There are many ways for a startup to pivot. Pivots can be driven by switching target users, finding adjacent use cases, moving between industries or changing business models. One pivot method that is far less discussed and has always surprised me in how prevalent it is - is the “dumbing down your product” method.
In the past few years, I’ve seen many instances of products that only fit the early adopters niche of an industry but miss out on the vast majority of the market. The reasons behind this are usually a combination of the amount of friction the adoption of the product involves vis-a-vis the amount of market education the startup needs to perform in order to will the market into dealing with that friction.
Market education, as many founders will tell you, is far harder than it first seems at the very early stages. It is a continuous process that never really ends. Sometimes, it is better to let the market educate you than to be the educator.
A few years ago, I examined an investment opportunity in a startup that started off as an AR glasses company but eventually dumbed it down to a product that essentially replaced excel files. The technological gap between these two offerings, needless to say, is vast. But that is what the customers could adopt more easily to solve a particular problem at that point in time. Oftentimes, customers know better than us what they need right now (though admittedly, it’s not always that simple). And while educating a workforce to work with new AR hardware could be more beneficial in the long term, on the whole, making a more gradual technological hop could be a better fit for the situation.
To be clear, I am not advocating for less ambitious technological leaps - every now and then a startup arrives with the right approach that does move everything forward in a way that no one expected. That’s critical. And yet, I would argue that that happens when the technology does most of the leaping forward, while the user can still advance at his gradual pace. Also, these are usually the exception to the rule. And that is why dumbing down a product is really more of an art than a science. Founders need to be very precise in pushing markets forward while not pushing them too hard.