Are You Pivoting…or Rotating?

by Christopher Meyer on 02/23/2016

iStock_000012210065XSmall[1]If you’ve been anywhere near a startup in the last three years, you’ve heard about pivoting. A pivot is just as it sounds: a deliberate change in business model and/or product direction hoping to hit the market sweet spot.  Popularized by Eric Ries’ book The Lean Startup, the underlying assumption is that finding that sweet spot is more likely through iterative experimentation than deep planning.

Ideas in good currency often get abused.  When pivoting is abused, it becomes rotating.  An undisciplined, throw it against the wall and see what sticks strategy for which pivoting becomes the legitimizing framing.  It’s as though founders expect building a business is more like hitting a Las Vegas jackpot than the iterative hard work of serving customers.

Rotating is more likely when attention to customer acquisition trumps delivering an outstanding customer experience.  It manifests itself as the modern day equivalent of the shifty salesperson with a lot of glitz and promises at the front end that evaporate quickly.  Internally, deals signed are touted; not deals delivered.  Customer churn is high and you’ll find scant measures or sustained concern for customer satisfaction in these firms.

Rotating in place is full of activity but on a comparable basis, generates little forward momentum.  Other than a few self generated press clippings spurred by each pivot, you’ll rarely hear about rotating companies from leading industry analysts. Establishing a market beachhead requires a persistence presence and linear progress

Rotating companies have high empathy for those who work in them because it’s stressful.  But, they also have low empathy for customers.  Deeply enriching one’s understanding of customer needs is the basis for a good pivot.  You can’t achieve product-market fit without it. That requires patience, listening and engagement.  Rotating companies focus on sales numbers.

They are more like drive-by assassins who follow emerging customer herds looking for kill shots.  These herds are created when new technologies and market trends such as financial and advertising tech disrupt traditional practices.  Mega cap incumbents know the world is changing but they’re not quite sure what to do and thus are more susceptible to try anything smelling new.  No one wants to be the last wildebeest in the herd the lion is chasing.

There’s ample evidence from innovation authorities such as IDEO that a series of rapid prototypes is a quicker path to a good customer solution. And keep in mind, the cost of product experimentation is far lower than business model experimentation.

Every time a firm changes its business model, it is effectively resetting itself to stakeholders.  Seed investors no longer recognize the company and may wonder what’s going on.  Employees have to learn new routines. Customers who bought the company’s last value proposition are more likely to be confused by the new one

This isn’t an argument to hang on to a flawed premise.  It’s an argument that pivoting is closer to an organ transplant than a joint repair…it’s not something to do that often.

Surviving in The Gig Economy:
Don’t Be An Ant

December 4, 2015

“There’s something happening here,
What it is ain’t exactly clear”

For What It’s Worth, Buffalo Springfield, 1967
Ravinder drives for Uber two nights a week in Los Angeles.  On a farm in rural Poland, Peter tests computer code to complete a programming job he bid for on Odesk.  Across the valley, Peter’s girlfriend wraps penguin Christmas tree ornaments [...]

Read the full article →

A Band of Angels Innovation:
The Special Interest Group

October 15, 2015

Angel investing starts with an initial contact, followed by screening that leads to a pitch and perhaps a deal.  There’s an underlying tension in the process.  Entrepreneurs want the angels’ money and to get back to growing their business as quickly as possible. Angels want the entrepreneur’s time to understand the business and investment potential.
Most angel [...]

Read the full article →

Before You Pitch Me, Ask Yourself:
Is Your Company a Me-Too or a Fast Follower?

September 2, 2015

Last week, I listened to seven startups pitches at the Band of Angels Deal Selection committee wondering at least three times, hadn’t I heard this deal before?
Do customers crave another user friendly wearable that counts steps, heartbeats and measures sleep quality better than Apple Watch, FitBit, and Garmin? Is now the right time, to replace [...]

Read the full article →

Clone ‘Em: Bring Instant Leadership to Your Company

August 6, 2015

Clone ‘Em Leads Apple App Store Rankings
Cupertino, CA (AP) August 6, 2015
Latest App Store rankings released this morning reveal that Clone ‘Em, the Leadership Cloning App has risen to first place in the popular Fast Growth category.  Leveraging data from mobile and wearables, Clone ‘Em uses advanced algorithms to prompt new leaders when they’re [...]

Read the full article →


June 29, 2015

President Obama discussed with comedian Mark Maron how the ups and downs of six years in office had made him a better president (paraphrased below).
As you get older, you might slow down or not jump as high as you used to.  But I know what I’m doing and I’m fearless.  This is not pretending to [...]

Read the full article →

Decimal Point Thinking:
Good for Operators; Dangerous for Innovation

June 19, 2015

Winter in Detroit is rarely pretty.  Pristine snowfalls quickly turn to grey slush that outwits the best pedestrian avoidance maneuvers.  Once that happens, your feet are cold and clammy for the next three hours.
It was on such a day that a new product team was presenting their “comeback” car design to a panel of senior [...]

Read the full article →

The Day After: Apple’s PayPal 2.0

September 10, 2014

I wrote yesterday’s piece before Apple’s product announcement.  While crafting a response to an email comment I received this morning, it struck me that a post-introduction piece might be in order.
In short, the iPhone 6/6 Plus will cover profits, the Watch will spur innovation and Apple Pay is the potential game changer.
Apple’s Passion for Profits

Read the full article →

Apple New Product Introduction:
Welcome to the Planet of the Ape

September 9, 2014

In a couple of hours, Apple executives will take to the stage.  And millions will be watching because part of our love for Apple is being co-conspirators in the OMG introduction process. While reverence for Steve Jobs will keep “incredibly insane” product descriptions off the table, expect to hear the word “amazing” more than once.
However, [...]

Read the full article →

Zen Start-up Lessons:
What Nest Labs Can Teach Entrepreneurs

February 14, 2014

Nest Labs makes a smarter, Internet- connected thermostat that sells for two to three times conventional models.  Most recently, they’ve introduced a similarly empowered and priced smoke detector.  You might ask if you need a smarter thermostat or smoke detector?  You’ll have a chance to answer that for yourselves in a moment.
Nest was founded by [...]

Read the full article →

The Minimum Viable Business School:
Zipcar Education for Entrepreneurs

February 7, 2014

The hotbed of education experimentation in Silicon Valley are the startup academies, accelerators and hacker boot camps.  Grounded in the minimum viable product philosophy that entrepreneurs harness to speed products to market, these new education entities offer a minimum viable education for tech entrepreneurs.
You know it’s hot because the regulators have come out of the [...]

Read the full article →