Since 2014 I have been working in the start-up world, and you hear a lot of different descriptions of start-ups. Start-ups are fun, and they are hell – they are rewarding and crushing, they are hard work but you get to do what you like so you never work, the list goes on and on but the basic idea is that you will hear every possible contradiction possible when talking about a start-up.  Today I’m going to tackle the idea of a pivot, some say pivots are great! From others you will hear that a pivot can cost time and money – my approach: Pivot or Die!

Generally speaking start-ups are a simple concept:  Have an idea, product, solution, etc that no one has ever done before or that you think you can do better? Start-up a business and strike it rich! What they don’t tell you? 90% of start-ups will fail, but their failure could have been avoided.

You’ll hear a lot of people talk about the idea of a pivot, often times it can even be mocked or seen as a bad thing.  But the trust is, most start-ups fail to pivot soon enough.  When you’re in the start-up you have a finite amount of time and money, and most the time the business fails to pivot with enough not enough of either.

See, in a start-up, even one that is failing, you always learn something that is incredibly valuable – what the customer wants.  Unfortunately, what the customer wants often is different than what you are offering.  You might think – no problem, we’ll just change to offer what the customer wants! And you would be right – that is the easy decision!  But when you start a business it’s your business, it’s your “baby”, and you have a vision of something that needs to be done – how could your vision be wrong? But, often times it is!  And by the time you see that a pivot is necessary it often too late to actually recover.

Most of the 10% of start-ups that are successful, what is their trick? Well, often times there is guidance (or sometimes and outright takeover) by an outside party with no emotional attachment to the business – this is why the are successful! They are not in the whirlwind of the day to day business, they are not emotionally attached, and they are not hesitant to suggest big or drastic changes.

In the end, the start-ups that are successful often are not doing exactly, or even remotely, what they started out doing.  Some examples:

Yelp – A system for auto-emailing recommendations to friends

YouTube – Started as a video dating site

PayPal – A way to exchange money

Slack, Instagram, Twitter, Shopify

etc etc

What do these successful start-ups all have in common? They all listened to their customers and made the decision to pivot and succeed.

So what is my advice if you’re going to be in the start-up world? Pivot or Die.