Without product strategy, your execution is aimless The music made me do it: The ultimate product strategy playlist So, you set the tone (#punintended) and know what
What EL-P (Run the Jewels) teaches us about pivot models
Who said music and product management aren’t a great match?
Buckle up, as you are in for a treat! Who cares if it is a “long read” when it brings a smile to your face whilst learning the ins and outs of pivot models.
I will provide you with insights, by looking at the music career of one of the greatest artists out there (that’s an understatement), and enjoying some of his best quotes and music.
His name is Jaime Meline. You might know him better as EL-P, one part of the super-duo Run the Jewels and that guy that remixed his album using cat sounds.
Let’s explore what EL-P teaches us about pivot models.
Gotta love a great TL;DR, but in this case *access denied buzzer* you have come to the wrong party.
Go for it and read the article, you’ll not be disappointed. If you are, you can always leave a comment.
Paraphrasing EL-P a bit, “you put an article out, and it’s not in your hands anymore, and that’s cool with me”.
Who is this EL-P?
EL-P, is a record producer, songwriter, and rapper, from Brooklyn, New York.
In the hip-hop scene, he has been a force to be reckoned with since the early 90s, when he and Mr. Len formed Company Flow, and signed with record label Rawkus.
After disagreements with Rawkus, he started his label, Definitive Jux. The label was a popular underground hip-hop label, releasing numerous classic albums.
In 2013, together with Killer Mike, EL-P established Run the Jewels (RTJ). Run the Jewels, finally got him mainstream recognition.
RTJ released four studio albums with the striking titles — Run the Jewels, Run the Jewels 2, Run the Jewels 3, and R̶u̶n̶ ̶a̶w̶a̶y̶ ̶J̶u̶l̶e̶s̶ RTJ 4.
Besides the before mentioned impressive track record, EL-P produced and featured heaps of albums and tracks. He has produced songs for soundtracks and video games and has been the composer of complete film scores.
Why is he relevant when it comes to pivot models?
EL-P’s career is an impressive one, with plenty of shifts, focus and refocus.
As he said himself, “It’s pretty cool being 40 and having your blow-up moment.”
To reach that point, he went through hell and back. In the face of adversity, EL-P reflected, identified what wasn’t working, changed his approach, and continued forward.
This not only requires a strong vision, or what the more cynical would call childish naivety. It requires an immense amount of dedication, perseverance, flexibility, and understanding of yourself.
He is not afraid of doing things, being wrong, altering course, and moving onward, and damned do I appreciate him for that.
Read fun, inspiring and thought-provoking, product management stories.
Remind me what are the pivots out there?
Most people are familiar with the successful end strategies of famous companies. What is lesser known, are the pivots required to discover those strategies.
Pivots are a peculiar type of change designed to test a new fundamental hypothesis. They are a permanent fact of life for any growing business.
It is a change in either the product, the customer, or the strategic direction of the business.
It is ignited by market findings and trends, competitive changes, or shortcomings in the original strategy.
The customer need pivot is the obvious first one here. Why? As we are in it for the customer. This pivot is an absolute guarantee to happen. It occurs when customers ask for something different from what is being offered. The pivot shows the need for continuous customer feedback and observing market trends and the competitive landscape.
The Zoom-in pivot is when you focus on one of the services/products, setting aside the rest. The pivot usually happens to weed out those services/products that don’t have a big enough customer base or aren’t making any profit.
The Zoom-out pivot is the opposite of the zoom-in pivot. In this pivot, you broaden the range of services/products being offered. It is often made by companies who found a product-market fit and are ready to expand their horizon.
The Platform pivot is exactly what you think it is. It is a change of the platform the service/product is offered. For instance, you proudly created an app for iOS, and are shocked to find out that it is android users who are excited about the app.
Technology pivots are those more taken behind the scene, where all the magic is created. They portray a change in direction, to simplify or reduce costs of the tech landscape.
