It has become extremely sexy (and annoying) for entrepreneurs to throw out the buzzwords from the Lean Startup movement when talking to other entrepreneurs and investors about their venture.
For one, 80% of the people who use these words have never read any of the foundation books that cover the topic. For two, 99% of people don’t know what the hell Lean Startup really means.
The most abused term in the Lean Startup buzzword briefcase is Pivot.
I found a great blog post from the Godfather of the Lean Startup movement Steve Blank named Vision versus Hallucination – Founders and Pivots that provides awesome insight into Pivot abuse.
A pivot is a substantive change to one or more of components to your business model. You’re using “Pivot” as an excuse to skip the hard stuff – keeping focused on your initial vision and business model and integrating what you’ve heard if and only if you think it’s a substantive improvement to your current business model. There is no possible way you can garner enough information to pivot based on one customers feedback or even 20. You need to make sure it’s a better direction than the one you are already heading in.
So next time you even think about using the word PIVOT in a conversation about your business. STOP. Go read then reread this post from my man Steve Blank then reconsider whether or not you are really doing a pivot.
The concept of a pivot is hugely popular in the Silicon Valley startup community. So much so that it has begun to permeate the entire fabric of entrepreneurship around the world.
At it’s core, a pivot is a change in your business model, market, or solution in order to increase the chance that your business will take-off. For example, one type of pivot is that you could keep your market and solution the same, but change your business model.
Another type of pivot is that your business model and solution stays the same, but you change the market you are going after.
You can figure out the different scenarios you could create around these three pivot points. But in addition to these scenarios, there are also several more nuanced forms of a pivot. One of which is the zoom in pivot.
A zoom in pivot is when you take a single feature of your product and then make that feature your entire business.
Andrew chen does a great job elaborating on this idea of zoom in pivot on a blog post he titled Does your product suck? Stop adding new features and “zoom in” instead.
Chen states the main reason to use a zoom in pivot is if you experience the following scenario:
after a new product is launched, there’s a Trough of Sorrow where features are often added to try to spark traction. After a few months of this, and a few shifts in direction, it’s easy to get a Frankenstein product that tries to do too much.
Chen goes on to give a pretty good overview of how to launch and test the feature you are going to zoom in on. Check it the full post on his blog.
Yesterday, the founders of Fab.com made an announcement about a pivot the company was embarking on. The funny thing is, when you go look at their website it doesn’t look much different than what it looked like before.
From my perspective the main reason for this is because no matter what Fab does or becomes, the founders have one big thing at their core: Design. As the founder Jason Goldberg states:
My passion is user experience design.
Bradford’s passion is to design the stuff people live with.
Nishith, Deepa, and Sunil — our co-founders in India whom I’ve now had the pleasure of working with and starting companies with for nearly 7 years — are passionate about designing scalable technology.
Collectively, our one thing is Design.
The secret sauce here is that you can change the direction of your entrepreneurial dreams quite often and still be successful if you keep the one big thing at your core the same. People may not even notice you are changing direction if your core remains consistent.
One of the hardest things for any entrepreneur to do is to admit that their idea isn’t working and will never work. Entrepreneur Danielle Morrill did just this about 30 days ago with her startup Refer.ly. On a post in her blog, she gives some awesome advice about this tough, but valuable experience. Shes starts her post of by saying:
My greatest fear as a startup founder isn’t to fail, it is to become a zombie startup. Kind of like in the 6th Sense when Bruce Willis doesn’t realize he is dead and tries to have a nice dinner with his wife, there are startups out there who are still “operating” but might as well not be.
The basic advice she gives is that life is too short to waste it on something that you know isn’t going to work. My advice is that rebooting and starting fresh on another idea is not failure but a strategic decision to move forward. It is only failure if you give up the entrepreneurial dream forever.
Coincidentally, two of my favorite entrepreneur bloggers pinned a blog post covering the same topic yesterday. The first was from David Cummings in a post titled The Power of Sharing Ideas – Pivoting Pardot 1.0. The second was from Fred Wilson in a post titled You Are Working Too Hard And Not Getting Anywhere.
Both articles cover the topic of pivoting a business model. In the David Cummings post, the key trigger to know that it was time to pivot the business model came when an experienced mentor shared a new market idea. In the Fred Wilson post the trigger came when the team found they were working too hard to get too little results.
Both are worth reading. The key secret sauce is to always have your antennas up looking for signals that an alternative market may be a better fit for the product or service you are selling. In Fred Wilson’s words:
The moral of this story is sometimes you have the right product but the wrong business model. Fixing the business model can fix the company.