The biggest, toughest decision I had to make so far was to pivot away from my initial idea; the idea that inspired me to go down the startup path in the first place. The next biggest decision to make was what to do next. I was bitten by the bug and not going to shy away from my new found dream to be a tech entrepreneur.
Like most entrepreneurs, it was an idea, an idea that seemed like a ‘killer’ app that made me take the plunge. I was convinced that this was the ‘next big thing’. Zuckerberg, Houston, Sharma… I fit right in. Should I go with the Zuckerberg ‘nerdy-teenager-extra-wide-grin’ or the Jobs ‘chin-hold’ for the magazine cover shoot?
Fortunately for me, I went to a ‘Lean Startup’ meetup in DC and decided to actually check the viability of the problem I had just solved, before I invested in starting building my app. Till then I had just made grand plans…
The $20 I spent to attend the meetup actually just reignited some dormant engineering synapses in my head. No engineer would do what I was just about to. Engineers solve problems that need solving. (As opposed to scientists who solve problems just because they exist. Nothing wrong with that, Einstein was of that cloth. But you cannot build a product, especially one you want to sell, going down that path). So I got Eric Reis’ (The Lean Startup) and Ash Maurya’s (Running Lean) books and read them. I also got Steve Blank (Four Steps to the Epiphany) and Alexander Osterwalder’s (Business Model Generator) books, though have not read them fully yet. It saved me time, money, energy and a lot of heartburn.
So, to prove (or disprove) my problem, I built a mock-up of my future app. I used OmniGraffle, a cool tool I had on my Mac. I downloaded some free iOS stencils from omnitopia.com and was good to go. It took me less than two hours to build a navigable PDF file with links, etc. And I started showing it to people. Ash’s book does an exceptional job on how to find your target audience, people to interview, how to lock them down for interviews and how to test you idea. I probably blurred the ‘problem verification’ and ‘solution verification’ steps as Ash describes, but it served my purpose. I had not a single person resonating with my idea. It was not that the problem was not there. Everyone agreed with me that it was a problem. The problem just did not create enough pain for them to make the effort to take a concerted move towards a solution other than the status-quo. In other words, unless I could come up with a more frictionless solution, I had no market. My startup was done before it even started.
Before you shed any tears for me, you have to understand that this is actually a victory. It is proof that the Lean Startup lives up to its promise. I minimized my waste and succeeded in getting Validated Learning about my problem, my market and my solution for the effort of a two hour mock-up building effort and a dozen or so interviews. I determined the need to pivot in less than a week. Trust me, throwing away a mockup is much easier than throwing away code!!
I have since continued my search for a problem to solve and am testing another problem as we speak. This time I am not even building the mock-up. I now know how to validate the problem before I even build the mock-up. More on how I found the new problem, and actually the new market segment, in future posts.
Share your pivoting or other ‘Lean Startup’ experiences by leaving a comment below.