Sometimes You Have To Pivot To Survive
It’s no secret that the single most important reason why startups fail is that they did not get enough traction with their product in order to let their revenues outpace their expenses and fundraising (not to mention startups with no business model yet who simply survive on funding and have yet to find a business model – yes I’m talking to you SnapChat). Simply put, there weren’t enough people who really either needed or wanted your product.
Most of the time, this is hubris on the part of the founders and, sometimes, a quite amazing reality distortion field that they can build around themselves and their product. Personally, I prefer to be more realistic about a product’s ability to gain traction and have a real business model. This is why it’s sometimes tough to come to the realization that maybe, just maybe, not enough people are interested. In your idea for it to be a profitable business.
That doesn’t mean it’s not a good or even a great idea. I’ve seen, and come up with, probably literally hundreds of great ideas which simply are not businesses – they are great ideas, but there is no business model, no way for it to be sustainable.
Seems to me that the top way in which founders develop ideas for their startup – especially in this time when I hesitate to class a bubble (but it probably is one) is that they look to solve a problem for themselves. They see a need (a water-saving showerhead, uber for flowers, AirBnB for tools, or Netflix for books) and think, “Hey, I need that – and I be that there are plenty of other people out there just like me who need that). So in this time of huge valuations and startup worship, we start these businesses in an unconsciously optimistic state – marveling at this new idea we’ve come up with. We’ve convinced ourselves it is a great idea, and even if we do market research ahead of time to determine if there is enough demand, we typically stack the deck in such a way as to validate our original thinking.
No, the only real way to do this is to build and launch the product. Once it’s out in the open market, you can see if it has traction.
Problem is, I think that most founders wait too long to find out that their product simply isn’t compelling enough for enough people in order for it to gain enough traction to succeed. They live in this reality distortion field – wedded so solidly to their product that they think that just a little more of a push to get them the traction they need. Sometimes, they are so closely wedded to it that they run out of cash and have to shut down.
Others, the most market savvy ones, keep a close eye on the market. They look clear and without emotion at the reception; their product is received and revised the product to suit the market. Gaining traction is critical to whether your startup will live or die. And if the traction is not there, the savvy founders know when to pivot to meet the market’s needs. In fact, they may pivot to building something completely different, which suddenly gets all the traction you need in order to succeed. Here are some great examples of companies that pivoted to success: (my personal favorite, which isn’t here, is Slack)
Once you have that traction with your new product – you can always go back and rethink or relaunch your original product. But you need to get that first winning product out the door. After that, the rest is gravy.
So if your market is telling you, “we don’t want or need X, but we do need Y,” don’t be afraid to pivot to Y as soon as you can. Otherwise, you may end up on Autopsy.io.