The Art of the Pivot

In the startup world, pivoting is all the rage.

Pivots happen when you realize that your first plan isn’t working. So what do you do? I discuss with John Mavriyannaki from Soroc Technology the "art of the pivot".More

“Pivot” is a de rigueur word at many investor meetings. The term often appears in business media rags. “Simple-steps to a pivot” quickly becomes a Linkedin meme. What does it mean to a startup to pivot?
“Pivot” will be the next Agile. Something that begins in start-ups and then gets adopted all the way up to the enterprise. Start-ups are realizing that a Pivot strengthens them. Investors or enterprises need to let go of the fear or culture that Pivot means they got it wrong.
Absolutely. The word PIVOT is too often associated with making a mistake. This originates in the political humbug of campaign speak. Pivot is too often associated with practice of ducking uncomfortable issues or questions.
In business the word PIVOT appears to play a crucial role. It builds in a healthy assumption that a startup cannot divine the future of their products. Do many upstart founders understand this or does this need to be learned the hard way?
There is no perfect plan - neither in a start up nor an enterprise. And a Pivot isn’t always the answer either. Tech looking for a home can have a start-up Pivot every 3 months and never get to market as they chase butterflies. Pivot or Not - the requirement is Leadership.
Leadership is key: a pivot should not be an excuse for a lack of a coherent strategy. However, do you not find that even the best leaders become such evangelists for their product/service that they need fresh eyes to redirect the compass?
Leadership is key - because there is no simple or complex eqn to solve when. We are working with a company that is well past the point of pivot and because of lack of leadership and a commitment/appeasement culture needing 30+ execs to change a Blockbuster future is clear
Good old Winston Churchill, the political pivot king said, “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”
Let’s look at some pivots that would make Winston proud: STARBUCKS started off in 1971 selling beans and espresso makers. More dramatically, FLICKR started as a role-playing game and GROUPON’s main biz was a social good fund raising site called The Point.
What makes STARBUCKS and GROUPON succeed in their pivot and BLOCKBUSTER and KODAK fail?
Love the Churchill.The line between greatness and failure can been razor thin. Jobs almost killed Apple by staying true to a singular vision then that same singular vision created the iPod. Whether Pivot or Same a Decision to proceed on a path was made.Indecision is inexcusable.
So let me ask you this: Twitter began as Odeo a podcasts hub. Jack Dorsey saw iTunes taking over the podcast niche and gave his employees two weeks to come up with new ideas. They pivoted into micro-blogging. Why can’t Dorsey successfully pivot again?
Is it something to do with a STARTUP that is nimble verses a mature company that is too big to turn? Dorsey is the same guy, same leadership, but different ship.
I think size has something to do with it - not that big cannot be nimble - but turning that ship is a lot more difficult. Alignment, Apathy, Communication, Understanding at all the levels Internal and Outsource make moving the mountain tough. Plus the shareholders.
Eric Ries, in his book, The Lean Startup, popularized the business pivot. But it is up to the business leader to understand that a real pivot is based the right idea for the right company culture.
Many companies like Twitter are pressured by the markets into a pattern of swinging wildly. Maybe it is about the same leader thinking he/she is pivoting but ends up creating a DIVOT because they do not understand that the culture of the company has changed?
Is it a culture that has changed or the leader not controlling the narrative with the Market or Investors (same thing) or some measure of both. Does creating a Divot come more from a lack of Courage, Insight, Communication or all of the above
It would be a sad state of the union if our business leaders are not controlling the corporate narrative. However, Twitter and UBER are two companies that are digging divots and have a leadership drain.
That is one of the most telling graphics I have ever seen as a leading indicator of what could quickly become an organizations demise. I wonder if a similar picture would exist for Yahoo or others where the lack of leadership negates the ability for anyone to pivot or lead or do
Here is the same chart for Yahoo showing key executives absent before the crash and burn. Of course it is a little chicken and egg but there is no doubt that without the firepower a company can not pivot or pull up from a nose dive.
By chicken and egg do you think they already thought it was too late, that they should have pivoted earlier and exited ahead or because of the exit there is no leadership and couldn’t pivot or both? Yahoo acquired a lot of talent with Mayer, it didn’t deliver any material change
There is a point when the organization becomes cumbersome and decision-making cirrhosis sets in. Even with good leadership it is difficult to be agile.
When Dorsey pivoted his company from podcasts micro-blogging he was running a private startup. Good leadership with an agile startup? On the flip side, Dorsey may have been first-time lucky (according to Nick Bilton - see below.)
So in sum: the “pivot” will be the next agile, but only with the right leadership that is in tune with the culture of the company. And the company needs to be nimble enough to bend in a new direction without breaking ...
John, thank you for your time on this panel. John Mavriyannakis is a pioneer in the SaaS and online network software and services development. He has worked with global Fortune 50 companies to help them develop, implement and take SaaS solutions to market.