What is Pivot?
Ah, the Pivot, the magical word that represents a shift in strategy that start-ups undergo to find the right customer, value proposition and positioning.
In plain English “Pivot” really means that, instead on giving up on whole vision, it is O.K. to change your strategy when you stumble upon something that will work better and customers love. And the sooner you do it the better off you are…
Apple “pivoted” from computer kits into all-in-one computers and then exploded, YouTube pivoted from its origins as a dating site, Groupon went from organizing social advocacy campaigns to a massive (sales driven) daily deals site, Google was once a research project “BackRub” that pivoted into the world’s biggest search and advertising engine, Twitter grew out of the podcasting company Odeo, etc. Show me any successful company and I will tell you about their moment when they stumbled onto something so amazing they were willing to give up on their original strategy/vision and go all in.
Examples of pivoting are everywhere and thanks to advocates like Eric Ries and others, it is now accepted as the de-facto way to go if you are serious about your startup (idea) making it.
The challenge is that you can not really plan, schedule and proactively stumble upon something. Or can you?
Read on to find out.
Let’s cut out all the buzz, step back and look at it from 10000ft perspective.
Every startup businesses, since the world existed was really in the business of “behavior innovation”. In other words, every successful business managed to do one thing well, and that is to innovate and change people did something for better. This innovation can be build in the product itself, way product is used, way it is sold, priced or packaged, or even service around it.
If that true, then starting company is nothing but decision to start an experiment. And that pivot moment is just moment of true discovery, moment of true innovation of something so valuable to so many people, that people are willing to change way they do something and love it.
What I am getting at is that you can look at company and especially startups as an experiments, a high risk journey not much different from that undertaken by explorers and innovators, where you can not expect to know what you will discover from day one. So one should be ready to fail over and over again as part of the process, and keep mind open.
For 20 years I have been working in the internet/mobile industry, in roles of developer to founder and everything in between. But in the last few years, I have been focusing on mentoring in the role of advisor, consultant, investor or co-owner and have been lucky to see the intimate ins & outs of over a hundred startups.
I found out that it is a challenge to advocate pivoting for two specific reasons: First, people don’t really know how to pivot. It just seems to happen to all those successful companies. It’s not like there’s a manual on it.
Secondly, some people misuse the concept of pivoting to not follow-through on their original plan. Such is the case when the original plan is already great, but needed some good old execution and follow through. Since this is a huge subject on its own, I will address this in a later post.
I took on this challenge, turned many rocks, had insights, developed a method, tested it a lot and came back to report about it. And now with certainty I can claim that if you are willing to get a bit creative and do few small steps I will ask you to do, you will have your own insights that will save you months, if not years of trial and error in your business. Woooo hooo, big promise. But can I deliver, or will I just “pivot” half way thought the post?
THE CRAZY PARADOX and CHANGING THE WAY WE DO THINGS
The ‘Crazy Paradox’ is that the pivot is never waiting WHERE, HOW, AND WHAT YOU THINK IT IS, so keep your mind open, chill out and join the ride.
Great Pivots, just like any great discovery, were never planned, they were stumbled upon. If you doubt this, answer the question: Why didn’t any of the businesses mentioned above finished the first thing they pivoted away from?
Some will say what about all modern research. Are all labs the fraud. I say sure, with enough time and resources you can plan tuneups, for example organize research to improve a pre-existing drug to be 10% more effective, or plastic that is 13.4% more durable and bio degradable, or 20% increase of page views on an existing site in 2014. But, I am talking about true discoveries here: inventing penicillin, plastic and airbnb.com in this case.
Since discoveries are not something you can plan for, it is safe to assume you can not plan what they will be good for, who will benefit from them and where.
