The Art of Pivoting

By Mohammad Ali Ibrahim and Minah Ali Rathore

In 2017, Mobilink and Warid officially merged into the entity today known as Jazz. With its new identity, it was time for Jazz to pivot and set the path towards a trailblazing digital future. Today, the brand name of Jazz is synonymous with digital thought leadership and technological trend-setting in Pakistan.

From a traditional telco operator to a truly digital organization, it was a pivot that transformed an entire industry. But how did Jazz pivot from a traditional telco-based company to a digital company? Moreover, what does pivoting even entail?

Jazz’s most significant success in pivoting has come from its shift in business from voice to data. It has transformed its customer interaction by offering Jazz World, an account management platform, a departure from the usual USSD, and call center options.

However, the company is cognizant of the importance to learn from mistakes in addition to pivoting quickly, and re-pivot and re-align when you recognize a flaw – in Jazz’s case, the much-hyped but eventually discontinued VEON app.

There are valuable lessons that any business, large or small, can learn from Jazz’s success. For any organization that wants to pivot, the journey starts with the realization that it is time to transform. What Jazz realized immediately after its birth was that change is inevitable, disruptions are unavoidable, and it cannot take the risk of continuing to rest on the laurels of its predecessors.

Whether change comes in the form of evolving customer demands, new technological and digital trends, or growing business needs, Jazz knew that it needed to pivot quickly and early.

The Meaning of Pivoting

Rotate. Turn. Revolve. These synonyms offer an insight into what pivoting truly means. With technology becoming obsolete at a rapid pace, companies must continue reinventing themselves. By churning out innovative new ways of working, pivoting creates an opportunity for businesses to stay relevant and expand revenue.

Pivoting a business can breathe new life into an otherwise failing business. However, as its synonyms indicate, it may also mean going back to the drawing board and starting from scratch.

Pivoting for Startups

For startups, pivoting essentially means changing something fundamental about what the business is doing. This change could include shifting to a new strategy, turning a product feature into a new product itself, changing platforms – from a traditional, physical storefront to an online one – leveraging digital capabilities to find new opportunities, or tapping into new markets or customer segments.

It is important to remember that pivoting is not a magic pill to cure all problems, and startups must pivot only when necessary. So when should a startup pivot? There are a few red flags that can indicate that a change in strategy is due.

  • Stagnating revenue: If a startup is progressing too slowly and is showing a lack of profitability or stagnating income over a long period, then it may be essential to change the business or revenue model, product, or market.
  • Advanced competition: If a more prominent company with more resources or customer base creates an offering similar to yours but better, think of pivoting to a new market, product, or identify a Unique Selling Point (USP) that your product has to offer.
  • Narrow your focus: If your startup offers multiple products or services, and one aspect is succeeding, gear your attention towards that product or service rather than distributing your resources amongst many.
  • Changing vision: If the startup’s idea is changing after it is launched, evolve the goals to cater to the change.
The Impact of COVID-19

Few things have impacted the nations as universally as the black swan event of COVID-19. The pandemic’s effect on the startup ecosystem is evident when we see how the upwards trajectory of Pakistani startups was brought to a screeching halt when the crisis hit.

In Pakistan, startups raised over $32 million in funding in 2019, compared to $24.5 million in 2018. However, as per a study conducted by the National Incubation Center on the effect of COVID-19 on startups, during the pandemic, 68% startups experienced reduced demand, with half of them having to halt their operations. 21% of startups have had to completely shut down their services, with many startups reporting a cash runway of 6 months or less.

The rising economic uncertainty amidst COVID-19 has caused many startups to reconsider their strategy for the future. Ride-hailing services were particularly hit hard by the pandemic. These include Careem, Airlift, and Swvl, which provided safe and affordable mobility to an entire population.

Yet, the impact of COVID-19 saw each of them pivot their product services, with Careem shifting its focus on its food delivery. In contrast, Airlift has completely changed its focus to becoming a fast-paced grocery delivery service.

While some companies have struggled under the impact of the pandemic, others have achieved unprecedented growth. Startups doing well during the epidemic are in Edtech, Healthtech, and other essential services sectors. For example, Knowledge Platform, an Edtech provider that offers a digital blended learning platform for students, has so far registered 270 schools under its virtual campus model in partnership with Jazz Business.

Another good example is Mauqa online, a graduate of Jazz’s supported incubation facility – NIC, which provides domestic cleaning services, diversified its portfolio to benefit from the pandemic related customer demands, and started offering house and office sanitation/disinfection services.

Survive to Thrive

Pivoting is critical for organizations. Whether they are startups or behemoths, evolution is unavoidable. Youtube, Twitter, and Instagram are major success stories of pivoting done at the right time and in the right way. The company that knows the art of pivoting will not only survive through uncertain times but will be able to turn challenges into opportunities.

Those who stick to the status quo are likely to die out and become the next Kodaks, Yahoos, and Blackberrys – game-changers who failed to pivot at the right time. But those who are astute and bold enough to pivot and transform will forge the way ahead for themselves and others.

Minah Rathore is a Digital Policy Analyst and Ali Ibrahim is a technology enthusiast. Both are part of Jazz’s Corporate Communications team.

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