Or Is It Science and Art?
“pivit. Pivit! PIVET! PIVAAT!! PIVAT! PIIIIVAAAAAAAT”
Ross, when trying to move a couch up some stairs
In recent years business publications like Inc. have included the word “Pivot” in their list of buzzwords labeled “ overused,” “ ridiculous,” “ worst,” and “ to avoid.”
It is indeed an overused term: “Pivot” can mean making a change in just about any sense:
- A businessperson can pivot their goals to something more fruitful,
- a politician can pivot their viewpoints to avoid backlash,
- a speaker can take a question that might be on a specific subject and moving to answer it on their terms,
- a basketball player pivots forward and reverse,
- a user in Excel creates a pivot table,
- and anyone can “unpivot” at any time and go back to what they were doing before.
I also use it when I describe how Vendux was founded: There was no agency to help me find fractional sales leadership assignments. And so, I pivoted and built this agency.
Changes and adjustments are a natural part of operating a business. A business is always looking to optimize sales funnels, cut costs, and better understand the needs of its customers. In some situations, though, it may take more than slight refinements to keep a business going. Instead, you may need to look for innovative ways to pivot your business.
In the startup community, pivoting refers to a business change — ranging from mild to dramatic. It usually means to switch direction in how they make their revenue, often after their prior plan failed. When the first business model is not working (and this happens more often than not), the founder and his team pivot to plan B.
Alan Spoon notes: “ These are deep breath moments! But pivoting doesn’t necessarily mean desperation. It can be a tool to discover additional growth — growth you might otherwise have overlooked.”
There are a great number of examples of startup pivots, some successful and many others failing.
Jayson DeMers states that “ the prevalence of both a missing pivot and a pivot gone bad indicates that pivoting is an important option to consider for growing startups — but one that can go wrong. Given that a pivot could feasibly fix almost any other failure motivator on the list, pivoting shouldn’t be considered an act of desperation, but rather a reasonable response to some fairly common issues and conditions.”
The Startups Team comes to the conclusion that “ at the end of the day, the important thing to remember about pivoting is that change is just part of the startup process.”
But Larry Kim describes the negative impact of moving to Plan B: “ People need a bold vision to believe in, … But once you pivot and say, “Here’s another bold vision we should go after,” you’re also admitting that your prior bold vision was completely wrong.”
He also provides four excellent reasons why startup pivots usually never work:
1. The Investors lose confidence:
Pivot once? Shame on you. Pivot twice? You’ve lost me. Third pivot’s the charm? No! No! No!
2. The Sales team will leave
3. The Engineering team will leave
4. The entire team will tune out
But can you make a pivot successful? Apply a lot of science and a little bit of art, using the following tactics:
It was almost twelve (!) years ago that Todd Allen wrote in startupgrind.com: “ So is “pivot” the new “fail?” In terms of the Valley zeitgeist, it sure does seem to be catching up. In terms of literal definition, if you’re actively looking to pivot …, that means you’re actively looking to fail for the purpose of redeeming yourself. And that’s dangerous.”
Despite all the negatives expressed above, some companies are constantly pivoting. Or, to use a more positive phrase, they are continually re-imagining themselves. Should you, too?
Larry Kim — Why Startup Pivots Almost Never Work
Jayson DeMers — Is Pivoting a Last-Ditch Effort or a Sound Business Strategy?
The Startups Team — Everyone Pivots: The Truth About A Startup Pivot
Alan Spoon — What ‘Pivot’ Really Means
Todd Allen — Talk of Silicon Valley: Is “Pivot” the New “Fail”?
Photo by author