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Pivots: Part 7 | A word of warning about pivoting

Being an entrepreneur is really tough. Nowhere is this more obvious than in regards to pivoting versus persevering. I consider this to be the toughest single part of entrepreneurship.

Half of the advice you’ll receive will tell you to be really agile, question your traction and pivot as soon as is necessary. These people will show you examples of companies that pivoted out of oblivion and into startup fame.

The other half will tell you to grit your teeth, dig in your heels and persevere. They’ll tell you that you’re only one wall away from reaching your goals. They too have great examples of companies who ignored everyone’s advice and changed a market through sheer stubbornness.

It’s really hard to know who to listen to and when.

As a result, the pivoting movement has grown—but so has the anti-pivoting movement.

The anti-pivoting movement

The anti-pivoting movement views pivots as drastic moves, desperation plays, all-in bets, or as a sign of a lack of founder tenacity and focus. However, if you’ve read the previous six posts in this series, you’ll know that pivots are much more nuanced and iterative if understood properly.

Some really good ideas have arisen from the debate over pivots, and through my experience, I’ve seen a lot of founders who expend a lot of energy on the wrong things, in the name of pivoting.

I’ve laid out some pro tips below.

Don’t fail fast

I hate when people talk about failing fast. The idea is to succeed, not to fail.

I think what those people mean to say is, “learn fast and don’t quit if you fail.”

When a toddler plays with a puzzle and manually manipulates the puzzle piece until it slides into the right spot, is the toddler “failing” along the way? No, the toddler is learning. Experimenting until succeeding, trying different things and applying what they learned to the next puzzle piece.

The startup experience is a lot like that. The puzzle is the market and the piece is your product. Manoeuvring the piece until it fits the slot is what traction testing and product–market fit are all about.

Test what matters

Too many companies waste too much time testing things that won’t make a big difference.

If you don’t have the type of traffic that Amazon has, prioritizing a test of your button colours wouldn’t be a good use of time.

In the advertising world, a lot of time is being spent on minor variances that will only make small incremental improvements, like the set for a photo shoot or the colour of the attire.

The time would be better spent testing different big ideas, different emotions or different propositions that can mean a 100%+ difference, and sometimes much more.

From that foundation, you can test which messages work best with which target audiences or personas. That way, not only are you testing different big ideas, you’re open-minded to the idea of multiple winners across multiple ad sets (and not just one winner).

Be patient

Companies that practice growth marketing and do a lot of experimentation have to be patient as the results roll in. There is a real risk in both misinterpreting incoming data as well as moving on too quickly.

When you search for traction, you’re really looking for statistical anomalies and/or small signals that something is working better. At the beginning, you’re just trying to catch the spark that has the potential to light your campfire.

A lot of companies catch the spark, but because it doesn’t look like success, they abandon it and search for the next spark.

The spark is the hardest part. Once you find it, zoom in on the learning and find ways to nurture it and build it.

Be prepared to double down

Some companies get so caught up in exploring for traction that they’re not prepared when it happens.

When you find traction, you need to change gears and figure out how to best take advantage of the opportunity.

That changing-gears phase is really hard, because it requires different strategies and different resources than before. But if you’re not ready to double down on good hands, you really shouldn’t be growth marketing anyway.

Finally, even when things are going well and you’re doubling down, be prepared to have to revert back to explorer mode at some point. Nothing lasts forever and the best growth marketers can zoom in and out, maximizing existing opportunities, searching for new ones and managing changing strategies and priorities.

Check your ego

I find this funny, but maybe it’s just me.

When growth hacking became a topic of discussion, everyone was looking for a silver bullet or a solution that would make all their marketing problems disappear.

All the good growth hackers/growth marketers would shout from the rooftops that there was no silver bullet and that it was not about the flashy tactics, but having the right mindset.

As the topic got more popular, marketers turned on growth hacking and started talking about how growth hacking was a fad. That it was what everyone was doing anyway. That it’s overrated or obvious.

Now it’s 2019 and the topic-de-jour is the growth mindset!

The growth mindset is simple, but nearly impossible in many organizations. Have a process to find the right answer. Don’t bring the right answer to the table. Be open to completely new ideas. Treat the best ideas as the “ideas to beat” and keep working. Put in the work. Get frustrated eight out of 10 times. Don’t worry about who came up with the idea. Test anything that can be tested if you really need to know the answer.

So, basically, check your ego at the door. When you are open-minded to new ideas and aren’t married to your own, you can accomplish amazing things and find the zone.

Good luck and stay strong. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. Email me if you’re stuck and I’ll help.

Catch up on this series

Pivots: Part 1 | Why is pivoting important?
Pivots: Part 2 | The search for product–market fit
Pivots: Part 3 | Why most startups fail at finding product–market fit
Pivots: Part 4 | Some pivoting myths
Pivots: Part 5 | Pivoting: Case studies (PayPal, Flickr and YouTube)
Pivots: Part 6 | Types of pivots