Posted January 27th, 2012 by Nathan Furr with No Comments
By Nathan Furr, Author of the Lean Startup Book – Nail It Then Scale It
The word pivot has become incredibly popular among entrepreneurs to represent the idea that entrepreneurs should test their assumptions, then adjust (or pivot) when they learn something new—in other words, course correct. The idea is powerful and helped push entrepreneurs in the right direction by making them realize that they need to change to capture an opportunity. But recently I’ve begun to worry—in the flurry of enthusiasm for pivots, many entrepreneurs have come to believe pivots will save them, but they can kill you too! Here’s how.
The Pivot Trap
Pivots are a powerful tool to adjust when you find out your assumption is wrong. However, as I observe entrepreneurs that I mentor and in the Lean Startup Research Project which I lead, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend: many entrepreneurs pivot endlessly but never really seem to capture an opportunity. It leads them to a long and painful death, even if they danced like a butterfly on the way there. How could that be? Wasn’t the point of pivoting to help you capture an opportunity faster and better than stubbornly refusing to alter your plan? Yes, pivoting helps you adjust but let me explain the trap.
Local Hills versus Distant Peaks
Let me borrow a metaphor from strategy that will help frame the discussion. When strategy academics get together, we sometimes describe competition in terms of a landscape filled with valleys, hills, and peaks. The ultimate goal when scaling a business for an entrepreneur is to find a peak—a really big opportunity—and climb to the top. However, I observe entrepreneurs falling into the following trap: entrepreneurs often start on a hill (not the big peak, but a modest opportunity) and then begin pivoting. Each pivot helps them climb a little closer to the top of the hill, which feels like progress because things are improving, but in fact you are only getting a little closer to a modest summit—one that may not actually be a business that supports you or be the big splash you were dreaming about. All the while, entrepreneurs (because they are pivoting and making progress) forget to look around for the big peaks—the really big opportunities.
What Pivots Should Feel Like
So what should successful pivots look and feel like? From my experience and observations, you should make a handful of pivots (three, four, maybe five) and then really see your customers’ eyes light up. After a few pivots you should see a sudden spike in interest and the feeling like you just discovered a big opportunity. Then after that you will make some more pivots, maybe many more pivots, which help you optimize the big opportunity. However, it shouldn’t feel like you are endlessly making small pivots with small results. If you feel that way, I would challenge you to ask yourself the question—have I found the big mountain yet and am I satisfied with the hill where I am sitting now. You may not need a pivot—you may need a leap.
Take a Look Around
In closing let me say that these are general observations that are emerging from the Lean Startup Research Project, I conducted and from my experience mentoring startups. Of course, there are no universal laws and some entrepreneurs will pivot many times before finding the mountain. The point though is though: don’t forget to take a look around before you endlessly optimize. In closing, remember, pivots are good in general, but pivots are not the point! Capturing the big mountain is the point.
Tags Lean Startup Book
Written by Nathan Furr