Successfully Navigating A Business Pivot
The saying ‘startups are like roller coasters’ is often coined when talking about the emotions you feel as a founder and/or early team member. One minute you feel like you’re all going to be millionaires on a yacht sailing into the sunset, and the next moment you’re sitting with your head in your hands, thinking it’s all going to go t*ts up. Often, moving between these emotions in a matter of hours. Oh the joys! However, along with the emotional roller coaster, comes the strategic flip flopping that every startup endures, especially in the very early days. The exact idea that started the business is very rarely the idea that catches fire and scales. Whilst the problem being solved is fairly consistent, the method in which to solve it almost always requires numerous iterations. The majority of these iterations can feel like a steady evolution, however, every now and again, a monumental change in direction occurs.
The good old business pivot!
Like driving a Double Decker Bus
Navigating a business pivot can often feel like you’re driving a double decker bus, full of passengers, in the fast lane of the motorway (freeway), going pedal to the metal top speed. Then, you spot the exit you desperately need to take, at the very last second, requiring you to veer across the motorway, dodging cars and bikes, whilst simultaneously letting all your passengers know that it was all part of the plan. Sweat soaking your palms on the wheel as you silently pray you make it in one piece.
We’ve had 3 of these major pivots since starting our business and by trial and error, here are what I view as the 5 key ingredients to getting your bus off the motorway in one piece, with all your passengers in good spirits.
1. Be quick, but not too quick!
Back in April/May 2021, the fitness landscape shifted dramatically, with gyms and studios opening for the first time in a year since the pandemic started. We immediately felt the impact and the future of ‘at home group class fitness’, which was our original concept, quickly started to lose momentum, with many trainers and clients favouring going back to the gym.
We sprung into action, pivoting the business from online group classes, to the hybrid alternative of online personal training (online coaching). However, we moved at such a ferocious pace, that we didn’t spend enough time working with our ideal client and fully understanding what they really needed, the things that now differentiate us in the market. This led to us spending the next 5 months investing in technology that we ended up shelving. A painful lesson in moving too quickly.
2. Don't get too attached to your ideas
This is super tough! Especially if this is your first rodeo as a business owner, like it has been for us. We genuinely thought our first idea was going to be THE ONE! Now, whilst this is an admirable trait, a wholehearted belief in your concept, holding on to those ideas can also blinker your vision and delay a potentially critical pivot. I’d say we were perhaps 2 months delayed in our first major pivot, which, in the grand scheme of things, doesn’t sound like a lot. However, it pushed us really close to the bone between funding rounds. Something that could have easily been avoided if we had entered into business with a much more open mind to the potential solutions to our customers problems. After this first business pivot, we adopted a much more humble view on our ideas, which served us well down the line.
3. Take your team on the journey with you
A lesson I learned the hard way from a former company was to never make decisions at the top of the food chain in a vacuum. Very often these decisions directly affected my departments, yet I had no input into the strategy or opportunity to provide feedback. Needless to say, it never went down well with the wider team and often led to distrust with leadership. In order to prevent that from happening in my current company, we always conduct an open line of communication with our team before, during and after a major business pivot. In fact, all of our pivots have originated directly from team feedback, so there has never been a surprise factor. For a visual representation of what this looks like in action, check out this episode of Friends, where Ross famously shouts ´PIVOT’. Enjoy!
4. Learn to love a post mortem
Startup life is full of twists and turns and once you’ve understood that your business idea will forever be an iteration, you get much more comfortable tweaking your service. However, if you pivot, evolve and adapt, without taking the time to understand what went wrong with the previous direction, you can quickly end up in a cycle of similar mistakes. As mentioned above, we rushed into our first pivot and started to invest in tech that we ultimately shelved. Thankfully, we took the time to fully understand why we made that decision and noted down NEVER to go down that path again.
Fast forward the clock 6 months and as we embraced our second pivot, parking our tech build in favour of software partnerships, we almost ventured down the same road on another project we’d been working on, it almost slipped under the radar! However, when we recognised the familiarities and reminded ourselves of pivot number one, we slowed down, reconsidered our approach and ultimately decided not to pursue the project, dodging the proverbial bullet.
5. Be fearless but not reckless
A business pivot can be really scary. Especially when you’re a startup. The very thought of ‘burning the boats’ and venturing into the unknown will put most founders, including myself, well outside of their comfort zone. It’s for this reason that I’d always advise avoiding ‘one way doors’ when making a large strategic change to direction, opting to iterate incrementally if possible. However, if you’re facing a one way door, I believe the only option is to take a deep breath, muster up all the strength you have, and charge through it, leaving absolutely no room for hesitation or fear. Burn those boats, wear a huge smile and wave at the fire.
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