Lean Startup - Pivot or Persevere? + CHEAT SHEET

Episode 90 - 21 Jun 2017

Time to dive into another Lean (as in The Lean Startup) concept: the PIVOT.

We've talked about Minimum Viable Products - MVPs - in previous episodes. The MVP is not intended to be the "finished product": its purpose is to help is learn about the market.

Which begs the question: once the MVP has done its job, what comes next?

The answer: we must decide whether to PIVOT, or PERSEVERE.

Remember to grab your FREE The Lean Startup Cheat Sheet


Three awesome Minimum Viable Products. And one that was less awesome.


Pivot or Persevere!

Giving a talk

And In less than a week - on the same day as this episode goes live - I’ll be giving a talk in central London.

Yes, the person that hides from you every week will soon be stepping out in front of a room full of people.

As you can imagine, I have a bit of preparing to do, so I’m recording this episode a few days early.

Which means that I don’t have the results from our survey to share with you today. But it does give me the opportunity to introduce you to another Lean Startup concept:

  • The Pivot

A pivot is what you do when you go around the Build-Measure-Learn loop and discover that your cool idea didn’t work out.

Put another way, the experiment designed to test your cool idea, failed.

As Thomas Edison might have said,

“You found one more way NOT to invent a light bulb.”

And that’s okay.

You pick yourself up. Dust yourself off. Start all over again.

(You didn’t want me to sing that did you?)

You Pivot… and try something else.

Eric Ries in this book The Lean Standup has a nice visualisation for this. He describes the startup phase as being like a runway.

Your first idea leads to your first EXPERIMENT - which is your first attempt to get airborne.

Alas, first attempts, more often than not, fail.

So you pivot. You try out another idea.

There are two ways this story can play out.

  • You continue to experiment - and pivot - until you makes a break-though… and soar into the sunset
  • You continue to experiment - and pivot - until you crash and burn.

You’ve burned through your funding and it’s game over.

Can you see that the more “pivots” you can fit in, the more opportunities you have to make a breakthrough?


You start to see why it’s important that the Minimum Viable Product is minimal:

  • It’s minimal to be cheap - which helps to extend the “funding” runway
  • And it’s minimal to be fast - which maximises the potential number of pivots before bad things happen.


The MVP must also be Viable. From the point of view of the customer.

This quote from David J Bland expresses it well:

“The hardest thing about MVP - you decide what’s Minimum, the customer decides what's Viable” 

And so she does.

But it must viable in another way: it must be viable as an experiment.


Because on the outcome of the experiment rests a very important decision: the decision to Pivot or Persevere.

(Those are Eric Ries’ words, not mine.)

To reiterate, we want our MVP to be:

  • Viable as a product - from the customer’s standpoint
  • And viable as an experiment - from our point of view

Remember the Zappos MVP we looked at a few episodes ago? The startup that wanted to sell shoes online.

From the customer’s point of view, the Zappos "system" is flawless:

  • She browses for shoes
  • She buys shoes
  • She receives the shoes in the post.

This type of MVP has a name: it's called a Wizard of Oz MVP; the customer is oblivious of all the shenanigans going on behind the scenes - behind the curtain.

And because the customer is obvious, it’s a perfect product.

And because it’s a perfect product, it’s also a perfect experiment.


But perfection is not always possible. Years ago, when I attended Swindon College - I was there for Marketing night classes - I learned about moving potential customers through the states of:

  • Attention
  • Interest
  • Desire
  • Action

That's AIDA if you’re in to your acronyms.

The Zappos MVP “exercises” all four; all the way from A to ...err… the other A :)

The other MVPs we looked at...

  • Dropbox,
  • Buffer
  • and our very own Mundane MVP

... do not.

They run out of steam somewhere between Desire and Action.

This is unfortunate: it's the Action that pays the bills.

But it would be wrong to judge these MVPs too harshly.

Not all products lend themselves to a Wizard of Oz MVP.

Take Dropbox.

Dropbox is a app that synchronises files across your devices. It’s an application that installs on your PC, your Mac, your laptop.

And it has to work.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of any way of “faking” that.

Perhaps AIDA can help.

There’s a definite sequence to AIDA:

  • You don’t get Interest without attention,
  • You don’t get Desire until you get Interest,
  • And you don’t get Action without Desire.

In a perfect world, I want an Minimum Viable Product that tests all four stages. But I’d settle for an MVP that covers the first three.

If that feels unsatisfactory, remember that the most common way of testing product ideas is to conduct - you guessed it - a survey.

If I run a survey, how many steps does that cover?

  • I could get an indication of interest
  • I could get an indication of desire
  • Hell, I could even get an indication of action.

The problem with indicators… is that they can be dead wrong.

Buffer's MVP

The other MVP we looked at - Buffer - delivered a direct measurement of interest. And a direct measurement of desire.

Desire may not be a sufficient condition - it doesn't guarantee action. But it is a necessary condition.

So I'd prefer not settle for an indication of Desire: I want a direct measurement of it.

That's what I expect from an MVP.

Pivot or Persevere

Coming back down right back to earth for a second. Or tarmac. Or whatever runways are made of.

When the experiment is over. When we have our measurement of "desire".

Will we have the data to make the all important decision?

The decision to Pivot or Persevere?

Unfortunately for us, it's not Desire but Action that pays the bills. So we’re going to have to - and it pains me to say it - apply a fudge factor.

If we're lucky applying the factor will not need a calculator: the one thing we don't want, is a middling result.

We want a total flop, or a resounding success.

So we’ll know whether to PIVOT or to PERSEVERE.

The Lean Startup Cheat Sheet

If you’re interested in Lean - as in “The Lean Startup” - then you should grab a copy of The Lean Startup Cheat Sheet.

At the time is recording, it’s more minimal than viable.

But it will evolve over time.

And when it does, you’ll receive an updated copy, auto-magically.

So I’d encourage you to grab your copy without delay!