How to Pivot: A 12-Step Guide to Pivoting Your Startup

How to Pivot: A 12-Step Guide to Pivoting Your Startup
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In the startup world, pivoting is all the rage.

As you probably know, a pivot happens when you realize that your first plan isn't working. So what do you do? You develop and act on a new plan.

Eric Ries's textbook definition of pivot is a bit more nuanced:

"Structured course correction designed to test a new fundamental hypothesis about the product, strategy, and engine of growth."

Well. You get the idea.

It's delightful to talk about when to pivot, and pivot success stories. But what about the actual doing?

Pivoting is heart-stopping, gut-wrenching and mind-blowing stuff. You're scared out of your wits. You're fretful of losing everything.

So how do you actually do it?

Here is my 12 step guide to executing a perfect pivot.

1. Realize when your plan isn't working.

This is when the idea of a pivot first begins to dawn on you. You're realizing that the growth, potential and viability of your startup is in jeopardy.

Please note that this is different from entrepreneurial fatigue or burnout. This is a business problem, not necessarily a personal crisis. (Though the two are often intertwined).

2. Come up with a list of possible reasons why it's not working.

If something is going wrong, there is usually an explanation. Why is your plan not working?

There may be plenty of reasons, so write them all down. It's often helpful to ask a series of 'whys', in order to boil it down to the real reason why things are not going according to plan.

3. Gain a fresh perspective on your long-term goals and vision for the business.

Revisit the plans and goals you first had when starting your business. What was your objective? Who was your audience? What was the growth plan?

4. Revise those goals and visions as necessary.

There is nothing sacred about these plans. A pivot is a radical move, and you may need to scrap your original goals in order to accommodate a new definition of success for your business.

Take some time to either revise your old goals, or simply scrap them and start from scratch.

5. Come up with a list of ideas that will help you to accomplish those goals.

This is where the pivot takes shape.

You realize that something isn't working. You have a good idea what it is that's gone wrong. You have a clear sense of your ultimate destination.

Now how are you going to get there? At this point, your goal is to write down all your ideas for getting to your destination.

Make sure you record all possible plans. You're not creating a business plan (yet). You're just compiling ideas.

6. Develop a clearly defined plan.

At this point, you're ready to settle in and come up with a plan.

Get as detailed as you think would be helpful. If you want to write an entirely fresh business plan, that might not be such a bad idea.

Remember, however, that this could be one of many pivots that you make. A pivot is less of a plan and more of a test, as Eric Ries's definition reminds us.

You don't succeed simply by picking one idea and running with it. You succeed by testing a variety of ideas and choosing the best.

7. Define the numbers or signs that will gauge the success of your new plan.

If you must, use the term "KPI" (key performance indicator) to gauge your success.

The point is this: You need to know whether your new plan is working or not.

Watching the numbers is the only way you will know whether or not to pivot again. Which numbers do you watch? This step should inform you.

8. Forget the previous plan.

What about your original plan for the business?

It's done. Over. Kaput. Dead. Time to leave it in the past.

The sooner you quit grieving and start doing, the faster you will be able to maneuver your way to success post-pivot.

9. Explain the plan to the team.

So far, I've explained the pivot process in terms of a solo activity. I'm assuming, of course, that the pivot decision is one that you arrive at collaboratively. Include your board, your co-founders, and your advisors.

Keeping the communication lines open between leadership and the team is another critical component of the pivot process.

When the ship changes course, you don't want people to jump overboard. Give your team members a clear sense of direction and purpose as you make the change.

10. Embrace the new plan.

Give the new plan all the energy, inspiration and creativity that you can muster. This is a new business, a new day and a new chance for success

It is your new and undying focus. Everything that the business does from this point is focused with relentless energy on this new plan.

11. Watch the metrics.

Now that you're running your new business, watch the dashboard. Stay informed of all the relevant numbers, trends and benchmarks for success that you outlined in steps 6 & 7 above.

12. Rinse and repeat.

Pivoting is seldom a one-time event. You may find it necessary to pivot again and again. That's alright.


A pivot is not easy to execute.

And that's why many startups fail. If more startups did pivot, then more startups would survive. Pivoting is the secret to survival. It's the closest you'll come to failing without actually failing.

Learning to pivot could save your business from failure, and allow you to succeed in the long run.

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