Vision or Hallucination? Founders and Pivots

8/29/12Follow @sgblank

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other customers would tell us something quite different. And the rule was we weren’t changing anything about the product architecture until Ben and I agreed. Which required Ben hearing from the same customers I did.

Change Value Proposition Last

Second, I took Yuri that he needed to recognize that changing the value proposition—the features of the products/services he was offering—was a lot more traumatic for a startup than changing other parts of the business model.

He should make sure that there weren’t other parts of the business model (revenue model, pricing, partners, channel, etc.) that couldn’t change before he declared “we’re building the wrong product.”

In searching for product/market fit (the right match between value proposition and customer segment) the product should be the last part you think of changing—not the first—as the cost of upending your product development organization is high.

And to make sure everyone knew what he was doing, he might want to consider letting the entire company know “don’t worry when I’m talking about changing our business model every week—it’s a natural part of searching—only worry if I ask you to change the value proposition every month.”

Find a Brainstorm Buddy

Finally, I suggested that he find someone he respects on his advisory board, who he was comfortable brainstorming with and would tell him when he has a bad idea.

Yuri sat quietly for awhile. I wasn’t sure he had heard a thing I said, until he said “Wait 72 hours? I can do that. Now can I call you when I have a hot new idea?”

Lessons Learned

  • Founders are great at seeing things others don’t—at times it’s a vision, most often it’s a hallucination
  • Founders want immediate action—often they call it a pivot
  • A pivot should not be an excuse for a lack of a coherent strategy or a lack of impulse control
  • Disconnect your insights from your mouth for 72 hours
  • If you can unilaterally overrule your co-founders there are no brakes on you
  • Your board members are not your brainstorm buddies—find others you trust.

Steve Blank is the co-author of The Startup Owner's Manual and author of the Four Steps to the Epiphany, which details his Customer Development process for minimizing risk and optimizing chances for startup success. A retired serial entrepreneur, Steve teaches at Stanford University Engineering School and at U.C. Berkeley's Haas Business School. He blogs at www.steveblank.com. Follow @sgblank

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