Pivoting a Failing Product into Europe’s Leading Equity Platform

How Effective Product Management Turned a Misguided Venture into a Thriving Startup

Pivoting a Failing Product into Europe’s Leading Equity Platform
Play this article

Context:

Two friends, who had spent their entire careers in the corporate world, embarked on a startup journey that began to falter quickly. It was early 2019 and despite spending significant amounts on an outsourced development team, their product initially aimed to offer financial education to young entrepreneurs, had no takers. Recognizing the urgent need for a pivot, they invited me, a startup builder, to come on board as a cofounder to lead the product management.

Actions:

  1. Identifying the Core Problem and the Right Niche: The first step was to recognize what had gone wrong and understand our unique strengths. A detailed customer discovery revealed that the problem we were attempting to solve was not resonating with our target audience. The market was not looking for education from former bankers; they were seeking funding solutions. What we discovered was that our unique credentials as professionals with banking backgrounds were not aligned with the educational product we were offering but were instead a powerful asset in the funding solutions space. Our prospects perceived us as an entry point towards finding funding solutions, rather than providers of education that could have been accessed online from myriad other sources. Aligning our product with our actual strengths and credentials, and identifying the right niche where we could add real value, became essential to our early-stage success.

  2. Re-Writing the Product: It became clear that we needed a completely new direction. Drawing from our insights, we reshaped the product into an “equity crowdfunding platform,” connecting micro-investors with early-stage startups.

  3. Changing the Development Team and Its Structure: The rigid workflow of our initial outsourced development team was not suited to the flexibility required in a startup environment, especially during the early stages. Early-stage development requires more than just the right team members; it's about the team structure, processes, reporting, and most definitely the tools used along the way. I restructured the team and our workflow, ensuring that we had the agility, collaboration, and responsiveness needed for our new direction. We adopted tools that were highly iterative, collaborative, and budget-friendly, such as Slack for communication, Trello for task management, and Figma for design collaboration. These tools are more appropriate for very early-stage startups where rapid iterations and adaptability are crucial, rather than the stiffness and rigor that might be necessary later on, once there's a product-market fit.

  4. Building with a Customer-Centric Approach: Throughout the development process, continuous engagement with potential customers helped shape the product. We iterated constantly, making sure that what we were building was aligned with the needs of our audience.

Learnings:

  1. Founder Open-Mindedness is Essential: The main founders' willingness to recognize that the initial idea wasn't working and their openness to a complete pivot was central to our success. Falling in love with an idea can be detrimental; staying true to the core mission and being willing to change the way you achieve it is vital. In our case, our mission to help early-stage entrepreneurs become successful faster remained the same, but the way we approached it underwent a dramatic transformation.

  2. Customer Discovery is Vital: Understanding the needs, wants, and pain points of your target audience is crucial. If you're solving a problem that doesn't exist for them, no amount of investment in development will lead to success. By recognizing the importance of having the right credentials and the right niche, we were able to turn our failing startup into a promising venture. This insight about the necessity of alignment between what you are offering and what you are uniquely qualified to provide can be an essential lesson for startups aiming to carve out a successful space in the market.

  3. Flexibility is Key: In the fast-paced world of startups, agility and the ability to pivot are essential. Your initial idea might not be the right one, and you must be ready to change direction when needed.

  4. The Right Team Matters: Having a development team that aligns with your startup's culture and workflow is critical. They need to be able to adapt and grow with the product, and misalignment can cost both time and money. The comprehensive approach to team restructuring was vital to our success. It allowed us to pivot quickly and efficiently, aligning our development process with our immediate goals. Recognizing the importance of not just the team members, but also the overall structure and tools, helped us lay the foundation for scalable growth and could serve as an invaluable lesson for other startups in their unique growth journeys.

  5. Continuous Improvement Through Feedback: Engaging with customers throughout the development process ensures that you stay on track. Regular feedback helps in iterating and improving the product according to real-world needs.

The ability of the founders to detach themselves from a failing idea and embrace a new direction was a key factor in turning our startup around. This attitude, along with an adherence to strong product management principles, allowed us to stay aligned with our mission and create a product that truly resonated with our target audience. Whether building a new product or reshaping an existing one, these lessons offer valuable insights for any entrepreneur or product manager navigating the complex terrain of the startup landscape.