If you’re familiar with Lean startups you’ll be familiar with the idea of a pivot. Lots of startup founders think that pivots must be painful, difficult processes that involve a lot of soul searching and hard decisions. But we think Oxford Launch’s teams show that isn’t the case.

One of the really interesting things about a weekend like ours is how ideas evolve from the first pitch on Friday to the final presentation on Sunday. Some of our teams had an idea they stuck to and saw through to the end of the day, but the really exciting teams were the ones who used the feedback they got to pivot their strategy while keeping their vision.

Vision, strategy and product are different

As I’ve started talking about lean startups it would be remiss not to mention Eric Reis’s original book. A couple of chapters into Lean Startup, he talks about vision, strategy, and product:

  • Vision – your destination
  • Strategy – your roadmap
  • Product – your vehicle

This is what’s become known as the lean stack, because each of these ideas build on each other: you can’t have a successful product without a successful strategy and you can’t have a successful strategy without a strong vision. What’s really interesting is that it corresponds to Simon Sinek’s golden circle:

  • Vision = Why
  • Strategy = How
  • Product = What

Pivoting your product without losing your vision

The great thing about this is that by bearing the lean stack in mind you can pivot your strategy and product without sacrificing your vision: you can change what you’re building and how you’re approaching it without changing why you want to build your business.

One of our teams had a great vision, led by a Member of the Youth Parliament of Great Britain, to change the way employers and young people look at their CVs. Today’s written CVs are, Thrinayani felt, boring, not as useful as they could be for employers, and not the best way for young people to get their skills and experiences across. The product she pitched on Friday was a mobile app, with revenue coming from advertising to end users. By the end of Saturday her team had pivoted their strategy and product four times. They had:

  1. Realised that employers would need to have an interface, so pivoted from having one customer set (young potential employees) to two (potential employees and potential employers), opening up new revenue opportunities in the process
  2. After getting feedback from employers, pivoted their employer-facing interface from being purely a web app to making printed documents a priority
  3. After speaking with young people removed features they thought would be essential
  4. After getting feedback from our mentor Laura Hahn pivoted from a business-focused social network for young people to pulling in data from existing social networks

Looking at all of these changes you can see how their strategy and their ideas evolved from a consumer-focused mobile app to a website serving both consumers and business and with a heavy print element in a couple of days – but the vision of connecting young people and employers was still the same.

Another of Friday’s pitches, from Henry , was for an app that helps strangers get together to socialise. By the end of Saturday they had:

  1. Added proximity-based notifications telling groups if they are near companies offering group discounts
  2. Had a problem raised by Tom, one of our mentors: customers won’t use the app if there aren’t great discounts, but there won’t be great discounts until customers start using the app. This catch 22 led the team to look at a completely different business model, based on groups of 12 or more people receiving product discounts. This also led the team to change the name of their product
  3. Realized that people don’t just buy products for groups – they also do activities like paintballing and five-a-side football. So they changed their app to focus on activities instead of products

After three products and one name change the team’s solution was very different to Henry’s original idea – but the idea of a tool to help groups of people socialise remained the same.

How fast can you pivot?

While an event like Oxford launch is very different to a business’s normal working week, the reactions of our teams show how fast a team of people can pivot an idea without losing sight of their original vision. If some of our teams can pivot three or four times in just 48 hours based on user and expert feedback, refining and improving their strategies and products to give them a better chance of succeeding both in front of our judges and in the real world, how quickly could you change your strategy?

Here’s an interesting exercise. Take yourself and your team off for a couple of days and throw some new product and strategy ideas around. Talk to some of your current customers and some people you want to be your customers, get their feedback and pivot your strategies and products. If you can talk to some industry experts, user experience designers, external marketing consultants, or anyone who can give you advice, then do so. And don’t be afraid to pivot, and pivot again. You might be amazed at what you come out with.