Discover more from Memos from Hawk Hill Ventures
Your best idea usually isn’t the first one
Almost every startup changes direction at some point. Enter the term "pivot"—a word that, frankly, gets tossed around a lot in the startup universe. Have you ever noticed how there are over 2,000 books on Amazon about pivots but less than 1,000 on finding product-market fit? Interesting, right? However, pivoting isn’t the end goal; it's merely a step in the journey of crafting genuinely exceptional products.
Founders start companies because they have a unique insight into an underserved market. The current way things are being done is wrong, and our hero is here to save the day. Often, there’s been some preexisting validation of this insight via customer conversations, but just enough to validate investing time in solving the problem.
This is the paradoxical problem. Assessing the viability of a startup idea is like aiming for a bullseye on a moving target. You could accurately assess a problem that exists but completely miss the way it needs to be solved. Or you might find a problem and build a great solution, but find the problem wasn’t important enough for people to adopt your solution.
I firmly believe that all startups are an iterative process, and nobody hits a bullseye on the first throw. By building and sharing with customers, you find the proper insights needed to build products that are actually valuable.
When we were building Stream Club, we pivoted:
In April 2020, we built a virtual events platform for creators who were increasingly moving their in-person classes, performances, and professions online.
Idea: Stream Club is the easiest way for creators to host and monetize virtual events.
After several months, we weren’t winning the virtual event space. There were many competitors, several more well-funded than us. They had more engineers and more features, and we were losing customers to them.
So why were some customers using us? In our conversations with them, they expressed that our product made it easy to host one-to-many live streams, which was a need that wasn’t well met by other products.
Insight: Live streaming software wasn’t built for creators, and there was a gap in the market.
Pivot: Stream Club is the easiest way to design, produce, and broadcast a beautiful live stream straight from your browser.
Existing customer behavior is the best driver for unique insights. Your customers will vote with their feet (and wallets). When our business wasn’t going in the direction we thought it would, we looked inward, especially at the customers using our product in the “wrong” ways. These observations drove us to solve a real problem vs. a problem we invented intellectually (as many founders do).
One of the hardest decisions we faced when evaluating a pivot was whether to continue pursuing our original idea. It’s easy to blame poor execution for not seeing success. The “one more feature/experiment/campaign will solve this” fallacy affected us just as it does many founders who are pivoting. It took hard conversations with our team, friends, and investors to hold ourselves accountable that the current direction was no longer the right one.
The entrepreneurial journey is anything but linear. It's filled with bumps, detours, and, sometimes, the need to change vehicles altogether. Pivoting, while often glamorized, is a testament to a founder's resilience, adaptability, and unwavering commitment to solving genuine problems. It's about listening intently, observing keenly, and making decisions grounded in reality, not just aspiration. In the dynamic landscape of startups, it's not the strongest who thrive but those most responsive to change.