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The Pivot = Overhyped + Dangerous

You’ve probably heard the joke:

What happens when you keep pivoting? You end up at the same place you started.

OK, maybe it’s not that funny but it’s definitely very true. It applies as much to basketball players as it does to technology companies that follow the latest fad. I reference the ‘tending-toward-biblical’ instructions that we all now seem to follow in form of the Lean Startup methodology. The build – measure – learn cycle of creating a business now has a cult following but might be losing some of it’s shine as evidenced in this Marc Andreessen interview.

Two unintended consequences that I foresee from this ‘rise of the lean startup’ army

  1. The flakiness of the promises we now make to customers
  2. A HUGE discount is now being placed on one of the tenets of successful business builders/entrepreneurs: Persistence/Tenacity

Let me elaborate on the two unintended consequences…

1.    Promises: I’m like the next guy and fully agree with the Lean Startup premise of reducing waste, of time and money, when you are building your business. But unlike staunch advocates of the lean startup I’m a firmer believer in the fact that when you launch a service or product you make a promise to the customers (early adopters in the initial phase of your business) who take you up on that promise you’ve put out to the world. If a few thousand people sign up for your service and expect you to deliver but you yank that product because ‘you are not seeing the growth you expected’ I challenge you to review your vision. And that’s what I think the real problem is here and now; the lean startup methodology is focused on the ‘what’ of building a business and provides no guidance (or even reference) on the ‘why’ of your idea. The suggestion here is not to abandon the lean startup methodology but for us to pay as much attention to the motivations behind building business, what problems we are trying to solve and equipping people to be intellectually honest throughout the process of business ideation and building.

2.    Persistence: I’m lucky to get the opportunity to sit with and learn from folk who’ve done this ‘starting a business’ thing before me. I sit with folk who’ve succeeded immensely and those who’ve failed spectacularly. A recurring thread is that most of the time the failure or success of the venture has little to do with the ‘greatness’ of the idea. The failures mainly boiled down to execution and bad ideas (yes, they exist). The successes boiled down to execution and persistence. The Lean Startup methodology encourages and teaches effective execution. But it boils decision making on whether a business will be successful to a time frame that takes persistence out of it; it’s short term focused. Persistence takes us to ‘new’ while the quick build MVP nature of the lean startup model takes us to ‘incremental’ or scraping the idea entirely.

These two issues highlighted above do us no favors in building a culture of business building. What I suggest is that we pay a lot more attention to what happens before we even get to the point of using the lean startup methodology; we should figure out and be clear about our motivations and vision for building businesses.

If your business has no customers and you’ve been persistent it’s fine to let it go. A pivot will not save you. Try a new business idea that you have a clear vision for and are passionate about.

If you have few customers and are trying to grow/growing slowly, look at your distribution channels and your execution. A pivot will just take you back to the start and you will still have to learn how to solve the problems you encountered the first go around. If only you’d been persistent and kept your promise to your early customers you might have learned how to solve that problem.

I did my best Nate Silver impression in this HuffingtonPost article. I’ll add one more prediction to the three: businesses that pivot too frequently and fail to deliver on their promises to customers (few or many) will continue to fail. Pivot your way out of that one…

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  1. Edward Domain says:

    I agree 100% – I always tell entrepreneurs the key to success is, “persistence and execution”

    Great ideas are wonderful- but are you prepared to face the yawning abyss of uncertainty that greets you every day, waiting for you to fail?

    Good stuff, thanks!

    1. Seyi says:

      You know I totally agree with you on that Ed. The ‘journey’ and how much goes on (or doesn’t go on) in that period is lost in the ‘noise’ of fundraising/acquisitions/exits etc’