If you need to pivot, pivot hard

Managing Business Models
Left or right?

For many startups, there comes a time when it becomes clear that things are not going exactly as you planned. You can read the writing on the wall that you haven’t found a product-market fit, and you’ve run out of ideas on how to get there.

Typically, if you don’t see signs of traction after six to nine months with a SaaS or e-commerce model, it’s time to reassess your market or model (note: a marketplace-based business often requires a longer time table). And if it’s time to pivot, I have one piece of advice: pivot hard.

Too often, I see pivoting startups try to keep too many elements of their original business. This is to be expected. After all, founders invest untold time and energy into building a product and team. It can be downright heartbreaking to feel like you’re throwing it all away.

However, once you’ve decided to pivot, it’s time to forget about your existing business and have laser-like focus on the new opportunity. Don’t let history cloud your thinking about your future business. It’s time to ask yourself the following questions:

1. What opportunities should I be pursuing independent of all the assets (product, customers, teams) already built-up from the current business model? Explore your new opportunity with a fresh set of eyes: if you were starting up today as a new founder, what would you want your new business and business model to be?

2. What should the new product look like independent of what’s already been built? Don’t try to derive a new product based on trying to salvage your current code base. First think about what you need for your new product, then (and only then) look at what code can be reused.

3. What should the future team look like? Consider what roles, skills, personalities, and expertise you’ll need for the new business model. All hiring decisions should be based on the positions you’re trying to fill now, rather than trying to piece together how your current team members can fit into the new venture.

4. What financing do I need to execute on the opportunity? It’s critical to take a realistic look at how much you’ll need for the new opportunity, rather than thinking of what money is available. Underfunded startups can’t and won’t execute and you shouldn’t move forward if you don’t have a plan for sufficient funding and a long enough runway.

Course changes happen all the time and can lead to brilliant things. But when pivoting, you need to completely separate your old and new businesses. Approach your pivot as if it were a completely new startup. Then see which pieces of your current setup (people, product, etc.) can potentially help you accelerate the new opportunity.

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