The word “pivot” is standard language in the world of startups and Vision Masters. In the dictionary, it means to turn in place while fixed to a pin or shaft. In business, it means to turn sharply without changing position and thereby not giving up any advantages. It’s a common word in the business world in general, but it’s more common among startups and scaleups, and for a good reason. The unique role a Vision Master plays in pivoting is revealed below.
Definition of a Business Pivot: Pivot: To make a sharp turn while remaining in a fixed position.
As any good Vision Master knows, most endeavors fail – at least those that have not mastered pivoting. Look at the history of any successful business owner, and you’re likely to find a string of failures predating their successes. Vision Masters come up with a product or service, figure out a value proposition, build up the model, and turn a profit. But when an idea fails or stalls, what do we do then? And what is your unique role as Vision Master?
All too often, would-be entrepreneurs sell off or abandon their assets and start again from scratch or give up and get a job. Quitting is what a pivot is not.
In the business world, we pivot either when things have not gone according to plan or when we find a way that our project can be improved or build a better business model out of the one we have already cobbled together. Businesses can survive bankruptcy and grow beyond their initial plans by re-imagining how Vision Masters can use their talents and assets to generate revenue.
Often confused with “branching out,” a definition of a business pivot might also be described as retooling. For example, a company that hires English teachers to teach foreign learners to speak the language might pivot into a video broadcasting organization. In this example, the company started by talking live online to Korean students. Looking at metrics and their available assets, the company started asking its teachers to make video presentations of their lessons. The students can then look at the studies at their leisure for a subscription fee.
In this example, our company has taken the equipment, talent, and audience they have and turned it into a similar but different service which they have found to be more productive and profitable. Our remote learning English teaching company could have quickly branched out instead. It could have developed video products while continuing to teach in live, remote sessions. In so doing, it might have maximized profits. However, the decision-makers performed research that showed that a full pivot would be more beneficial to the company than simply branching out. Our example is a relatively discrete pivot, moving from one business model to quite similar.
A sharper pivot might look like a canned food manufacturer which pivots into a restaurant chain. They would use some of the same equipment and knowledge, but much of their assets would have to change to suit the new business model. With an example like this, we have something almost more dramatic than a simple pivot – i.e. a total remake. But because the Vision Master determined that they had enough assets to fill the new role already, to make a pivot into the new business mode could still be called a “pivot.”
If they are correct in their assessment, it’s a pivot. If not, it may be something else. Alarm bells should be ringing if your pivot is not intentional and strategic.
What’s important is that as a Vision Master, you can and actually MUST determine what type of change is best for your company, given the cards you’re holding and the business climate in your niche and region.
I’m not here implying that as a Vision Master you must make this kind of decision alone. Far from it. Depending on the degree and type of pivot, you as Vision Master should involve other members of your team, such as co-founders, the Board of Directors, key investors, and advisors. Co-founder(s) who are Execution Masters are particularly important in determining if the proposed pivot can be carried out in the real world and what kind of resources and time are needed. This process of intelligently deciding on a pivot, involving corporate governance and your own personal decision-making style, is beyond the scope of this article. I can only suggest strongly that as a Vision Master you respect the views of co-founders, especially Execution Masters. This is important because 1) the successful carrying out of the pivot will depend on their buy-in, and 2) you need their unique thinking style in your analysis. Trust your team to advise you in your pivot decision. But the unique role of Vision Master is yet to come below.
There are numerous forms of pivots, such as The Customer Pivot, The Product Pivot, The Value Capture Pivot, The Zoom-Out Pivot, The Customer Segment Pivot, and many more. These are detailed in a previous post, see below.
10 Ways to Pivot – More great information on Business Pivots
Your job as a Vision Master is to decide which is suitable for your company and when.
Now we get to your unique role as Vision Master in deciding on a pivot: It’s about timing – i.e. WHEN to pivot. Your personality, or to be more accurate, your character, ultimately drives the timing. If you’re excessively persistent (i.e. too stubborn or, worse, in denial), you’ll wait too long and avoid facing the reality that the current strategy or model isn’t working. If you’re excessively flexible (i.e. always attracted to the next cool idea, the next shiny object), then you’ll change direction before pivoting is really needed. Unfortunately, I don’t know any way to teach good timing, except through the school of hard knocks. At any given time in your career, you’ve either got it or you don’t. If your timing is really off, you’re a Vision Master wannabe, or a Vision Master in-training, either way, don’t fret. It’s only through experience (i.e. failing over and over) that you’ll get it right, so fail fast, get up and go again. That’s how to become a true Vision Master. In sum, timing is the unique contribution that you bring as Vision Master, for better or for worse.
Why is timing your unique contribution? This is because your advisors and Execution Master co-founder are inherently more cautious than you are. That’s why you selected them. YOU’RE the one who “moves fast and breaks things.” THEY’RE the ones who slow you down so they can tell you what could go wrong. Remember, breaking things doesn’t just mean disrupting the marketplace; it also means disrupting your company’s internal operations. If it were just up to them since they avoid disruptions to their processes, you’d probably wait too long before making a pivot and it wouldn’t work. On the other hand, if you’re excessively persistent (stubborn) by nature, they might not notice a pivot is needed until it’s too late. Either way, you’re the unique change agent that pushes for change while the timing for change is good.
One more point on timing, and then I’m done for now: It’s your unique job as Vision Master to keep the company moving at all times in the broad direction of your vision; never to let it stall out. As when flying an airplane or sailing a boat, stalling out is the worse event that can happen, because getting a plane, a boat or a company going again from an extended stall-out when nothing seems to be working (sometimes called a “turn-around”) is MUCH more difficult than pivoting while in forward motion. Given this fact, it’s much better to err on the side of pivoting too early than too late. Fortunately, this is your tendency as Vision Master. So don’t be afraid of calling for a pivot as soon as you see it’s needed, and then ask everyone else for advice as to how to do it and what can go wrong. Then be the great leader you are and persuade them to get into action.
- Pivots in the life of a growing company are inevitable.
- Investors know: very few companies make it to a liquidity event without major pivots.
- Be ready for pivoting by reading this post and anything else you can find on pivoting.
- Vision Masters involve and trust their stake holders (especially their Execution Master) in how to make a pivot.
- Timing for a pivot is the unique role of Vision Master, because everyone else will be too slow.
- Pivoting out of a dead-stall is much harder than while still in forward motion.
- Therefore, making a pivot too late is deadly for a Vision Master.
- Perfect pivot timing is a rare skill.
- Don’t be afraid of calling for a pivot too early; so long as you get a lot of input.