The Customer Segment pivot is closest to the customer need pivot. In this case, though, you have established that the service/product solves a real problem, yet haven’t been able to identify the ideal customer profile, to target the solution at.
The Business Architecture pivot is about shifting between a business-to-business (B2B) model, and a business-to-consumer (B2C) model. Restated, the pivot is about choosing between a low volume with a high margin, or a high volume with a low margin.
Business Strategy pivots
The Value Capture pivot talks about how you are making money from the service/product. It is when you take out a specific part of your offering and monetize it differently, to enhance the overall revenue generation.
The engine of growth pivot is about how you aim to grow your service/product and profitability. There are three main growth engines:
- Viral, meaning customers champion and advocate the service/product
- Paid, through advertising efforts.
- Sticky, through customer retention and upselling additional services/products.
The Channel pivot is related to changing the marketing channels, finding your marketing sweet spot of the product, and being there where your ideal customer needs you to be.
Okay, so how does EL-P relate to the product pivots?
From establishing himself as a hip-hop underground scene artist in the early 90s to becoming a mainstream artist in the 2010s. The customer need pivot, though maybe unintentionally, is extremely strong in this one.
Comparing earlier, science fiction or apocalyptic-influenced work to recent work, the use of instruments, topics, and creative process changed, appealing to a wider audience.
Run the Jewels 3, peaking at position 13, and RTJ 4 at position 10, on the billboard 200, where EL-P’s highest peaking solo album, Cancer4Cure, reached 71, attest to this.
EL-P is a master of Zooming in and out, wearing multiple hats, and being a multi-talented artist. To me, the key analogy for the Zoom-out Pivot is when he and his manager Amaechi Uzoigwe decided that hip hop required an independent powerhouse. A label that granted musicians the freedom to be genuine to themselves and their fans and was “independent as [curse word]”.
The Zoom-in Pivot is when he decided to put the Definitive Jux label on a hiatus. This allowed him to get himself in a mentally good place again and focus on his studio album Cancer4Cure.
He talks about it in his interview on What had happened was, with Open Mike Eagle, which is a must-listen.
In the interview, EL-P mentions another reason for the profitability loss, “people stopping buying physical product … and streaming was not generating the money it is today”.
Though too late for Definitive Jux, he did manage the platform pivot well, releasing future albums digitally.
When browsing www.runthejewels.com you notice the Drinks and Smoke categories. RTJ’s collaboration with breweries is another platform pivot.
Let’s take a minute to look at the release of the first self-titled Run the Jewels album. You guessed it. The album was released for download for free, and that is a check in the box for the value capture pivot. They have done this practice, in one form or another, as well for Run the Jewels 2, 3, and 4.
In the early days, EL-P’s engine of growth was sticky, selling CDs and upselling merchandise at concerts. In the digital age, EL-P recognized the benefits of, and shifted to, the viral engine. This can be seen from the (social) media coverage and support from the community. It also showcases the channel pivot made.
His audience in the early days consisted mainly of youngsters in their late teens and early twenties. ~65% of his target audience nowadays is in their, mid-twenties to mid-forties. Talk about a clear customer segment pivot.
As mentioned in the beginning, when we got on this journey. EL-P produced several tracks and even full scores for films. He also did this for two video games, FIFA 18 and Cyberpunk 2077. Purists might argue this is technically not considered a Business Architecture pivot, but hey I am the writer of this article, so there you go.
This leaves one pivot to cover. Do you remember which one it is? I’ll give you a second to think and, in the meantime, share my all-time favorite song, which I can only best describe as the Bohemian Rhapsody of hip hop.
Great song, right? And do you remember which pivot we still have to cover?
Yep, it’s indeed the technology pivot.
I have cracked my brain over this one, and couldn’t come up with any analogy. So instead, I hope you enjoyed the song!
To sum it up
EL-P is someone who is a great product manager in his field of expertise. Someone who tried many things, pivoted when needed, and went through the motion.
Working in product management, throughout your career, there is a 100% chance you will face pivots more than once.
When you do, be like EL-P.
Which in my world translates to
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