When developing a successful product, every entrepreneur faces a significant challenge: choosing when to pivot or stay the course. A pivot is a course correction structured to test a new foundational hypothesis about the product, model, and growth engine. Entrepreneurs must periodically ask themselves the simple question: Are our efforts sufficient to prove that our original strategic hypothesis holds?
Misguided decisions to persist are the greatest enemy of creative potential. If a company cannot pivot in a new direction based upon customer feedback, it can end up stuck in the land where the living is dead. This means the company is not growing and dying enough but still consuming the commitment of employees and others.
Startup productivity is more than just creating more features and widgets. It is about aligning your efforts with a company and product that will create value and grow. A successful pivot will help us develop a sustainable business.
Failure is the first step to learning. The problem with shipping a product and then waiting to see what happens is that you can’t guarantee success. But what happens after that? You’re bound to get five opinions from customers as soon as you start to have customers. Which should you listen to? The pivot requires us to keep our feet planted in the lessons we’ve already learned and make fundamental changes in our strategy to validate better what we’ve learned.
Ask any entrepreneur who has decided to pivot, and they will all tell you that it was a regrettable decision. This happens for three reasons.
- Entrepreneurs can use vanity metrics to draw false conclusions and create their reality.
- Entrepreneurs with unclear hypotheses are almost guaranteed to fail. Failure is often a sign of certainty.
- Many entrepreneurs are afraid. Facing failure can make it challenging to keep your morale up. Entrepreneurs’ greatest fear isn’t that their vision will be wrong. Even more terrifying is the possibility that the idea may be rejected without ever having had a chance to prove it.
Entrepreneurs should face their fears and be open to failure. Entrepreneurs with a high profile, either due to personal fame or being part of a famous company, face a different problem.
A clear-eyed and objective outlook is required when you decide to pivot. Startups often find it emotionally challenging and need to address it in a structured way. This can be avoided by scheduling the meeting ahead of time. I recommend that startups have a monthly “pivot and persevere” meeting. I have found that less than a couple of weeks is too long between sessions and more than a month is too rare. Each startup needs to determine its own pace.