Accelerated product pivot—a pandemic lesson by Cinthia Assali "Product people - Product managers, product designers, UX designers, UX researchers, Business analysts, developers, makers & entrepreneurs 5 March 2022 True #mtpcon, Pivot, Mind the Product Mind the Product Ltd 1069 Accelerated Product Pivot - a pandemic lesson by Cynthia Assali Product Management 4.276
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Accelerated product pivot—a pandemic lesson by Cinthia Assali

In this #mtpcon Digital Americas session, Cinthia Assali, Head of Product Development at Gympass reveals how the Gympass Product team tackled the pandemic challenge and quickly pivoted to digitally deliver physical activity and mental health solutions in less than a month.

In brief:

  • At a large or small scale, pivoting is a crucial product management skill
  • A company is not always able to choose when or if to pivot, sometimes the decision is created by external factors
  • Being goal-focussed, and prioritising communication and collaboration while prioritising your customers and teams will give you the best chance of attaining success

Be ready for radical change

Cinthia described how as product people, “we have to be prepared for change at any time”, with shifting priorities, new requirements and that critical feature request taking us away from our core responsibilities. Pivoting is a similar skill which is crucial for product people to understand and is something far more extreme, an entirely “radical change”.

The stories of successful pivots

This kind of change is not a new concept, Cinthia explained, describing how many well-known industry-defining products are the result of pivots:

  • Netflix, formerly a mail-based rental business, pivoted to a digital streaming media service, and has since further changed the business, moving into content creation.
  • Slack, initially the internal communication tool used during the development of the online video game Glitch, was later launched to the public as a business communications platform.
  • Instagram began as Burbn, a mobile check-in app, before pivoting based on the popularity of its image sharing features, leading to it becoming the photo and video sharing platform we know today.
  • YouTube, which was founded as a way for single people to introduce themselves in video messages as a form of dating, pivoted to the more-generalised online video sharing platform since being acquired by Google.

Each shift Cinthia described highlighted a new goal each team pivoted towards, achieving huge growth after realising and proactively investing in the revolutionary opportunity space.  Understanding the success stories better allows us to look at the ways companies may choose or even be forced to pivot.

Why product people pivot

Cinthia highlighted some of the most-common reasons a business pivots:

  • Competition may force you to refocus your product offering, looking for new space in the market or radically shifting to beat out the competition. Importantly, the competition may not even be within your industry.
  • Market changes may lead you to pivot a business, whether that’s due to growth in one area or stagnation in another. Achieving product market fit may be harder than expected and other markets easier to enter or innovate.
  • Strategic shift can be found when a founder changes a company’s direction. This can be due to opportunity, financial struggles or capacity issues.

An additional reason businesses pivot, Cinthia explained, is the environment, which as we all know can completely transform the landscape of markets, industries and the world of work at large.

The pandemic effect at Gympass

While Gympass, a corporate wellbeing platform founded in 2012, had been “flirting with ideas” of pivoting prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the crisis pushed Cinthia and the team to radically change the business and “pivot super fast”.

She described how suddenly during the pandemic their 3-sided marketplace of 50,000 gyms/partners, corporations, and employees, spread across 6000 cities were thrown into a state of chaos with in-person venues, sessions, and classes stopping almost overnight.

The team had to address a change in supply, no longer having physical centres to rely on, while the demand had also shifted – now with employees at home and corporations laying off employees, or deprioritising benefits, while taking a greater interest in mental health services.

How did Gympass pivot?

Cinthia describes the “digital culture boost” which led Gympass to apply “innovation principles” in product decisions to create new value to the ecosystem, regain balance and “keep on our mission”. The business offering changed to digital, opening new networks of connections, allowing people to access classes globally, as the team created wellness and fitness apps, online classes and onboarding online personal trainers and 1-1 classes, “moving to more of a content provider, creating that ecosystem”.

Cinthia described how, when forced to pivot, you must not panic and instead need to understand “change is going to happen, you are the person who is going to make this happen. Breath, relax and take ownership of it, there’s nothing else to do. Keep your cool.”

The 3 top tips for pivoting successfully:

  1. Have clear goals

Create a culture of clarity when it comes to goals and objectives and don’t be afraid to divide teams, and simultaneously tackle different bets.

Cinthia described how Gympass introduced cross-functional teams built around tackling specific challenges, pooling team members with relevant skill sets together. They adopted clear “exit criteria” allowing teams to “fail fast and fail well” and had clear roles and responsibilities (based on RASCI the responsibility assignment matrix).

  1. Collaboration

Cinthia outlined the importance of leveraging “cross-company knowledge and skills” within the organisation, explaining how Gympass allowed teams to invite new team members based on skill/expertise/knowledge (regardless of their previous department). Additionally, the business introduced total visibility, opening documents companywide for comment, and actively sought out feedback, further uncovering talent and insights. What’s important is “focus, focus focus”.

  1. Communication

“There’s not enough communication ever in moments that are uncertain” Cinthia explained, describing the importance of transparency in reducing chaos. To prioritise communication, Gympass teams shared a single document with live updates and daily summaries across all areas of the business, breaking initiatives down further into dedicated Slack channels. The team worked to build trust by giving full visibility over the company’s movements, lowering anxiety for individuals and open doors for team members across the company to actively have a say in how the landscape was changing around them.

As Cinthia explained it was through these three techniques of introducing clear defined goals, and prioritising collaboration, and communication that Gympass was not only able to pivot successfully but also revolutionise the way the business worked with and for their network of users and partners as a whole.

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Mind the Product runs flagship conferences in San Francisco, Singapore, and London (#mtpcon) attracting thousands of attendees each from all over the world. We offer hybrid conferences too – enabling even more people in the community to get involved. Check out more #mtpcon content.

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