The Art of the Pivot

September 25, 2020

There is an idea in business and especially in startups that when you launch your product or service that it has to be complete; that it has to be perfect. However, when you initially ‘launch’ your business, it is likely that you won’t have that many customers and not many people will care.

It can therefore be helpful to think about the idea of ‘launching’ as something you continuously do as a business owner or founder. Just as in life, we are always coming up with new ideas and re-inventing ourselves, the same principle can be applied to business. There is a constant need to reinvent how you operate, the products and services you offer and the value you bring to customers. In fact, it is likely, that you will never not be launching a new feature or a new component of your business.

Giving yourself the freedom to know that when starting a business, you won’t get everything perfect before launching and that you will likely pivot multiple times is so important. Understanding that it is okay to change and pivot your ideas and product at any point is critical to your success and staying agile. Luckily, for startups and smaller teams, especially if you don’t have too many customers just yet, the art of pivoting is much easier.

So what exactly is a pivot?

“A pivot usually occurs when a company makes a fundamental change to their business after determining (usually through market research) that their product isn’t meeting the needs of their intended market.”

As you gather feedback from customer interviews and initial users, you will certainly learn of ways to iterate and enhance your product or service. Some of these conversations may even give you insights as to how you can pivot to provide a product or service you had not originally considered. Sometimes this can be a startling realization that you are not addressing the customer’s real issue at all and sometimes it requires more of a minor adjustment.

“A company that is not quickly ideating and rapidly learning and changing assumptions in the beginning is probably not moving fast enough.” – Dalton Caldwell

In your quest for product market fit, it is important to allow yourself the ability to adapt and stay agile. It’s also important to remember that there is a fine line between understanding exactly what the customer’s problem is and then having the awareness and aptitude to adapt your solution to fit their needs.

So often I started side projects with the intention to try and have everything perfect before I “launched”. I wanted to have a perfect website and a product or service refined to a tee. But you know what, that slowed me down so much. I’d spend too much time obsessing over small features and enhancements without even getting customer interviews and asking what people were really looking for. I wasn’t being lean and I wasn’t being agile. I was not allowing myself the freedom to make changes and pivot further down the line. This ultimately led to stagnancy.

Another quote from an article I recently read is a great reminder why pivoting to meet the real consumer pain point can be a big win for you.

“Rachleff observes that if you look at the most successful startups, they actually didn’t have “the world’s best management teams in the very early days. They happened to have conceived, or more likely pivoted into, an idea that addresses an amazing point of pain around which consumers were desperate for a solution”.

Being strategic and knowing why you want to pivot is also important. The ability to change your idea and change your mind quickly is actually a strength, not a weakness. It shouldn’t feel like a monumental decision to pivot, especially if you are in the early stages.

It’s worth asking yourself these questions when you arrive at a point where you feel you want to pivot.

  • What is the reason for the change?
  • Why you want to change?
  • What you’re going to do?
  • What you expect to happen?

It’s also a helpful exercise to document your reasons for the pivot and what you expect the outcome of the pivot to be. Noting all of this and creating a timeline for yourself to execute against will be a good exercise to reference further down the line when reviewing your decision.

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