Is Pivoting Your Latest Excuse To Not Talk To Customers?

A few years back, startups would simply say

We have shutdown our product and moving on to something new’.

But these days, the buzzword is ‘Yay! We have pivoted!’ That is,

‘We have shut down the product and moving on to something new’.

“Pivoting” – that is the ability to adapt your product to the market needs stems from a basic notion that companies have a certain hypothesis built around product offering; and as you go about building the product, you realize that market needs are (much) different from what you have built. So you make the necessary changes or simply scrap the product and move on to something else.

In short, pivoting is a fast decision making process enabling fast failure. But here is how it is used:

Pivoting: What you call being wrong when you want to feel better” [via]

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What’s wrong with Pivoting?

Nothing. Experimentation is the key and given that one can experiment for cheap and can really do small hacks/experiments at a relative lesser time/cost (as compared to 90s), it surely makes sense to try out new ideas/concepts.

What’s important is that the earlier approach of software development (i.e. Waterfall model) is no longer relevant and is replaced by agile development methodology which enables companies to churn out products/features very quickly.

The challenge here is that a lot of startups mistake product launch as success (yay! our first release is out!) and do not follow the boring part of building a business.

– For them, a product is just the productization of an idea.

– And productization of an idea is restricted to launching the “MVP, i.e. minimum value proposition” release. That is, the focus is not on building a product business (which is beyond the product launch, i.e. marketing/customer acquisition/sales/support etc), but the entire focus is purely on product launch.

And after the initial sweet feeling of getting the base version out, they realize that the product was built in a silo and literally has no serious takers. Or in some cases, it involves quite a bit of peripheral activities like sales/marketing which doesn’t really sound fun!

So they pivot. That is, move on to a new idea, without giving 100% to the present idea.

Fundamentals of Product Business

Doesn’t really matter if you are a lean or a mean startup, but the reality is that fundamentals of product development/building a business hasn’t changed much. Building a successful product business involves pretty much the good old way of understanding market needs, launching a product (GTM), product marketing/positioning etc.

With the new fallback option of ‘Yay! We Have Pivoted’, a lot of startups simply skip the “understanding market needs” part and directly go about building the product. There is a hurry to get the alpha release out in the market.

No Business Plan Survives First Contact With A Customer [Steve Blank]

Not that one needs to spend a lot of time in market research, but you need to have certain hypothesis around the problem you are solving and keep validating this hypothesis (with potential customers) as you keep building the product.

What’s worrying is the misplaced expectation of overnight success post the product launch (badly inspired by Silicon Valley stories).

Yo-Yo Cycle of An Ideating Entrepreneur

In all practicality, these are the four stages of an ideating entrepreneur (via).

startup graph
The third stage is called “Crisis of Meaning”. You’re past scared. You feel despair. It’s as if you’re standing on the edge of a cliff ready to jump, and you begin to think “Today the rollercoaster’s going off the bottom of the track for the very first time.” You feel helpless and you’re both terrified and frozen.

Consider the postage stamp: its usefulness consists in the ability to stick to one thing till it gets there. ~Josh Billings

For entrepreneurs, persistence is the key (Angry Birds creator, Rovio went through 52 failures!).
What makes the cut here is how correct/dynamic were your hypothesis at point 1, i.e. Uninformed Optimism state and how quickly you can twist ‘n’ turn before crashing out.

But the latest trend is now to comfortably call it quits (‘Yay! We Have Pivoted’) at point 3 and start off from point 1 with another fresh idea (that is, repeat the cycle).

The bigger question however is

Are you learning from your mistakes? Do you really imbibe these learning?

Do you accept failure (and then, move on)? Are you imbibing learning from past failure (i.e. ready to commit new mistakes) ?

Think about it! Are you using Pivoting as a comfortable exit path to not build product the right way (oh well! there is no right way, but there surely is a wrong way that starts with no contact with customer during the entire cycle)?

What’s your take?

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