Usually there is one reason why startup founders remain headstrong about their target market, business model, and overall business approach:
“I am too far into the operation to start over.”
If not careful, turning a blind eye can bring demise to an otherwise salvageable startup.
What does it mean to pivot
Taking a critical look to a startup that you built from zero is not an easy job. It brings into focus that this original ‘brilliant idea’ is not working. It forces the entrepreneur to pinpoint what is wrong with the business and what is not working.
A true pivot is a change in course of direction that results in a material change in the product-market strategy. It could be along the product axis or the market axis, but it has to be enough of a change that it really requires an adjustment in strategy and a corresponding adjustment in resource allocation.
That explains why it’s hard because a pivot means changing the whole thing, including your business model. That requires you to change your product or service, not just a simple tweak.
This article pointed out that “A pivot is a substantive change to one or more of the nine business model canvas components”, which means, every startup there is must have been pivoted at least one part of its business canvas.
Another one of the great explanations about what exactly a pivot is coming from an article by The Startups. Being more specific, it points out that the change usually happens after your business receives feedback.
So, a pivot really is a redirection of your business in a way that can or may change the course of your business.
Do I need to pivot?
One notable example of a successful pivot is Slack, which our team at e27 uses as our main communication tool. The product only managed to gain success after it has done a pivot.
Between 2009 and 2012, Tiny Speck and Stewart Butterfield made Glitch, a then-popular video game. Glitch’s premise was the players must focus on socialisation and exploration; it was a hit but did not turn over any cash.
What did they do so they can make money out of it? Totally change what it was into a new product of coworkers chat app Slack.
But clearly, as much as we are inspired by Slack’s success, most of our businesses are not built like Slack.
So how do we know we should pivot?
There are several indicators that it is time your business can consider pivoting:
It’s not scalable
It could mean your business has no more room for growth, and it could also mean your business has done nothing to improve the lives of its supposed target market.
If you cannot think of a continuation of your product or service that can give it the edge, you cannot expect to stay on the same wagon making the same amount of profits in five, ten years in the future.
Reynir Fauzan is the co-founder and CMO of Kata.ai, an Indonesian Natural Language Processing (NLP) company that had pivoted from YesBoss. He shares his take on pivoting: “A pivot is needed when a company is losing its relevance in both the market and the company’s business model.”
This article explains why scalability in a business is important. It says that “as sales increase, costs stay flat, allowing for higher levels of profit over time. Businesses with high scalability grow with lower capital requirements, making them more efficient and more attractive to initial investors.”
In terms of no growth, the real growth that we are talking about has to be the fact that your business is profitable and valuable to people who invest in it as well as people whom it is targeting.
When it is stuck in a rut, maybe it is about time to pivot.
People don’t buy it
Are you having a hard time selling your product or service? It could be because your prediction on the right target market turned out to be a miss, or it just does not occur to your target market that they need what you have to offer, because of your poor communication or unsupportive platform.
Either way, this puts your business at a crossroad. You can adjust and refocus your market, try it out. But if it still does not get you anywhere, how much money are you willing to spend to do the tweak?
It may look like it will cost you a lot to pivot, but it is actually the opposite. When it comes to pivoting, you address the issue your business has right away and make the grand adjustment or start all over again.
Isn’t it more viable to take what you have while you can to really look at how your business is doing for your target market, before it is too late and you have suffered quite a loss trying to make it work?
Seek the feedback, listen to the feedback, keep it going.
You don’t have a passion for it any longer
It’s cliche, but it’s true.
Passion doesn’t mean enjoying what you’re doing, but rather about believing in what you’re doing.
So what would it amount to if you, as the creator, no longer believe in your product?
It is possible to stop believing in something. But it is impossible to keep going when you stop believing.
After all, entrepreneurship is rooted in passion. Otherwise, why would you create something in the first place?
It is different from a burnout. A burnout could be going a little too fast with no innovation in sight to get excited about, not the loss of the inherent drive for your business.
Reexamine your business, and see what other things you can work on it that will ignite your passion for it. If there simply is none, you can again take what you have built so far to build something else that you believe in.
“It is important to re-evaluate company direction regularly, whether your company is on track or there are things that need to be adjusted. One of the big mistakes of startup founders is that they don’t regularly revisit their SWOT analysis every now and then. Be open to consult and discuss with every company stakeholders, including the board members and investors. Trust your team. A clear communication both internally and externally is the key to maintain the integrity of the company,” Fauzan further emphasises.
How do I pivot
Fauzan shared about his experience in ushering the pivot that YesBoss did, which was regarded as one of the most successful ones in Indonesia.
“Down the road we realised already that the company won’t be able to scale without AI; therefore we used YesBoss as a good opportunity for our research and experiment period to train the NLP (Natural Language Processing), and to learn about Indonesian market behaviour in conversational commerce/virtual assistant service. As a B2C company, entering B2B market is quite challenging for us as we need different people with different skill sets. Even the founders need to outgrow themselves to adapt with the new business model. The most important thing is that we did our best to analyse and take necessary actions in the right time for YesBoss back then. In hindsight, we could have done better, but it is critical to embrace every process to grow your company and yourself as an entrepreneur,” says Fauzan.
Fauzan further adds his take on pivoting and how best to do it if you must. “In pivoting, a company shall forecast early on and start preparing for a smooth transitional phase. This includes a well-planned company restructuring, new product research and development, new brand logo and visual direction, PR strategy, and so on. Once the company has pivoted, it is important to maintain a consistent branding to obtain familiarity and trust from the market.”
“If that is unlikely, as for unplanned pivots, you need to make sure that the damage caused by the sudden transitional phase is at the minimum. Performing crisis management are almost always going to be a bumpy ride, but make sure to put people first,” he continues.
The legendary Eric Ries noted in his book The Lean Startup about the importance of three-steps startup approach of Build-Measure-Learn.
To do the three steps of Build-Measure-Learn, this article emphasises “minimum viable products (MVPs), rigorous experimentation, and a commitment to learning”. It mentions this as a method to make founders question everything.
When you are still in an initial phase of launching our product and making a business out of it, this will come in handy.
But in the case of pivoting, the last part, which is the learning, does rings true.
Pivot speaks mostly about learning that comes from questioning everything, which brings it right back at you.
There is no formula or guarantee that by doing pivot your business will take off. There is just a learning curve that will get you to point zero all over again.
If entrepreneurship is what you want to do, then pivot is an adjustment. Truth is, no startups have the same initial concept and every day requires constant tweaking. No startups continue to grow without constantly throwing questions and taking feedback.
In a way, you already pivoted your business several times by patching and catching up. Maybe not drastically, but when it comes to you that a pivot means a total makeover of your business, being open to possibility is a sign of a true and tested entrepreneur.