There is nothing quite like having to be honest with yourself, especially when it’s about something that isn’t exactly positive. Historically, us humans are experts at avoiding these confrontations. But before we delve into the intricacies of the human psyche, I’ll narrow it down to one specific, and highly relevant, group that sees itself constantly at a crossroads when it comes to getting real about what is working and what is not.
Entrepreneurs can often have difficulties pinpointing when it’s time to switch gears in their business. Their focus on a specific idea, or project, or even on processes that have worked before, can blur their vision and hide the fact that a change is necessary. The dreaded “pivot,” or substantive change to a business model, is not necessarily the hardest part of the process- once you’ve detected the alternative, the work follows. But it’s the timing and the ability to recognize the need, and localize the solution, that is challenging.
Ideas Must Go Through a Process
Some of the most successful and influential companies have emerged from inevitable pivots. Twitter, for example, began as Odeo, a company focused on finding and subscribing to podcasts. Starbucks’ founders did not envision it to be the international coffee giant it has become, but had started off selling expresso makers and coffee beans.
“We all know Nintendo for innovating and inspiring an era of mass-produced video games, such as Super Mario and Donkey Kong,” says Jason Nazar, contributor to Forbes magazine. “However, the company existed several centuries before that, and dabbled in producing everything from playing cards to vacuum cleaners, instant rice, a taxi company and even a short-stay hotel chain (also called a ‘love hotel,’ I’ll leave it up to you to figure out what that is).”
Although these stories are essential sources of inspiration and help us understand the process that ideas must undergo to become great, there is much more behind them. Aside from accepting the possibility of a pivot, deciding when to do it is not easy. “Few startup ideas are perfect right out of the gate. That’s why it’s important to recognize when you might need a course correction in your idea, pitch, product or execution,” says Paula Andruss for Entrepreneur.
Knowing When to Pivot
You should be willing to mold your ideas in accordance to what your customers want without losing the essence of the brand. If you listen carefully, you don’t have to look far or think too hard about what course you must follow. When you’re in sync with your surroundings, when you pay attention to what your audience is saying, when you are open to change, that’s when pivoting can happen. Otherwise, you risk being stuck in the same conundrum, wondering why the numbers aren’t showing your progress, or why your business isn’t taking off.
A time to pivot is when you recognize an element in your business that is pulling people’s interest more that your initial product or idea. It’s essential to be aware of the possibilities that may arise from the specific elements your business offers. The answer to whether you should pivot or not is often found within these recognitions. Entrepreneurship is what it is because it’s malleable. Pain points for clients vary, and your business elements can be adapted to them.
Niche products exist for this reason. Even when you are not thinking of pivoting, it’s often easier to have a niche product than it is to have one that tries to encompass everyone’s needs and wants. When you focus on one target market, then it is less likely that you should have to pivot. In the case that you do, this focus will help you start over more efficiently.
When considering if, or not, to pivot, it helps to think of the competition. Are they doing better by selling the same thing you are? If the answer is yes, and you can’t find that differentiating factor that will put your business ahead of theirs, then it’s time to pivot. In these circumstances, it’s essential to remember that just because something has worked in the past doesn’t mean that it will continue working now.
Another time to consider a change of direction, according to Bernard Moon from Venture Beat, is if you’re constantly having to educate the market. “If you’re constantly educating your target users and trying to create a market, then you’re probably too early. This is a long and arduous process that should lead you to pivot.”
The best advice any entrepreneur can get is to be constantly perceiving changing trends and consumer needs, just as they should be aware of their own goals, talents, and limitations. Success rises from this awareness. You might begin with one idea, but if you are not open to the possibility of the purpose of your business changing, you might miss an opportunity to build something equally great.
The Process of Pivoting
The process of pivoting is a mix of acceptance of change and following through with it. If you sense that some sort of modification is necessary, it’s because it probably is. So, what do you do once you’ve gone through the first step of welcoming change?
To put it briefly, first analyze your situation. “If something is going wrong, there is usually an explanation. Why is your plan not working?” asks Neal Patel in his 12-Step Guide to Pivoting Your Startup.
Next, look at your alternative options, and seek outside opinions from people who you trust, but who aren’t directly involved in the project. This will help you get a fresh perspective, and you might arrive at a solution you hadn’t thought of before.
Gather your ideas and plan. A pivot can be a test of a new business plan, so don’t get discouraged if you find you need to pivot again later.
Finally, look forward. This is the hardest part, because we all grow some level of attachment to our ideas, especially if they are projects we have been building for a long time. Leave the “what if’s” behind. Your focus should be new, clear, and in the now.