The Power of the Pivot


Pivot. The word can be taken many ways but it seems lately entrepreneurs have adapted it from it’s roots in basketball. When a basketball player pivots it means they firmly plant one foot on the floor and use the non-stationary foot to swivel from side to side until they can make a better short or pass.

Pivoting in the startup world is how smart people turn failing businesses into thriving ones and how new businesses often find their market. Though surprisingly simple, pivoting is often something most entrepreneurs refuse to do. Instead they’ll stick doggedly to their original idea and first notion of what their business should look like, this attitude will be one that takes their business all the way to the grave.

Why Pivoting is Essential

Think of the people you know who set out to “start a blog”, “build a business” or heaven forbid “make money blogging”. Probably a good number of these people have failed, maybe there blog is still up or perhaps there business is still limping along but in no way have they become the fantastic success they aimed for. Why?

Well if you take a cursory look at businesses that fail you’ll see loads of excuses from the would-be entrepreneur. Excuses like:

It was a bad market

Google/Facebook/Problogger started doing exactly what I was doing and I couldn’t compete

People just didn’t understand

I had a bad team

I had a bad co-founder

Well it was right after the market crashed

All of these excuses, are just that, big, fat, excuses. If failed entrepreneurs had pivoted and kept pivoting they would have eventually found a shot they could make.

Pivot Wisely

But pivoting isn’t as simple as just moving around, proper pivoting depends on the information input you are getting in about your market and about your customer. If you don’t have that you’ll just pivot in a circle and eventually fall down.

Let’s say your business or blog isn’t doing as hot as you’d like. Traffic is abysmal and profits aren’t even strong enough to buy you a swirly cone. So you take your business from path A to path B. But what was your pivot based on? If you answer “well this seemed better” I’ll slap you and you’ll just fail again. Double whammy. But if you get smart and realize that path A didn’t work because you weren’t really talking to your potential customers and getting a solid idea of what market need you are filling, then I’ll give you a hug and you’ll succeed.

It’s as simple as getting out from behind the computer and via skype, the phone or in person and getting people who are in your target market to give their opinion on whether your business “assumptions” are correct or not.

If they aren’t – you can fix them. You’ll answer that strong need in the market and you can just keep tweaking your assumptions until you finally hit the sweet spot. Most people will never get past the product creation stage, but remember the customer discovery stage and the multiple pivots to follow are what separates the entrepreneurs from the wantrepreneurs.

Extended reading for the few that matter: Read The Four Steps to the Epiphany and send me an email when you get to the end of it, if it doesn’t change your mindset about business and completely rework your startup’s focus – well I’ll let you call me names.

  • Yakezie

    You’ll be surprised how much some bloggers make Maren!

  • Ali Davies

    I think your point about blaming the market is very apt in the current economic climate. Some businesses are flying despite the challenging economy. Many are failing. So the question I think it is imporatnt to ask is, “what do you have to do to be in the group that is flying”.

    I love your pivoting analogy. Being willing to takle different moves and angles is key to success and what those who are flying do. The word that jumped to mind when I read your post was “adapt”. Out willingness/ability to adapt is essential. Reminds of this quote by Chalres Darwin:

    “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change” -Charles Darwin

  • Collin Vine

    Maren, it definitely doesn’t take getting to the end of the Four Steps for it to change your biz mind; It took me the introduction. Thanks for the recommendation

    Pivot and iterate, over and over again until you’ve discovered your customers and the product that will work – that’s what I’m learning.

    I’m looking forward to Eric Ries book that’s coming out in the Fall. It should be loaded with nuggets of lean startup gold.

  • Maren Kate

    Yeah I totally agree – Eric Riess is my new hero :)

  • Maren Kate

    I know they can make a ton! But I mean making money online by telling people how you make money on line… to me I think that stuff is shady. Lots of people make money blogging in honest ways :) Those people I support.

  • Maren Kate

    I like that quote :) I’m finding that out myself!

  • Ashok Amaran

    I’m always confused about this and maybe its because my “business” is more about providing my own services. So its like a freelance career but doing it with a few others under a business name. Is this still applicable? Would it be like offering similar services or focusing on one type of service?

  • Maren Kate

    Absolutely – whether you are a solopreneur or a freelancer this is applicable. Say you focus on web design and you see you just aren’t getting the traction you need. Then it’s time to pivot and go into the vertical of “web design for realtors” or something that niches you down a little bit and shifts your focus so you can be more profitable.

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  • Vixen Campbell

    Though surprisingly simple, pivoting is often something most
    entrepreneurs refuse to do. Instead they’ll stick doggedly to their
    original idea and first notion of what their business should look like, this attitude will be one that takes their business all the way to the grave.