To Pivot or To Persevere

Jenny Chu
To Pivot or To Persevere

Pardon the overused Shakespearean title, but seriously… THAT’S a hard question.

So here you are, testing your amazing product to only find, after several MVP iterations and tests, you are not really finding much success or validation. At this point of the journey, you stop and reflect. Do you quit, stick or pivot? Out of all of them, pivoting is probably the easiest decision to make. However, pivoting too early on a great solution or pivoting too late on a bad solution could cost you.

Pivoting is a common concept that affects almost all startups — it’s a complete miracle if your solution solves the problem adequately on your first try! A pivot is essentially a change to the original business model after the idea fails to “take off”. Pivoting can be good, as it probably means that you are pursuing something that would be more lucrative. But if you pivot too much, it might be a bad sign that things are not going to well.

It’s OK To Pivot

Many of the world’s most successful startups or companies did not start off doing what they currently do. A classic and over-used example is Facebook, which used to be a site for young men to check out and rate their female peers (arguably people still use it for this), before they pivoted towards being a social network platform that sells user data. In fact, there are many successful startups that pivoted multiple times to become huge successes.
However, it is important that many of these startups that became huge successes, pivoted very early in their career. The timing of your pivot is incredibly important as it can send bad signals to stakeholders that you are not confident with your own product.

When You Should Pivot

If you are already asking yourself this question, there is a chance that your startup is ready for a pivot. While there are no golden rules on deciding when you should pivot, here are some reasons as to why certain startups pivot:

  • There are greater opportunities in other aspects of the business. Often, startups can start off to be extremely complex, and later find real business opportunities in certain features or services they offer. For example, Flickr began as an online role-playing game called Game Neverending. The photo-sharing tool in the game became the most popular aspect of the game and Flickr was born.
  • Not being able to compete. Sometimes, it is important to admit defeat, particularly when your competitors are tech giants like Apple. Twitter used to be Odeo, a network that allowed people to subscribe to podcasts. However, iTunes was taking over the podcast niche and the company needed a drastic change to survive, so they created Twitter.
  • Passions change. It is hard to run a startup when you are driven by something else. Starbucks originally sold coffee machines and beans. After getting inspired in Italy, Howard Schultz (current chairman and CEO) was determine to sell fresh-brewed coffee customers in a European-style coffee house.
  • Customers are disengaged. If there are no users using your app… that is perhaps one of the biggest give-aways that you should consider changing something. Instagram began as Burbn, an over-engineered app that included gaming and photo elements. The creators made a right call to simplify all of the features but one: photos.
Pivot Wisely

Failure happens to everyone. Pivoting is a great way to find opportunities in those failures. However, you cannot pivot every time you “fail”; it’s a sign of uncertainty in the business. Pivoting more than once or twice is a red sign to your investors (and potential investors) and your team. That’s why, it’s important to validate and test your assumptions before you jump onto another ship.
Some even say that a pivot is a change in strategy without a change in the vision. Whatever it is, it is important to link your decision to pivot to your vision and your why and hopefully, you will find the way.