For any organization to grow, it needs to transform according to the changing tides of the market. We know of many companies that started out strong but failed to evolve and ultimately fizzled into irrelevance. A prescient entrepreneur is one who knows when to make strategic changes to his organization—be it in terms of updating the product or even changing the course of business—to quickly adapt to the evolution of the market. We asked some founders at what point they decided to pivot and what factors influenced the changes they introduced in their organizations.
It’s about being at the right place at the right time, of course, but it’s also about being completely open to change. As a founder, I saw it in companies I have been a part of before; change is always scary. In these cases, we took those bold decisions. We told ourselves, let’s focus on contract management. Let’s forget about everything else. Let’s take that revenue aside, off the table, not even discuss it. Now that also needs a very different frame of mind, a very strong frame of mind, and you have to be doing financially well to make those decisions. Lots of things go in there, but you know, taking that opportunity, grabbing it, and converting it—I think we ended up doing a fairly good job as a team. Contract management really became mainstream—and immodestly, I must say—we helped redefine that category. What is more interesting is that you come to that stage where you say we did some of these things right. Then we look back and say look at how many mistakes we have made, and look ahead in terms of how far we can go
because if I can own a category like a contract life cycle management—which is now becoming one of the five pillars of the enterprise—if you come to a system of record, then it is a multi- multibillion-dollar possibility. That keeps you excited, keeps you thinking that this is still as interesting as it was in 2009, and more!
You need a group of people around you to make any pivot, any direction change, and we have had so many of them. With almost every entrepreneur who stays true to the fact that I am just going to listen to one person, who will be the customer, they are going to see pivots happen. And be very comfortable with that happening because you are listening to the right person, your customer. Be comfortable with change because, frankly, your job as a founder is to navigate ambiguity and chaos in some way or form. And if you do that successfully over a period, you bring clarity and hopefully a lot of value creation along with it.
We started OrangeScape as a democratizing rule-based computing/application development. But at that time (around 2004), we never realized that this was such an audacious task. We had always felt that it was easy to do. But it took four years for us to first figure out the technology. By the time we figured out the technology, we realized that we didn’t understand what’s a market and what’s a product. We were very close to shutting down the company. We made the first pivot. We got the timing and the category right by positioning ourselves as a platform-as-a-service (PaaS), Visual PaaS. In this avatar, we continued for another three to four years. By this time, we discovered that the category we chose—the platform-as-a-service itself—was premature, as giants like Google, who pioneered PaaS, were struggling. We
BE COMFORTABLE WITH CHANGE BECAUSE, FRANKLY, YOUR JOB AS A FOUNDER IS TO NAVIGATE AMBIGUITY AND CHAOS IN SOME WAY OR FORM.
– ABHINAV SHASHANK
got bitten a second time. Then, in 2012, we pivoted again. We isolated 20 percent of what we had built as the Visual PaaS, took just the workflow portion, and launched Kissflow as a Keep It Simple, Stupid, workflow software. This time around, it all took off because we picked a category like a workflow software that SMBs need and then we picked the SaaS model, and SaaS was taking off. The product was simple. We didn’t require a lot of field sales. We priced it affordably. We could use digital marketing and go after the whole world. We finally put all the pieces together, technology, marketing, category, product, minimum viable product, pricing, all the pieces. It took nearly 8 eight years to learn all of this by trial and error—digital marketing, inside sales, all of it—and finally, after eight years of assembling all of this together, we could make Kissflow successful.
Just don’t give up. At the end of the day, you figure out how to pivot and somehow get to the destination that you want. You start out to go and reach somewhere. There will be a lot of detours but remember that you have to somehow reach the summit. And that differentiates good entrepreneurs from the rest.
The first product we built was called Wingify. Wingify didn’t work out because it didn’t have a product-market fit. That first product had a lot of functionality, but it wasn’t focused, its user experience wasn’t great, and when I launched the product on Hacker News, the overwhelming feedback was that it is too confusing and needed to be simplified. The growth and success that came afterward were because of a pivot that we did at that time. I think product-market fit on day one is a myth. We went through multiple sources of feedback from users and accordingly narrowed down rather than focusing on a very big problem all at once, which Wingify was doing earlier. We thought of picking one problem and solving it in a really, really good way. As it turns out, that one problem was AB testing and we solved it using Visual Website Optimizer (VWO), our main product now, and that is how it finally took off.
In my learning, I find it more productive to focus on the problems. Every single time. Instead of discussing 20 “ideas”, I would rather discuss 20 problems. That is the way I would think about those 20 ideas. I prefer people who do some fundamental level of thinking. Entrepreneurs who take the problem-first approach are, I believe, basically more fundamental thinkers by nature. Because in the lifecycle of a company, things may change at any point in time. One learning I have is that even if you stumble upon an idea—through your work, through your experience, insight, while traveling—it always makes sense to pause for a bit, understand the market size and gauge how basic that need is. You should consider whether the problem that you are solving, does it even make sense as a stand-alone product. Is the customer expecting to buy software for that or to buy a solution for that?
We are pivoting actually as we speak into an enterprise model. But we are figuring out how to do the sales, the B2B sales. We are figuring out all of that, what is the pricing, and we are also going to innovate from the first principles there. We are going to go with fixed pricing, we are not going to negotiate with the enterprise and we are going to tell the enterprise this is our price, you work with us directly and we will do it for you the way we think. So, we think of ourselves as artists. When you go to an artist you don’t tell him, “Boss, aisi painting do” (Give me a painting like this); you commission a piece of art. We want to do that. If you work with Frappe you are commissioning us, you don’t dictate how we behave and this is what we are going to try. I don’t know whether it will fit or not but you know we come from rock bottom and we are not funded and we are not answerable to any investors.
IN THE LIFE CYCLE OF A COMPANY, THINGS MAY CHANGE AT ANY POINT IN TIME. ONE LEARNING I HAVE IS THAT EVEN IF YOU STUMBLE UPON AN IDEA, IT ALWAYS MAKES SENSE TO PAUSE FOR A BIT, UNDERSTAND THE MARKET SIZE AND GAUGE HOW BASIC THAT NEED IS. YOU SHOULD CONSIDER WHETHER THE PROBLEM THAT YOU ARE SOLVING, DOES IT EVEN MAKE SENSE AS A STAND-ALONE PRODUCT. IS THE CUSTOMER EXPECTING TO BUY SOFTWARE FOR THAT OR TO BUY A SOLUTION FOR THAT?
– MANAV GARG