The Lean Startup model was incomplete. But now I patched it.
Your life as an entrepreneur is perfect!
Investors are begging for the privilege of funding your venture; team members are never sick and never fighting, and ecstatic customers fling money at you while making love to your product all day long.
The Lean Startup method tells startup founders to have monthly Pivot-or-Persevere meetings. During these regular reality-checks, you evaluate your business model, and you choose either of two options: pivot or persevere.
Persevering with your current business strategy means that you keep believing in what you set out to achieve, only you will implement small changes and updates every day to make progress toward your goals. Using ongoing build-measure-learn cycles, you try to move the drivers of the business model in the direction of a favorable outcome.
In Persevere Mode, your unit of progress is validated learning. Every day, you have new ideas for building your product, new measurements to check the results and new learning opportunities that will you get closer and closer to product/market fit.
Examples of persevering: understanding which features are used by customers and which ones are not, learning which texts, colors, and styles generate the best response rates in email campaigns, and figuring out how to most effectively convert free users to paid plans.
Pivoting is what you should consider when you come to the conclusion that you’re not making any progress (or not enough) toward product/market fit. A pivot is a radical course correction, going in a new direction, with a new hypothesis about your product, strategy and business model.
In Pivot Mode, your unit of progress is creative destruction. You have successfully pivoted when you have reimagined what your company is for. Your reinvented business doesn’t look at all like the previous one. Therefore, a pivot is something that happens only a few times in the life of the average company.
Examples of pivoting: switching from podcasting to microblogging (Twitter), from a dating website to a video platform (YouTube), and from online gaming to team messaging (Slack).
But I think something is missing.
Persevering is continuous improvement and pivoting is a radical change. Persevering is replacing a broken window, cleaning out the cellar, and decorating your front porch. Pivoting is moving the family to a new apartment, in another city, on the other side of the country. But what about building a garage? What about swapping the kitchen with the bedroom? Some structural changes are too significant and too rigorous to just pass them off as “continuous” improvement.
My father once removed a wall between the kitchen and the living room. For a week, the family tried to lead a normal life in what could best be described as an industrial construction zone. We were quite glad that it was not a continuous change! However, it was still the same house. We didn’t leave anything behind. It was a rigorous change, but not a radical one.
In business, it can be the same. Sometimes, you need to rethink your marketing channels. Sometimes, you decide to shift from a B2B to B2C strategy. Sometimes, you choose to break down the walls between two product lines in order to merge them. These are rigorous changes, but not radical. You’re not turning your back on what you have. The changes are too big to call it persevering but too small to call them a pivot.
So, let’s call them patches.
A business model or strategy sometimes requires patching. Part of it works, but another part is not satisfactory. That means you replace the bad parts without losing the good parts. It sits right between validated learning and creative destruction. Maybe we can call it rigorous redesign?
The Pivot-or-Persevere dichotomy, suggested by the Lean Startup method, seems incomplete to me. It’s okay most of the time, but one crucial option appears to be missing. So let’s do a redesign! Let’s make it Pivot-Patch-or-Persevere.