We have pivoted already!

I had the opportunity to spend the last week in Silicon Valley. One evening, when I left the Plug and Play Tech Center in Sunnyvale, I met a woman in the staircase. She and her friends had come from M.I.T. to kick off their venture in the valley. I asked her the standard ‘what do you do’ question and she replied: “Our company builds a facebook based [put business secret here]. We have pivoted already!”

Let’s get this straight: “We have pivoted already!”  was part of her punch line for the venture. She said that with pride and with a smile.

Obviously she thought that at least one pivot lies on every start-up’s path to success and that already having come to that point was a big achievement. To her pivoting did not have the notion of something reality may force you to do. To her having completed a pivot was a badge of honor and a clear sign of doing things right.

Pivoting has become a popular buzz word in the past years. From my understanding its recent popularity comes largely from the Lean Startup movement. I like how Chris Dixon describes pivoting: “You aren’t throwing away what you’ve learned or the good things you’ve built. You are keeping your strong leg grounded and adjusting your weak leg to move in a new direction.

I think it makes great sense to view a pivot as something that you inevitably run into as a founder. It certainly is possible to start a successful business without a pivot on the way. But to me that sounds like the rare exception, not the rule. In a next blog post I will compile a collection of now famous companies that pivoted in an early stage.

If founders see a pivot as something positive that will have a very important consequence: They will be on the lookout for opportunities to pivot. It will keep them much more open to market feedback and constantly challenging their own plans.

Of course I am not saying that you should pivot just for the sake of it. But from my experience founders’ tendency to fall in love with their own ideas (that’s a great thing: it makes you start your business in first place) combined with a good bit of Confirmation Bias are such strong forces that I see a stronger risk to under-pivot than to over-pivot.

The episode described at the beginning, I believe, showed me a cultural difference between Silicon Valley and my German home country. While in the Valley “having pivoted” obviously makes a good ingredient for a pitch for early stage businesses, in Germany “having to pivot” will likely be seen as a consequence of not having done your market research right before you started. It’s time to get rid of that attitude. Market research never works for innovative products.