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For many startups a pivot can turn into a wobble and then disaster!
28th July 2014

A 'pivot' is one of those jargonish terms startups use to describe 'Oh shit! We need to be doing this instead of that!'. 

Its a way of saying that a. either we got it wrong from the start or b. what we are doing isn't working, so plan B. There are degrees of pivots. Some startups pivot completely like starting out as an online clothes retailer and turning into travel agents. Others pivot more slightly, changing, adjusting their initial strategies.

A 'slight' pivot or adjustment can be the first warning signs of danger.

I have seen this many times. The startup founders suddenly start tinkering with the overall strategy. Now startups are meant to be flexible and like war we have to adapt as per the situation. But if you are going to start tinkering with the initial strategy, you should better have very good damn reason.

Pivots / adjustments can be knee jerk reactions to competitors or outside influences.

I am amazed at how much a few loose comments can affect startup founders. The fear that they might be getting it wrong is so much below the surface. A careless word in the ear can prompt them to turn their plans upside down. I have seen solid reliable plans junked simply because the startup team got jittery or intimidated by something external.

The myth of the instant hit and what you actually do may not matter as much as how well you do it or for how long.

Many startups wobble around because their founders are trying to create a hit right off the bat. That is a statistical improbability! Only one in a million startups will be a Facebook or Twitter. The rest have to slowly and steadily work their way up the food chain. The long and grinding road will force you to change strategies and adapt anyways. The pre-launch post-launch jitters are completely unncessary.

Too many cooks spoil the broth or the startup.

The founders have a clear idea and a clear goal. Their vision is simple. As they proceed ahead, more people join, more ideas get thrown in. Soon what was crystal clear gets muddied and diluted. Eventually the startup reaches a point of no clarity and fails. The new entries might be team members, VCs or just well wishers. The startup founders have to carefully guard their precious ideas from contamination.

The final victory will go to those with balls, self belief and clarity.

What I love about Amazon.com story is how the founder stuck to his guns and never allowed himself to be swayed from what he wanted to do. Amazon did not pivot in the middle (although there were many opportunities). The founder had the courage of his convictions. Sometimes the bottom falls out of markets and sometimes its simply foolish to continue on the same path. But unless the reason is absolutely compelling, there is not justification for a pivot. There are enough cases out their to startups who tried to do too much and ended up road kill. Cheers, Ron

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