Three lessons on pivoting your product from Orchestra

Three lessons on pivoting your product that are too scary for most startups to do.

I really like Where Orchestra is Headed, the story of how the makers of the Orchestra To-do app pivoted away from their successful IOS product and are now building something even more ambitious: a new product called Mailbox. There are at least three good lessons to be learned from their experience:

1. Kill your darlings

First, it’s about admitting when your good software isn’t great by looking at real engagement numbers and then pivoting the product. Their first product by most measures was a wild success, but engagement numbers showed that over time people dropped off their usage. (this is common with To-do apps) Most startups can’t or won’t admit something like this or would at least cling to the notion that their software was just missing some feature or other and they would still be iterating on it. Bravo to Orchestra for pivoting in a tough place.

2. Solve existing problems

Second, it’s about real innovation: taking an existing painful activity (email) and making it better. Not getting rid of it, which would be replacing email, but making the email experience better in and of itself. This is what real innovation looks like! While the promise of replacement is great and will always get some attention, the practical value of incremental improvements to existing activities is usually greater. The audience of email is most people using the Internet…even a small improvement would be huge.

3. Share the story of your pivot

Third, it’s about sharing your process and ideas and telling the story of how you arrived at your product. So few startups ever really take the time to do this…to even have a blog post explaining their reasoning. If you happen to be working on interesting things…a powerful story can help cement your cause in your user’s heads. Here’s the money quote from the Orchestra post:

“We have always believed that the best way to build a great product is through copious amounts of iteration: you take your best shot at solving a problem, see what works and what doesn’t, refine your approach and try again. And again. And again. Somewhere along that path of iteration we asked ourselves a question: what if we turned our approach on its head? Rather than trying to create a to-do list with email-like functionality, what if we transformed the inbox in which people already collaborate?”

Their new software, Mailbox, is available early next year. I’m looking forward to it. (And don’t miss their amazing video showing how Mailbox works)

Published: December 18th, 2012