It’s a new year, and you may be thinking of shaking things up. Pivoting, or changing your company’s direction, market or product features, is a popular trend for startups and might be something you are considering.
As examples, in 2006, a startup in Bellevue launched a social media service aimed at college students. Since then, Ripl has morphed into a company that helps small businesses successfully use social media channels through its simple animated video platform. In 2013, Seattle startup Usermind had the goal of developing a platform to help enterprise operations staff speed up processes to support business growth. By 2019, the company had slightly pivoted and now defines itself as the creator of the only unified customer engagement hub that allows companies to deliver data driven, omnichannel support.
Startup founders are keen observers of their industry niches and, if they are successful, they are constantly tweaking their companies’ goals and products to best respond to market needs. However, there is a fine line between when change is warranted and when staying the course is the best strategy for moving a company ahead.
So how do you know when it’s time to pivot? Here are five things to consider:
1) Too much smoke. If the biggest chunk of your day is being spent dousing fires, it might be time to take a big breath of clean air. You can’t make progress if your time is sucked up by just maintaining the status quo.
2) The times are a’changin’. Bob Dylan’s iconic lyrics perfectly describe today’s volatile marketplace. If your customers’ needs are changing, or you’re finding it difficult to meet their requests, it might be time to pivot. At the very least, you should examine your company’s processes and see if they can be improved.
3) Everybody needs a mentor. If you don’t have a trusted advisor, get one. A mentor can give you objective advice as to whether or not the issue at hand requires drastic business changes.
4) The revolving door. Human resources are often a company’s greatest asset…and a big indicator as to whether or not things are going well. When too many people leave, it’s disruptive to the company’s progress and could be a warning sign of deeper problems. If you’ve experienced a mass exodus, it could be because your team has lost confidence in the company or your product.
5) Investors are always nervous. If you are thinking of taking your company in a new direction, be sure you can sell the idea to the people who have a monetary stake in your success.
Some industry pundits believe that all startups pivot, and consider it a rite of passage. It’s true that many big-name companies have successfully done it, ranging from YouTube (it started out as an online dating service) to Starbucks (it originally sold beans and espresso machines). But pivoting is an exercise that needs to be taken judiciously and with the right intentions.