Choosing the right response to the problem

Every business reaches the point where what they are doing is not working anymore. Small businesses and startups can reach this point much faster than bigger businesses with more diversified product offerings.

When any business reaches the point where they realise that what they have is not working anymore, we need to make a decision: persist, pivot or quit?

Before we get started, let us clarify what is meant with these bug terms:

  • Persist – when your idea/business/offering is sort of working: you have some clients, but it needs a bit refinement to make the product fit
  • Pivot – you have done the refinement, but you stil cannot get a good market fit. The feedback you’ve received back from your users/potential customers doesn’t fit into your initial hypothesis and problem to be solved. You would need to radically change your problem statement, target market etc. to reapply the solution (or part of it) to someone else
  • Quit – when you don’t see any way of salvaging the solution of pivoting. Don’t just quit!

Explore/Exploit

In computer science, the explore/exploit algorithm teaches us the following: When something is worth it, keep on exploiting it until proven that it is not worth it anymore. When this point is reached, one should start exploring again.

This exploring could mean three things.

You could tweak your product offering to make it better. This is what Clayton Christensen refers to as sustaining innovation – the process of refining, tweaking and sustaining what you have. This is also the best way to optimise profit and add customer value to the existing product or service.

If you decide to pivot, you realise that your hypothesis that you made initially was found to be untrue. In this case, you need to start with another assumption and hypothesis and retry the business in a new sphere. This could be a new target market, new (or sub) feature set, new approach or new angle.

Lastly, you might decide to quit and salvage what you have. I refer to this as canning the project/business/startup. In this case, one might need to consider the following:

  • You have pivoted to a more successful business model, but none of these have worked. The startup is a bottomless pit eating all your money and it’s just not sustainable
  • The team dynamics is just not working – your startup team is causing division in the vision and process.
  • Other opportunities arise that are more lucrative and more sustainable

Value innovation

When deciding on preserving and/or pivoting, one needs to consider moving closer towards adding value to customers, while bringing down costs, effort and/or time required.

As most startups are what Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne calls a “blue ocean” (an uncontested market with a new innovative approach), it makes sense that these businesses should move toward adding maximum value to customers without the perception of paying more than they believe they should for the convenience

Product Market Fit

We know that the purpose of any startup is reaching product market fit. This means that customers want the product and are willing to pay for it. The reason that one would pivot or tweak, is to make it fit in with the feedback from the build-measure-learn cycle.

If the offering does not fit the feedback, either tweaking or a pivot is required to make it fit. Choosing which of the two to implement depends on the degree that the initial hypothesis has been disproved.

The pivot

There could be a plethora of reasons that justify a pivot. In some scenarios, it might not mean that you need to rewrite the whole solution. Other pivoting options include:

  • Change the target market of your product
  • Change your business model
  • Revamp your engagement/revenue model
  • Take a subset of your existing product or service and spin it off into its own product or service

Some of the reasons you need to consider when pivoting include:

  • Red oceans – too much competition
  • The company is not growing
  • a subset of your services/product offering is getting more traction than the actual service
  • You have changed: when the founder’s perception, knowledge (and revelation) of the market changes, it needs to reflect in the business/startup.

Conclusion

Choosing whether to pivot, explore or can a project or business is never easy. We are often emotionally involved and have difficulty making rational decisions.

When considering whether to explore or pivot, one needs to consider all options including whereto, what will be at stake and how one will achieve the desired outcome.

Don’t pivot because you can, but rather because you know the product market fit is just not there.

Only quit when you have all the facts on the table and it’s absolutely not worth it anymore.

Simply be effective.

Sources consulted


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