December 17, 2009

Pivot, Don’t Jump!

Pivot, Don’t Jump!

I spoke last night at the NYC Lean Startup Meetup, which was fun.  I will write a couple other posts based on the experience over the next week or so.  The Meetup is all about creating “lean startups,” not just meaning lean as in cheap and lightweight, but meaning smart at doing product development from the perspective of finding the quickest path to product-market fit.  No wasted cycles of innovation.  Something we are spending a lot of time on right now at Return Path, actually.

My topic was “The Pivot,” by which the group meant How do you change your product idea/formation quickly and nimbly when you discover that your prior conception of “product-market fit” is off?  I talked a bit about the pivots we’ve done over the years here, not just the corporate ones, but some of the essential product ones as well.  One of the comments a member of the Meetup made that really stuck with me was that you have to “Pivot, Don’t Jump” when making changes to your business or product.

This has been true of Return Path’s pivots over the years.  Our pivots have all had two very solid foundation points — the company’s deep expertise in email, and our customer base.  Every pivot we’ve done has been in some way at the request/urging of our clients, and the new directions have always been in line with our core capabilities.  While we have a talented team that probably could execute lots of different businesses well, it’s hard to see us being successful in other areas that are farther afield.

People over the years, for example, have suggested that we should get into SMS deliverability — isn’t that going to be a hot topic?  We don’t know.  We don’t spend our lives immersed in text messaging.  What about getting into measurement of social media messaging — isn’t that related?  Maybe, but it’s not in our wheelhouse.  Expanding from email deliverability software and analytics, into services, into data, into whitelisting on the other hand – those were pivots, not jumps.

One other note of course, is that the larger your business is, and the more investors have a stake in it, the harder it is to make BIG pivots or any kind of jumps.  Innovation is still critical, but innovating from a well-protected core is what it’s all about, not chasing new shiny objects.

2 responses to “Pivot, Don’t Jump!”

  1. Very much enjoyed the presentation last night. What I took away from your experiences is that a true pivot (as opposed to product expansion) is often induced by an unforseen change/dynamic in the market, and mini-pivots are induced by customer feedback and questions around what is or isn't scalable. I really liked your point about "start, stop, continue," as a piece of structure that ensures you are constantly mini-pivoting. Thanks for sharing your time.

  2. That’s a good point, Jordan.  True pivots can also be caused by customer feedback – but only when a service is brand new so there’s no critical mass of usage and happiness underlying the dialog.