Pivot but Don’t Pirouette

I love ideas. I love coming up with them, hearing them, working on them. To me, ideas are exercise for the brain. They allow us to explore new territory and stretch our imagination. Some work, some don’t, and we learn a great deal from either outcome.

But ideas also have a dark side by serving as shiny, new objects that distract us from getting and staying focused, one of the key attributes of successful entrepreneurs.

In the past few years, ever since lean startup has taken root as a methodical approach to startups, the word “pivot” has become part of the entrepreneur’s vocabulary. Yes, it’s a little overused, mocked in some cases, and a turnoff to many investors. The word has become watered down, reflecting any change in strategy or tactic, basically a synonym for “adapt” or “shift” (I’ll cover what pivot really does, and should, mean in a future post).

The ideas for those changes often come from others: fellow entrepreneurs, competitors, vendors, friends, customers, and mentors. In fact, I believe the latter group is responsible for much of it, mostly because mentoring itself has become watered down, as I wrote last week.

To wit, a couple months ago I had lunch with Nick Rosa, of Sandbox Industries and one of the co-founders of Excelerate Labs. He expressed a concern that some of the past Excelerate companies have pivoted too much during the 12-week program. In doing so, he believed they got away from their missions and the core problems they were trying to solve. As he said so concisely, “It’s fine to pivot, just don’t pirouette.”

I love that quote because it captures the essence of constant pivoting: the founders start going in circles and lose touch with why they first went into business. And often times, it’s because “mentors” share ideas and advice on what the startup could or should do.

Mentors need to be careful when they do that, offering guidance on what the founders should think about and do before taking action. And entrepreneurs need to be careful when they act on that advice, thinking through the impact of doing so…and the frequency of their actions.

3 comments

  1. Chris Finlay

    Nice. I have wondered about this a bit. When the prevailing winds say pivot, how often are people taking the advice on too early or too far because popular narratives say that is the way to go? There is something about digging deep to find the core values, as you said in your last post on vision, and making sure that those values are still being expressed in the project. If those values are being totally blown away then it would seem that you are likely to be looking at a pirouette or worse rather than a tight pivot.

    The term “pivot” probably deserves some more analysis as it is easy to assume we all know what is meant by it. To me, it means a tight, sharp turn and when I visualize it, I feel like it is a basketball player looking for a pass or to make the next move. Focused, strategic, and ready as possible in dynamic conditions. There is probably something about scope, scale and impact as variables for considering what a pivot is or should be.

    Thoughts?

    • Raman Chadha

      Well said, Chris. I’m not sure if pivot is a “tight, sharp turn” or something more subtle but I agree it requires more analysis and debate. The more we talk about it, the more I believe startup founders will think deeply about making them.

  2. Pingback: Recap of Posts from May 2012 | ramanations

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