Pivot or Die: Chasing The Elusive Product Market Fit
The term “pivot” in the startup world essentially means changing course in order to achieve growth to scale your business.
For a more formal definition, startups.com defines a pivot as “…a shift in business strategy to test a new approach regarding a startup’s business model or product after receiving direct or indirect feedback”.
Depending on what resources you’re reading, you’ll find this definition crafted in different ways. However, regardless of how “pivot” is defined, it all means the same thing - Do things differently or your business dies.
Simple but yet so hard. As a startup founder, this is my reality.
Startup pivots happen - get used to it
As time has progressed, I’d describe myself as a master of the pivot-swerve. I’m certainly no stranger to pivoting. In my current business, I’ve pivoted multiple times based on various testing we’ve done, customer feedback we’ve received and also, (and very importantly) to save my business from dying.
Pivoting is part of the journey to building a successful and scaleable business. And as founders we just need to embrace it.
When you first launch your startup, you more than likely don’t really know what you think you know about your product or your customers until you’ve done some testing and gotten some feedback and, potentially had to pivot.
There’s so much to learn that in order to succeed, you need to be open-minded and willing to embrace change even though sometimes it can be really hard to accept.
So how do you know when you need to pivot?
Based on my experience building a startup, here’s what I’ve learnt about knowing when it’s time to pivot:
No one is buying your products despite all your marketing and brand awareness efforts.
Your customers are buying but not using your product.
Your customers hate your product and have told you they hate it. Point, blank, period.
Your customers are consistently asking for something else.
Your metrics are showing you some interesting opportunities you hadn’t previously considered.
Your metrics are showing you that you’re dead in the water.
You are at risk of running out of capital and need to get your cash flow up fast. (#1 reason why startups fail).
You know in your gut it’s time to figure out how to scale your business differently.
Things I’ve learnt about pivoting
All of that being said, I’ve learnt a few other things about pivoting including the following:
Having to pivot does not necessary mean an entire overhaul of your business or complete change of direction. Sometimes it simply means small course corrections and minor changes to get yourself on to the right path to scale (kinda like that rocket ship launch math that has to be exactly right).
You have to learn how to build, test and make decisions quickly to make progress as you pursue scale. This also means letting go of perfection and focusing on the minimum required to get a decent version of your product out there so you can get the valuable feedback you need.
However, sometimes, you just need to be patient and give what you’ve just implemented enough time to run it’s course so you can see the outcome and determine what decisions you need to make next.
That being said, it’s not always about your product or customers or even your industry; Many times, it’s in the timing, execution and delivery.
Finally, having people on your side (mentors and advisors) who have experience with building scalable businesses is invaluable to your journey. Their advice, guidance and experience can help you avoid many, many, many mistakes and save you a ton of wasted time.
Don’t get discouraged - stay focused
Realizing that you might need to pivot can be discouraging, after-all, you’ve already put in all this time, energy and hard work.
But the truth is, it’s all a learning experience and that experience has made you so much wiser.
So instead of feeling discouraged, stay focused on what you need to do to course correct, improve where you need to, create the best customer experience possible and achieve product market fit.
Yes, it’s easier said than done but for me, pivoting is like building an intricate puzzle. Exciting when I make progress and can see how far I’ve come but ridiculously frustrating especially when I can’t find that missing puzzle piece or I have no idea where it goes on my thousand-piece puzzle board.
It’s a challenge, but whenever I remind myself WHY I started my business, it’s one worth pursuing.