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6 Essentials of a Successful Pivot

Think your start-up needs a change of direction? Your plan to pivot will go badly awry unless you have these essentials.
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Pivot has become one of the most groan-worthy words in the world of start-ups. Overused and sloppily applied, a so-called pivot is often simply the last, dying thrashes of a misconceived business or the clueless obfuscation of a confused founder.

But it doesn't have to be this way, according to entrepreneur Ben Yoskovitz who is also a founding partner at Montreal accelerator Year One Labs. On his blog recently Yoskovitz shared his deck from a presentation he gave on pivots, noting that while the term is frequently used incorrectly, it is still possible to pivot well.

But if you are going to have even the slightest chance of a successful pivot, he writes, you need to start with a half dozen essentials. What are they?

  • Big vision. Without a big vision — without knowing where you want to go and why you’re doing things — you simply can’t weave your way there. Without a big vision, you’re weaving (or pivoting!) aimlessly. 
  • A deep understanding of the problem. Most entrepreneurs I speak with genuinely don’t understand the problem they’re trying to solve whether or not it’s worth solving. They haven’t dug into the problem enough. Or they’re trying to solve a universal truth. If you don’t understand the problems at their core, you can’t figure out how to pivot properly.
  • Validated learning. A pivot without actual learning is basically a “lazy pivot”. You’re deciding — on a whim, with no real evidence — that you should go do something else. And usually that lack of learning means you pivot somewhere half-ass, ending up at about the same point in your startup’s progress as you were before (not very far!)
  • Actual (falsifiable) hypotheses. Validated learning isn’t enough. You need falsifiable hypotheses that you can test against, otherwise it’s very difficult to know if your pivot is going well or not.
  • Metrics and lines in the sand. You need to know your One Metric That Matters and ideally you’ve got a target in mind. If you miss the target, you re-evaluate; if you hit that target, you have the confidence (and data) to move on to the next step.
  • A passion for the pivot. Entrepreneurs live on passion. Without it, you’ll fail, it’s as simple as that. So even if you have everything else ready to go for your pivot, if you don’t actually care about where you’re pivoting to, it won’t work.

Got these six things? Then go ahead and ponder a pivot, but be warned. "Pivots aren’t 'get out of startup failure free cards,' far from it. They lead to more intensity, more decisions, more uncertainty, and more hard work. But if you’ve decided it’s not time to quit, but time to pivot then do it properly and go for it," writes Yoskovitz.

Interested on more details about how to pivot right? Check out Yoskovitz's presentation, as well as some of his examples of companies that have executed a successful pivot. Or read the pivot wisdom of Lean startup guru Eric Ries here on Inc.com.

 Are you sick to death of the word pivot? 

Last updated: Jan 29, 2013

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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