The closest thing to a pivot

Or, how we’re learning to celebrate learning

Sean K. Gabriel
Mission Beyond
Published in
4 min readMay 17, 2021


To date, we’ve been building Talent Compass as if it were a startup (within the constraints of our day jobs working at Red Badger).

That’s meant setting our team up with a high degree of autonomy, and prioritising the clarity of our mission even when we didn’t have clarity of execution. We’re working with Mission Beyond’s leadership team as if they were our board of investors. And we orient our daily work around proving & disproving the assumptions that can lead us to “product-market fit.”

So, like many startups before us, facing a pivot seemed inevitable.

Testing desirability, feasibility and viability

This phase of building out Talent Compass has been a ‘rehearsal’ of the eventual product — not a race to build a robust minimum viable product, but more than just smoke testing its façade. We’ve been using Red Badger’s product strategy framework as our guide and we focused first on validating the desirability of our idea, so we don’t waste time building something nobody wants.

Diagram of 3 phases of product strategy: ready (removing the barriers to innovation), rinse (don’t waste time with feasibility if no one wants it), rehearse (hand-crank the service to stay as close as possible to users)

While our earliest results showed promise, further user research has increased our confidence that Talent Compass would be well-received by its target audience. It has shown strong potential to help career starters who are underserved by today’s platforms for job-seeking. This led us to start building credible tests of its feasibility as a digital product — can we build the necessary tech to underpin the experience we’ve envisioned?

Through a series of Wizard-of-Oz tests, we continued to improve our understanding of the core journey that future customers will take through the eventual product. These tests did double duty to validate that core components, like a queryable database of skills & occupations, will be sufficient to deliver relevant job advice and fulfil the promise of our product. In turn, this became the perfect cue to assess the viability of our ‘business model’ more deeply, and ultimately is where we found our pivot point.

Defining a business model for social impact

We originally fleshed out a lean version of our business model prior to embarking on this phase of developing Talent Compass:

Business model canvas for Talent Compass (focused on the end user — a ‘beneficiary’ of the service)

While the core value proposition has remained the same since we started, we initially focused on job seekers as the sole customers of our product, thinking of all the supporting organisations — like employers recruiting for their jobs, or those running support programmes — as partners we could onboard later.

But the value of a skills-assessment conversation alone is shallow; it’s the ability to (and support while you) apply confidently for a job, end-to-end, that creates real value for our customers.

To surface these organisational offerings as part of Talent Compass, we’d have to broaden our thinking and consider them as a different set of customers for our product:

This led to us reconsidering the core definition of what our product is: whether it’s actually a multi-sided marketplace (a la Airbnb) or if it’s the front door to an independent platform and ecosystem. It’s also prompted important questions about how this all comes together from a business perspective, including funder journeys, whether corporate sponsors will support the service directly, broader value propositions around connecting the ecosystem, and more.

Above all, it’s become clear that we need to apply the same rigour of testing & research to the organisations that will support our core customers on their way to getting that job that matches their skills and interests. This is what we’re focusing on next as a team.

Learning to celebrate learning

Now, I wager it’s the closest thing to a pivot that we’ve faced, but it’s been a rich source of discussion within our team whether or not this actually constituted a ‘pivot’ in the classic sense. A startup pivot often gets defined as a radical shift in the intended product or business strategy (think Slack moving from video games into productivity software).

Thinking of Talent Compass as an early-stage startup, we’ve not changed our value proposition nor our mission — we’ve simply expanded the surface area of what we need to learn, and are acting accordingly to learn quickly where we know the least.

Importantly, we’re aligned within our startup team and with our board that we still need to keep our core customers at the heart of our work. That means every partner interaction we consider building into the eventual platform needs to trace back to creating value for a job seeker. If we don’t maintain our end user focus, we’re not building a platform; we’re building a directory.

Half the fun in building a product like Talent Compass is finding our way when the answers aren’t clear (otherwise this product would be out there already!). And Red Badger is a consultancy by day, not a studio, so I consider it a rare privilege to bring a brand-new product to life as part of our day jobs — underscored by a social mission to boot.

Update: Talent Compass has graduated from its incubation phase, and is now the Open Doors platform! Read more about how we spun out Mission Beyond from Red Badger into a new charitable company to continue pursuing this mission.



Sean K. Gabriel
Mission Beyond

Aloha (🤙。◕‿‿◕。)🤙 big on team building & lean product dev. Author @ Thinking aloud with #weeknotes. Works best when caffeinated ☕️