wasn’t designed
When we created our virtual phone platform Booth we thought people would be customizing their call rules and changing where calls were sent on a regular basis. We even created a pretty cool Google Calendar integration that routed calls to voicemail when you were busy on your calendar. That turns out it was a feature looking for a problem. The main customer for Booth was in the real estate space. All they wanted to do was send calls to an answering service after hours and to their cell phones during the day. We could have really simplified the platform by talking to them first.
Pivot != Failure
One thing I see a lot of founders say is “But I’ve spent the last year working on this; if I pivot I’ll be seen as a failure.”
Would you rather pivot and have a chance at success or stay the course that isn’t working? Once you’re able to realize that pivoting is just part of the startup process, it becomes a lot easier to accept. At the end of the day, find your target market’s problem and become obsessed with solving it.
Trust me, you’ll be in a much better place.