I’ve been traveling a ton. For example this week, I was in SF Saturday – Tues AM, flew back to Boulder (got in around 4pm), am leaving on Wednesday at 11am back to California and will return on Friday at midnight. And, while in California, I will drive from San Diego to LA, taking several meetings and press interviews on the drive.
Why does it matter? Because all that traveling gives me a lot of solitary time to think.
What I spent much of the airplane ride today thinking about is do pivots have to have a specific moment in which they must occur, or is it possible to do multiple smaller pivots constantly. In essence, can a startup be successful if it lives in a constant state of change?
People, in general, are not comfortable with a constant stage of change. Its more comfortable to have consistency and reliability in day to day interactions. Even if the change itself is reliable, over time, people just lose productivity, as they begin to work the expectation of change into their daily routine.
Couple with the strong belief most entrepreneurs have in their decision making skills and ability to understand the market, and most companies will, if necessary, create a pivot as an “event,” with planning, discussion and then action as components.
Ive tried both. Ive tried to make multiple smaller changes, hoping that the team will discover the right direction (almost through trial and error) and settle in on that path. If it works, its great. There is a minimal loss of productivity, most employees stay on staff, and as far as the external world knows, business continued as usual. But, its hard, and it only works if you have a mature work force that is trusting.
Making a hard pivot also has its downfalls. Usually, there is a loss of team members. Either the new direction removes the need for certain skill sets, or the team member just isnt into the new future of the company. This was part of the reason that I left Lijit. As they moved more towards providing a really slick ad network and tools, I realized that after 15 years of online marketing and advertising in one way or another, I was not as jazzed about building another ad network. I love what they are doing, and I often think about if I stayed how I could have affected them positively, but the change was the right thing (plus I now get to read comic books every day!!)
Sometimes, the market is so comfortable with your current path, that any change could be seen as a sign of weakness or failure. Fear stops many companies from making pivots.
Pivots arent always external either. For us, we have grown quickly, and have team members strewn all over the globe has proven to be more difficult than expected. In addition, as we focus on the business opportunities in front of us, we needed to make an adjustment to how we did business. We needed to create a new company culture, and for that to happen, we had to be all in the same location. Sure, there are many companies that successfully make the distributed workforce work for them. But, not for us. Not now. So we internally pivoted. And, like an external pivot, we will lose employees. We may find the short term a bit more difficult while we deal with the build of the company along with the movement of people. But, its the right, and only, decision for us.
Living the startup life is learning to deal with the potential of a constant state of change. With removing the personal from the professional, and focusing solely on long term success. When that requires a shift or change–a pivot–its imperative that its done with the minimal effect on the team (be honest, dont hesitate and stand firm).
Pivots dont need to be large events, and they should come with excitement and the comfort knowing that the right decision for the business was reached. As Chris said in his post:
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.
Dont fear the pivot. Fear the stagnation that is always the precursor to losing.
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