Most Startup ‘Pivots’ Aren’t Really Pivots, They’re Just What Startups Are Supposed To Do
If you showed me a bunch of random early stage startups and asked me to select the ones disproportionately likely to be successful, I’d bet on the teams which are able to turn a hypothesis into a test and a test into learnings with the greatest compounding velocity. This is not to be understood as suggesting great startups are the byproduct of sequential A/B tests. No, quite the opposite. But they do know where and when an intuitive insight should be pressure tested by reality. Or they uniquely understand the problem to be solved but use the first year of the company to chart the most effective path through.
And you know what often comes out of these virtuous cycles? Changes. Because that’s what startups do, they change. Adding people. Reconstituting the org chart. Abandoning one customer channel for another. Constantly changing during the early years.
When we fund a company it usually has just three things: a problem to be solved, a customer segment who has that problem and a notion of the product to be built. Then the team takes the funding and ramps up the work. And almost always they come back after a month, or three, or six and say “I think we need to pivot because one of those three things [problem, customer, product] weren’t correct.”
I say, GREAT! And it’s not a pivot. If you’re changing only one of these three aspects it’s definitely not a pivot. If you’re maintaining the problem statement but changing the customer and the product, I still think it’s NOT A PIVOT. A pivot is when you are shifting completely. Moving to a completely different set of problems, customers and product, not merely processing the learnings from your most recent efforts.
So you might ask me, Hunter, even if we buy into your definition, aren’t you being a bit pedantic? I mean who cares at the end of the day how a ‘pivot’ is defined by our industry. And I’d say… TWO REASONS. IT MATTERS FOR TWO REASONS.
Calling normal startup iteration a ‘pivot’ creates a psychological barrier to change