The first time I heard the word “pivot” I was playing Basketball at summer camp and the counsellor was showing us the “triple threat” position. He told us always to pivot and avoid getting overpowered by a strong defender. I tried it and it worked; sports always had a way of making sense that I appreciated. I played basketball all through high school, but the novelty of the word had worn off and it was relegated by more complex tactics.
Fast-forward 5 years. My interest in the startup world is growing. It’s exciting, it’s profitable, and best of all: it aims to find creative solutions to complex problems. Watching a video on Seedcamp, a mentor is addressing a group of hungry, young entrepreneurs, telling them to always be ready to pivot. There it was again. That word. Pivot.
To pivot, as the mentor explained, is the ability (but more importantly, the willingness) to adjust the course of one’s product. Seth Godin very poignantly put it: “Your job is not to find more customers for your product. Your job is to find more products for your customers.” By being flexible and open, you can provide an organic product (or set of products) that is directly influenced by customer feedback. Listening to your customers and allowing them to mold and shape your product in collaboration with you and your team, while always maintaining high standards, is exactly the kind of business I would like to be doing. And this brings me to my final observation: Backgammon.
Backgammon is a game of luck and skill. Two players take turns rolling a pair of dice and try to move their pieces around, and finally off the board, before their opponent manages to do the same. Simple game, complex strategy. I’ve recently been playing alot of backgammon and have been drawing parallels between the strategy of the game, and the entrepreneurial spirit of young startups. As in the startup world, you must be ready to pivot in backgammon. With every roll, the landscape changes and your priorities get shuffled. If you are too stubborn to switch up your strategy, you will lose. If you are too afraid to take some risks that could pay off hugely down the line, or cost you dearly, you will lose. Each piece is a resource, and you must allocate your resources according to the ever-changing conditions on the board. Your pieces are your business; your customers, your dice. They guide you, and not the other way around.
Young startups like Buffer and Blossom do a great job of maintaining a dialogue with their users, offering “Get in Touch” and “Submit an Idea” options on their pages. By integrating a willingness to learn from and grow with your users, you can create a culture of growth. It’s not a hack, it’s an attitude. And in doing so, your pivots will be smaller, more controlled, and you’ll find yourself simply calibrating a well-oiled machine. Lot’s of startups today are following suit and are setting themselves up for real success.
So don’t forget to pivot. Not just when playing basketball and backgammon, and not just in your business, but always.
Have you had experience changing the course of your business? How did it go? What have you learned from listening to your customers?