Why Founders Should Always View Pivots as Opportunities
The business world has mixed feelings about pivots.
Pivot is one of those terms that garners mixed reactions in the business world. Some say you should pivot early and often, but others argue that you should only pivot when absolutely necessary. In general, a pivot is often looked at as a setback, especially for startups. However, I don't believe that's the right way to view it.
Personally, I think that founders should always see pivots as opportunities. After all, if your goal is long-term success, then the important part is getting there — not how many curves there were in the path. It can be tough on the ego, but if founders can commit to a pivot, it can be advantageous.
Here's why I believe founders should embrace the pivot.
It's a chance to evolve into something better
Maybe you've launched your brand and noticed that your perspective and vision have shifted over time. It's common for founders to fear these kinds of shifts and double down on their original goals. Nobody wants to be seen as inconsistent. This is understandable, but it can be the wrong move.
Customers and investors value credibility, but they also value effective, decisive action. Remember that companies are run by people, and people grow, evolve and learn over time. As long as the pivot is done gracefully, your team and customers will appreciate the transparency. It may even inspire more loyalty.
Another common situation that entrepreneurs encounter is realizing that researching a niche and becoming a part of it are two very different things. All of the theoretical planning in the world can't fully prepare you for the "boots on the ground" experience of trying to succeed in your chosen market.
There's always the chance that things won't go as planned (they rarely do). However, if you can find one thing that works, using that as your pivot point gives you a clear path toward becoming something bigger and better.
It can be a catalyst for growth
Not all pivots have to be dramatic, ground-up alterations in the company. If you're noticing a plateau in growth and development, though, that's a sign that something needs to change. Take a step back and look objectively at your business as a whole. Try to identify stagnation points, such as an unmotivated team, a lack of customer engagement or inefficient operations.
Once you have an honest list of things that could be improved, you can decide which would be the biggest catalyst to kick your brand out of its plateau. Usually, a few places are ideal for soft pivots, such as changing your social media strategy or focusing more on a particular feature that's most popular with your customer base. Shifting focus with a simple pivot infuses fresh energy into your company and often leads to significant growth.
Plenty of startups have pivoted themselves straight to unicorn status, such as social media cornerstone Twitter. If they hadn't seized the chance to pivot, we likely wouldn't even know their names today.
It forces you to focus on the big picture
Here's a piece of advice I always remember: The more specific the story, the more likely it is to be wrong. Scientists follow a similar strategy when developing hypotheses to test. If it's too broad, it can't be tested. However, if it's too narrow, it's almost certainly going to be wrong.
Entrepreneurs and scientists have common ground here because they both need that sweet spot to succeed. Your business plan must be unique and specific enough to solve a problem or meet a known need, but not so precise that it boxes you in over the long term.
One great example of this is Netflix. Reed Hastings, Netflix's founder, sold customers and investors with the goal of offering the best possible home-viewing experience. At the time, this was achieved through DVDs by mail, but he had a clear view of the bigger picture. Hastings understood that Netflix would morph over time to keep up with whatever technology was available, so he made his ambitions broad enough to give the brand wiggle room in the future.
There's no shame in getting too precise too quickly. It happens to the best of us. The important part is recognizing it early and taking that opportunity to pivot to a less restrictive, big-picture model.
If you find yourself in this situation, then pivoting is truly a golden opportunity. It lets you out of the box you may have accidentally placed yourself in so that you can see new paths that embrace more destination-driven goals.
This is especially helpful if you're in the early stages and want to attract more investors and stakeholders. Pivoting from a narrow, "roadmap" pitch to a more broad-strokes idea allows your investors and your team to fill in just enough blanks to get them excited about your business plan.
Let your pivot signal an overarching aim
The human brain values consistency. However, it also values feeling like a part of something greater. Pivots are filled with opportunities to grow, evolve and transform for the better, but consistency is key. Before you launch into a pivot (regardless of how sweeping or straightforward it might be), consider how it can fit into your brand's overriding narrative.
Investors, employees and customers are more likely to be receptive to a pivot if it falls in line with what they believe your company's overall mission is. This means that pivoting presents yet another opportunity for founders. If you didn't have a clear societal objective or a greater mission outlined before, an intelligent pivot can develop that mission and kickstart the story.
If you can emotionally engage your stakeholders and client base, they're far more likely to stick with you through the curves and course corrections you may need to make along the way.
The decision to pivot should never be made lightly. However, once it's made, founders should embrace it for the grand opportunity that it is.
Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor