The art of the startup pivot

We have a great guest blog from Karan Jain today. Karan recently participated in the Lean Startup Machine‘s Dc workshop March 23-25, and came out with a new appreciation for the power of the pivot. We thought this would be great insight for you- enjoy!

 

Pivots are everywhere or how I learned from my invalidated assumptions at #LSMDC (and you can too).

By: Karan Jain

Going into the Lean Startup Machine, I didn’t know really what to expect. My knowledge of lean principles was limited to a handful of DC Lean Startup Circle Meetups (highly recommended finding meeting like this for those interested in getting involved in the startup scene) as well as various blog posts, articles, and videos; I hadn’t worked on a startup before, let alone ‘run’ a ‘business’. And I certainly had never really engaged in customer development. That being said, LSM ended up being one of the most thoroughly exciting, educational, and exhausting weekends I can remember.

Though I arrived with a team and idea, that shouldn’t discourage anyone from attending; in fact, most teams formed on Friday night with some of the best ideas, in my opinion, being thought up right on the spot! One of the great things about LSM is that it simplifies, quantifies, and clarifies the entire process of transforming ideas into businesses in just a few days. Broadly speaking, the process works as follows: outline your assumptions, test the riskiest ones, pivot accordingly, and iterate. After just a few iterations of this will give you a clearer vision of the problem you’re trying to solve, the market you’re seeking to serve, and the product that you hope to build. In that way, LSM offers something to everyone, no matter what stage of the entrepreneurial process they are at. In fact, corporations are even adopting lean principles to innovate and grow.

The idea my team worked on was for a crowd sourced lending platform for local businesses, tentatively called Clovest. Therefore, our riskiest assumption to test was businesses’ need for financing. So, we got out of the building early on Saturday and started conducting some problem interviews. All these followed roughly the same lines—what sorts of financing issues do you encounter? What kinds of projects need financing? How are projects funded if you don’t get financing? Through the process, we picked up some really valuable insights. For example, our target market was not who we assumed it would be; additionally, access to financing wasn’t as much of an issue as the high cost and hassle of obtaining it. More than invaliding those assumptions though, the process taught me the value and importance of a key lean strategy: the pivot.

Pivots, I had previously assumed were these large 180-degree shifts in a product or business. As we went through these interviews, however, I realized that we were constantly pivoting. After invalidating our initial assumptions, we altered our approach for the rest of the weekend; the businesses we targeted, the questions we asked, the tone of our pitch— everything was slightly different. By doing so, we improved our findings, connected better with customers, and even signed letters of intent. Through customer development, I discovered that the willingness and ability to pivot is a key driving force of progress. Lean businesses are powerful precisely because they are able to evolve given the changing needs of customers and the market. And while we learned this at a very early point in the startup process, I really do believe it applies to startups of all sizes and at all stages of development. Though we didn’t finish testing all of our assumptions, uncovering the nature and ubiquity of the pivot has really clarified our agenda for our next round of customer development: pivot early and pivot often.

I highly recommend LSM not only to those pursuing their own startup ideas or refining their business models, but to anyone looking to get more involved with startups in their area. After all, lean principles are truly agnostic—they work in every industry, every team within a business, and at every stage of development. And while you think you may be able to read the book and pick it up, there is nothing that compares to practicing customer development yourself. Though we only went home with the “no yuppies” award (that’s another story), we did collect LOIs from three businesses in under 24 hours. If that doesn’t entice you, the two days of unlimited access to a set of seasoned mentors who provide invaluable advice and are genuinely dedicated to helping your team succeed, should. Not to mention, there are crash courses in all things metric, whether it’s how to leverage AdWords or create a launch page and convert users. If for nothing else, the fast pace, great co-working environment, and high caliber of participants made it a truly enjoyable and memorable weekend. Looking forward to future lean events and what comes of all the impressive work put in by the LSM DC teams. Big thanks to all the organizers, mentors, and participants for making a truly memorable and enjoyable weekend.

Karan Jain is a web developer at the Federal Reserve and aspiring entrepreneur in the DC area. You can find him on twitter @niajnarak or email him at kjain87@gmail.com.

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