Entrepreneurship is an emotional roller coaster ride. Day in and day out, you can never really know what to expect.

But there is one thing you can count on. At some point in your career, as an effective entrepreneur, you'll have to pivot. You'll need to change your strategy quickly and confidently. This ability is critical to success.

In the startup world, if you don't evolve, you'll go extinct. There's nothing easy about it, but here are five tips to help you pivot successfully.

Don't let fear get in the way

"You can't worry about the mistakes, because you're going to make a lot of them. You've got to be thinking about your next move." - Ben Horowitz @bhorowitz

Accept it: you're going to make mistakes. Don't let a fear of failure delay your reactions.

At one point with my current company, we tried marketing a new product for our business. It failed -- big time. Our business income went negative trying to scale it, and we couldn't prove there was long-term value in those customers.

The wimpy reaction would have been to just plug the leak and cut off marketing spend. Instead, we focused on growing the business. Right away, we developed a completely new strategy to scale and executed it.

Remember your customer

What do you really solve for customers? If things aren't going well and you need to make a change, let this question guide you. At my current company, we always put the customer first.

Last year, we decided we would provide our customers with a more modern UX. Our site didn't have an infinite scrolling feature, and it looked a little, well, old school. We decided to update our site.

To me, it certainly looked more hip. But weirdly, something about this new feature made conversion rates drop. Our customers didn't like it. So even though it looked cooler to me (and my whole team), we scrapped it.

Your end goal is to serve your customers. Do what they want, not what you want!

If you're unsure, rely on data

The idea of "going with your gut" only gets you so far. Whenever possible, look at data to guide your pivot.

As I mentioned before, we thought our customers would like the infinite scrolling update to our website. Subjectively, it looked better to me. But the cold, hard data told us otherwise. By tracking specific metrics (in this case, visitors and conversion rates), you paint an accurate picture of reality. Facts and data should always drive your pivots.

Have a backup plan

Worst-case scenario: You pick a direction, take action quickly, and it completely flops. How do you combat this? Have a backup plan.

My current company started as an online logo maker. But as we grew, we expanded into selling business cards. We tried to market business cards directly to a completely new set of customers, but after launch, we quickly saw we were losing money.

We switched gears and fell to our backup plan. Instead of direct customer acquisition, we combined our business card and logo tools in an upsell model. It worked, and this new product offering became profitable and is still growing today.

Be smart about your pivoting direction

Pivoting is extremely important. That said, the biggest startup mistakes I've seen are either pivoting too quickly or not fast enough. You have to make "educated" pivots.

With my old company, Performable, our initial product was landing page optimization. At the time, we were way ahead of Optimizely. We could have stayed that course, but we made many pivots, changed our product strategy, and ultimately sold the business.

Optimizely now has a valuation of over $500M. I think we could have reached that size. But instead, I've been able to complete a few more ventures.

There are many ways to skin a cat, and there are many directions in which you can pivot. But you have to do it. In the startup world, pivoting is a necessity, not a choice.

Published on: Mar 23, 2017