For those who are still wondering if this is all true, these are exclusive excerpts from the project plan diaries of some big discoveries:
- TODO: Discover America. "I will go to India in a new direction and on the way there stumble upon some new continent which will later be called America." ~ Christopher Columbus - TODO: Invent Penicillin. "Let's see, I will make the mistake of not putting all of my plates in bleach to sterilize them, and then leave the lab windows open. When I come back from holiday, I will notice that lots of my culture plates are moldy, invent penicillin and save million of lives. Something like that... have to go to vacation now, in a hurry." Alexander Fleming - TODO: Invent Microwave. "I will experiment with my new vacuum tube (magnetron) and I will put a candy bar in my pocket that will began to melt, so I will then try using popcorn. And bada bing, bada boom, no more home cooking..." ~ Percy Spencer
Yes it is joke. But bottom line what will help you is if you think of starting company as starting of experiment or exploration and the Pivot as an invention or discovery, — in other words, a willingness to get lost and explore off the map and make that “magic mistake”.
So open your mind wide and stay very flexible. If you will do this, you need to be willing to stay foolish, break things, make mistakes and treat failures as lessons, data points that will help you succeeded in your experiment. That is the state of mind that will allow you to discover and push yourself beyond the limits of your current beliefs.
Dramatic change or nothing
As I mentioned before, the fruition of all great ideas, inventions, products and businesses allowed the human race to DRAMATICALLY CHANGE (and improve) THE WAY they were doing something already. Below, I have listed the seven primary types of change for better, along with examples of businesses that did it well:
Before - Hard: Imagine yourself trying to a rent cheap nice looking, functional apartment (not hotel) in Paris, France. Obviously you want it in specific part of the city, from person that is commonly considered really good host. Oh yes, you don’t know anybody in France as you never been there. Not hard enough? Try Hvar, Croatia.
After - Easy: type Airbnb.com in your browser, search, browse pictures, plug in your credit card and you are on your way.
Before - Slow: There is something going on 3000 miles from you, 7 days later you read about it in your local newspaper.
After - Fast: The moment it happened, a person you follow in your industry posted it online and your Twitter app is going bling-bling…
3: Doubt into Trust (http://yelp.com)
Before - Doubt: Planning on where to eat based on reading reviews of a food critic, with his own specific personal preferences and taste. It sure does not help that he is used to receiving bribes in the form of fancy wines and free dinners, and he is hired because he knows how to write and make money for the magazine.
After - Trust: Make a decision based on an average of thousands of ratings made by people that are just like me, mixed with GPS locators so I can get info at any time, anywhere, and for free…
4: Boring into Fun (http://facebook.com)
Before - Boring: In order to stay in touch with my friends I need to call them once in a while and run through the good old routine: “Hey, how are you?”, “Good, good, and you?”, “Good, good, hey what is new?” “Oh, same old, you?…
After - Fun: Browsing your friends’ photos, stories, ability to customize your feed, stalking your ex, getting vanity affirmations in the form of likes… games…Keeping in touch with friends was never so much fun. You might disagree with this, but then 500+ million addicts disagree with you.
5: Impossible into possible (http://ebay.com)
Before - Impossible: Find the only guy, 5 states (or countries) away that have a used, modified muffler for my Hypermotard 1100s bike
After - Possible: Go to ebay and hit search, pay with card, receive package in mail.
6: Hassle into indispensable (http://amazon.com)
Before - Hassle: I am buying a new TV, and in order to find a good model and the right price I will drive to 5 big stores, then borrow my neighbor’s truck to bring it home. Then stop at the drug store to get my multivitamin and bottled water, and then drive into book store and spend an hour looking through titles to see if something is interesting…
After - Indispensable: A few searches, with auto-matching the lowest price in the country and free 2-day delivery with my amazon premium. And while I’m at it, let me buy some bottled water, multivitamins, and a top-reviewed ebook for me to read this month (wirelessly delivered instantly).
7: Ugly and clumsy into simple and beautiful (http://apple.com)
I don’t think I need to explain this one as it is used as an example in every freaking book on entrepreneurship. Yes, the bitten apple company.
What is all this good for?
It was preparation for a little exercise you can do, to save yourself a lot of time and prime your brain for what might pop in your brain months and years later otherwise. Try it, let me know how you like it. If you feel extra brave post your results bellow.
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