There’s Too Much Hype Around Pivoting

What is it these days with startups changing directions. Every time a founder and their team decides that their original idea needs a tweak or even a substantial modification, the WebSphere instantly churns out a slew of tweets, podcasts and articles many of which clearly question the decision. This is just the tip of the iceberg, founders get a wave of rejection from most of their close friends, family, advisors and investors and often enough, members of their own team. What was originally a well thought out and measured decision, to keep the project afloat, becomes a heated free-for-all debate were the last man standing claims victory.

No wonder founders cringe at the idea and often delay (at their own risk) this strategic step towards success.

Let’s take a step back and see why this seemingly ‘natural’ step in the evolution of a startup becomes an obstacle and frequently, because of bad timing, leads to failure. Every stakeholder in a startup is linked to the founders by a ‘relationship’ and this invisible, but cherished connection, is impervious in regards to investment of either time or money. Just like in personal relations, no one wants to see their interests affected by some external ‘need’, however important that may be to the future of the project. So in the face of ‘change’, potentially altering the precious tie they have in place, they resist and make it difficult for the founders to move forward. The majority of people associated with a startup will never admit to this, preferring to point out with masterful grammar and Ivy School self-confidence, that ‘pivoting’ is actually a direct effect of substantial ‘product / market fit’ work (they advised) or, a result of some major socio-economic trend affecting an entire industry worldwide. Whatever the excuse, people like to talk about ‘pivoting’ because it gives them the opportunity to get in the conversation and make a statement.

The problem with that is, it’s not their project.

There are literally encyclopaedias full of definitions of what an ‘entrepreneur’ is or what separates them from a lot of their fellow human beings. A founder is someone who executes an idea (vs just talking about it), brings it out into the open air, let’s it loose and refines it as they move along. But what ‘entrepreneurs’ do once their project is alive is basically what anyone would do if you’re on a ‘path to a destination’ and something unexpected comes up; change course. So why all the fuss? Pivoting is just a sexy name that is making headlines in the digital world where elsewhere, it’s just business as usual. Anyone in the arts (music, film, artists, photography, writers) ‘pivot’ all the time, researchers and teams in life sciences, engineering & architecture do it constantly and even schoolteachers, with their brood of perpetual evolving youth, pivot daily.

Too much is being said about ‘pivoting’ and not enough about ‘execution’. If a team hasn’t built a ‘finished & polished’ product or service and put it in the hands of their users / customers, then ‘pivoting’ is useless and a waste of time. I don’t read much about ‘pivots’ anymore because the interesting stuff lies in the creation, shipping and dialogue with end customer phases which is where the value lies and conversation should stay. Pivoting is just the fraction of time between projects or ideas, something we all do daily between our endless flow of chores and there’s no point dwelling there for any longer.