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Entrepreneurship – from ideas to reality
Entrepreneurship – from ideas to reality

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3.4 Dilemma 4: pivoting

To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.

Winston Churchill

Eric Ries (2011) has become well known in entrepreneur circles for the concept of the ‘lean start-up’ methodology and is credited with the term ‘pivoting’. To pivot is to make a change in your strategy without changing your vision. Pivoting is a key decision point when you are faced with something that isn’t working (or working in the way you thought it would). Pivoting your business is finding ways around obstacles to succeed, to achieve your ultimate goal by solving a customer problem or meet a need. Ries advocates developing your business through testing and learning from both your successes and failures.

The classic dilemma for entrepreneurs is knowing when to stop doing something and when to stick with it or do it differently! Giving up on one aspect can be surprisingly painful as you may have invested a lot of emotion and belief in the idea only to find that the customers or colleagues don’t in fact find it as compelling. It is particularly relevant if you are taking over someone else’s ideas. For example, if you have a product developed with teenagers in mind but through time and testing you recognise it has more potential for adults, this would be a customer segment pivot if you then went on to target adults and design around them.

Another type of pivot is where you believe your idea meets a problem or need but you find that in fact the product is doing something else (more compelling) for those customers. An example of this is PayPal, which was originally intended to be cybersecurity software but has finally evolved after a reported five pivots to become a secure payment system for mobile and online use, and the beneficiary of a huge explosion in e-commerce.

There are many other famous examples of pivots and in fact most, if not all, successful companies have had to consider when and how to change to take advantage of opportunities, to learn from customer feedback and behaviour, or to avoid failure.