Thoughts on startups by investors that
fund them & entrepreneurs that run them

10 Course Corrections Every Startup Should Memorize

Eric Ries image via Fast Company

The popular view of a real entrepreneur is someone with a big vision, and a stubborn determination to charge straight ahead through any obstacle and make it happen. The vision part is fine, but successful entrepreneurs have found that the extreme uncertainty of a new product or service usually requires many course corrections, or “pivots” to find a successful formula.

This reality has fostered a popular startup approach which dramatically improves the efficiency and speed of these corrections, pioneered by Silicon Valley entrepreneur and author Eric Ries. His popular book on this subject, “The Lean Startup,” lays out how today’s entrepreneurs use continuous innovation to create radically successful businesses.

Eric espouses designing products with the smallest set of features to please a customer base, and moving products into the marketplace quickly to test reaction, then iterating. He does a great job in the book of making the case for management systems, rather than gut-level reactions, to make required course corrections (pivots), to dramatically improve the odds for success.

Pivots come in many different flavors, each designed to test the viability of a different hypothesis about the product, business model, and engine of growth. I agree with Eric’s summary of the top ten types of pivots to consider:

  1. Zoom-in pivot. In this case, what previously was considered a single feature in a product becomes the whole product. This highlights the value of “focus” and “minimum viable product” (MVP), delivered quickly and efficiently.
  2. Zoom-out pivot. In the reverse situation, sometimes a single feature is insufficient to support a customer set. In this type of pivot, what was considered the whole product becomes a single feature of a much larger product.
  3. Customer segment pivot. Your product may attract real customers, but not the ones in the original vision. In other words, it solves a real problem, but needs to be positioned for a more appreciative segment, and optimized for that segment.
  4. Customer need pivot. Early customer feedback indicates that the problem solved is not very important, or money isn’t available to buy. This requires repositioning, or a completely new product, to find a problem worth solving.
  5. Platform pivot. This refers to a change from an application to a platform, or vice versa. Many founders envision their solution as a platform for future products, but don’t have a single killer application just yet. Most customers buy solutions, not platforms.
  6. Business architecture pivot. Geoffrey Moore, many years ago, observed that there are two major business architectures: high margin, low volume (complex systems model), or low margin, high volume (volume operations model). You can’t do both at the same time.
  7. Value capture pivot. This refers to the monetization or revenue model. Changes to the way a startup captures value can have far-reaching consequences for business, product, and marketing strategies. The “free” model doesn’t capture much value.
  8. Engine of growth pivot. Most startups these days use one of three primary growth engines: the viral, sticky, and paid growth models. Picking the right model can dramatically affect the speed and profitability of growth.
  9. Channel pivot. In sales terminology, the mechanism by which a company delivers it product to customers is called the sales channel or distribution channel. Channel pivots usually require unique pricing, feature, and competitive positioning adjustments.
  10. Technology pivot. Sometimes a startup discovers a way to achieve the same solution by using a completely different technology. This is most relevant if the new technology can provide superior price and/or performance to improve competitive posture.

Every entrepreneur faces the challenge in developing a product of deciding when to pivot and when to persevere. Ask most entrepreneurs who have decided to pivot and they will tell you that they wish they had made the decision sooner. In fact, a startup’s runway is really not money, but the number of pivots they can still make. What are you doing to get to the required pivots faster?

Written by Martin Zwilling

user Martin Zwilling Founder and CEO,
Startup Professionals

Martin is a veteran startup mentor, executive, blogger, author, tech professional, and angel investor. He is the Founder and CEO of Startup Professionals, a company that provides products and services to startup founders and small business owners.

prev next

You might also be interested in

The Discipline of Execution Defines an Entrepreneur

When entrepreneurs come to me with that “million dollar idea,” I have to tell them that an idea alone is really worth nothing. It’s all about the execution, and investors invest in the people who can execute, or even better, have a history of successful execution. Execution is making things happen, and for startups it usually means making change happen,

Read more >

10 Incentives For Entrepreneurs To Bootstrap Their Startup

Image via Pixabay

I’ve always wondered who started the urban myth that the best way to start a company is to come up with a great idea, and then find some professional investors to give you a pot of money to build a company. In my experience, that’s actually the worst way to start, for reasons I will outline here,

Read more >

The Right Startup Advisors Are As Valuable As Money

Warren Buffett advises President Obama, image via Wikipedia

If you are a new entrepreneur, or entering a new business area, it’s always worth your time to assemble an Advisory Board of two or three executives who have travelled that road before. You need them before you need funding, and if you select the wrong people, or use them incorrectly, no

Read more >

Surround Yourself With People Smarter Than You

Einstein image via Flickr by Sebastian Niedlich

Helpers do what you say, while good help does what you need, without you saying anything. People who can help you the most are actually smarter than you, at least in their domain. Top entrepreneurs spend more time putting the right team in place to accomplish their objectives than they spend on any

Read more >

The Planned Iteration Startup Launch Minimizes Risk

Eric Ries on Lean Startup methodology, via Wikipedia

The traditional mode of starting a company has been to plan a serial process, where you complete once all the steps, leading to the “big bang” launch of the company. I strongly recommend a dramatic departure from this model, called “planned iteration” or Lean Startup methodology, where you assume you won’t get

Read more >

Comments

One thought on “10 Course Corrections Every Startup Should Memorize”