Re-opening Strong

Open for Business
By Robert Brodell
As Virginia re-opens, businesses require a pivot to get things moving.  This article explores how to pivot using customer interviews and a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). 
But, many of us need more than just a pivot, we need a full jumpstart.
SparkJam 2020, on June 26, 2020, is the jumpstart your business needs to re-open strong.  SparkJam brings together business owners, innovators, tech visionaries, strategists, and problem solvers from Virginia’s top universities to generate solutions for re-opening challenges facing Main Street businesses. 
Submit your biggest re-opening challenges between June 8th and 19th for an opportunity to have the entire community help you problem-solve, innovate, and get moving. 
Register to attend the virtual event on June 26 for insights and best practices to re-open strong.  Until then, here are some thoughts on starting your pivot.
Where to Start
So, you want to pivot your business.  Maybe existing products suddenly underperform because of a market or customer change. Perhaps you have an idea with more potential than the current product.  Either way, you need to figure out how to get started. 
Here are a few easy steps:
  1. Assess Value
  2. Test a Minimum Viable Product
  3. Build on your Insights
Assess Value
Scaling any product requires a strong value proposition.  We need enough demand to grow our business.  For that reason, successful pivots start by identifying the value a product or service will deliver to customers.
Assessing value requires an open mind and empathy to learn about customer needs and desires.  Attachment to our idealized solution undermines our ability to maintain an open mind.  Take a step back if you already have a product idea you want to market.  Interview potential customers to learn about their experiences, not testing your product idea.
Customer Interview Pro Tip:
  • Here are some helpful questions to ask during initial interviews:
    • Tell me about your most recent experience?
    • How did that make you feel?
    • What would be a better experience?
    • How would you do it differently?
    • Why did (or didn’t) you like that?
    • What did you like least?
The data we gather tells us how potential customers perceive their current situation and what they value.  This forms a bedrock for informed assumptions about how to provide a better product or experience.  Now we can pick a key assumption to test.
Test a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
Testing informed assumptions start with an MVP.  MVPs are not a real product meant to garner business. Instead, we set out to continue learning about a market by pressure testing key opportunities and assumptions identified in interviews.  MVPs minimize risk by controlling costs.  At this stage, we still do not know if our assumptions accurately reflect the market.
The best MVPs offer a narrow slice of functionality.  Simple demos or descriptions of our proposed solution could be viable tests.  No matter what form an MVP takes, it should allow customers to express interest.  Try a video demoing functionality that ends with a call to action for potential customers to sign up for beta testing.  If the video gets plenty of views, but nobody signs up, then customers are sending a clear message.  On the other hand, if the video gets plenty of views and thousands of people sign up, you something to build on.
MVP Pro Tip:
  • Scope MVP access to represent the intended market. Get the MVP in front of your target personas and customer segments.  Then expand to customers outside of your targets to test potential fit you may have missed.
Build on your Insights
How did potential customers respond to your MVP?  Did it prove or disprove your assumptions?  If assumptions were proven, you have a product idea to pivot your business.  If not, do another round of interviews and move forward testing a new MVP.  This iterative process produces a clear product vision bolstered by some indicators of success so you can build with confidence.
Robert Brodell helps businesses of all sizes with customized product practice optimization, coaching, and training.  For more help with strategy and pivots during re-opening and beyond, check out his website: