You can’t read an article on a startup these days without hearing about a “pivot.” A pivot is just as it sounds, a swivel, a twist, a change of direction. Turning on an axis and swapping direction without dismissing the core idea.
It’s a tricky proposition, but more startups are pivoting because opportunity will only knock so many times, and if you’re not behind the right door, waiting, you’ll miss out.
Technology changes, ideas evolve, and the landscape shifts. A startup needs to be nimble. 2012 may be the year of the pivot, but as someone who recently underwent a pivot after nearly three years of staying a course, I’m a firm believer that you need to get three key things right for a successful pivot.
When you pivot you’ll want to think about your pitch and who your pitch is geared towards. This is the future, and if you’re not pivoting to make the world a better place, you might want to reconsider your positioning. Be bold, be brave. You already have a foundation if you’ve gotten to a pivot point, so don’t be timid. Investors are going to want to see vision and reason for the ambitious new direction you’re taking.
The pivot and the pitch are intertwined. The pivot affects the pitch. Every degree you pivot, your pitch is going to shift. Investors are going to want to understand exactly why you’re changing. You need to have an explanation besides, “Uh, it seemed like a good idea.” If you’ve stalled and this is the injection your startup needs to bring it back to life and add profitability to the mix, prioritize that. If you’re hoping to cash in on a trend, well, you might want to reconsider your pivot.
Community! Crowdsourcing! Audience! Members! Whatever you call your community, it’s important to consider them as you embark on your pivot. When we switched focus and went the white label route, we transformed from a B2C business to B2B. Our audience couldn’t be more different, and we had to rebrand accordingly. We left behind a lot of our consumer focus text and copy in favor of a more business friendly brand. Our language, culture, and branding had to change in a month’s time. It was a tough decision, because we had to pull back our community involvement to invest in a bright future.
Instead of abandoning our old sites and burning bridges, we put in place mechanisms to ensure the community received our attention despite our new focus. We incorporated the blog onto our new site and sent out a newsletter to the community to let them know about the change. We explained to them the why and how, and that their current site wasn’t going to change. They seemed supportive, especially our early adopters who have been following the company forever. After three years they were able to see our site morph into a brand new being.
Pivoting often means changes, investments, and moving onto new ventures. Like a snake shedding its skin, if you pivot you’ll be leaving behind resources built by your staff. Thousands of lines of code may be unnecessary, marketing and branding initiatives may mutate, and there might be lingering questions. It’s more important than ever to make sure your team is on the same page. Your staff needs to understand the reasoning, the impetus, and the purpose of the pivot. Are they on board? Do they understand that this uphill venture may mean issues in GitHub get left behind, possibly forever.
Educate your team and staff about the reasoning of this pivot. Explain the Who, What, Where, When, Why. Share the business plan, make a PowerPoint before you begin the pivot and ensure your gang is on the same page and facing the same direction. You don’t want to pivot and find out that your team is misaligned. Your staff is the genius and engine powering the startup. If there’s one rocket that’s misfiring or off balance, it’s going to cost you time and money.
Pivot with Pitch, People, and Personnel
Communication is important throughout the pivot process. Transparency goes a long way, much more than fancy branding or marketing talk can. FAQs, rebranding, and any communication tools (or even alerting the media) about your pivot can make it a huge success.
By acknowledging that it’s time to pivot, you’ve grown as a startup. Don’t look back.
Eric Silver is the founder of WebKite, a company that helps users to make easier and better decisions. After serving two years in the Peace Corps and two more in business school, Eric joined McKinsey. He was hired away from McKinsey to work with ModCloth as their Chief Marketing Officer and Interim Chief Financial Officer. After leaving ModCloth, Eric learned to program and wrote a working alpha release of Pikimal.com in 2010, the framework for WebKite.com.
[Top image credit: topten22photo/Shutterstock]