You’ve just launched your startup or small business. You’ve got a great idea. But then, you find customers aren’t really interested. Do you throw in the towel? No, you pivot.
You’ve been running your small business successfully for years. But then, your industry changes. Do you look for a job? No, you pivot.
You’re smart and doing well. But then, you notice there’s a real gap in the market for something you need. Do you complain? No, you pivot.
“Pivot” is one of the hottest words in business today. With technological and market transformations coming at us as rapid as meteors, an entrepreneur has to be nimble to survive. So it’s not at all surprising that you might start in one type of business and eventually need to change – to pivot – to another.
You may find yourself pivoting because:
- You see an opportunity and want to seize it
- It’s time for Plan B
- Something better comes along
** Pivot to seize an opportunity
Many of the best pivots are inspired by a smart entrepreneur seeing – and seizing – an opportunity, particularly in their industry or area of expertise, often because they see a problem needing to be solved.
“More than 60% of people who come in to see a doctor don’t have a procedure with that doctor,” said cosmetic plastic surgeon Dr. Gary Breslow. “It’s a very inefficient process, frustrating both patients and doctors.”
Breslow saw a need in the market. Thus was born his company, Zwivel, a platform enabling those interested in cosmetic plastic surgery to find a doctor that best meets their needs and budget.
During a ski trip with his friend Craig Abramowitz in 2012, the two conceived of an online method for patients to check out multiple doctors, get their questions answered, and get prices for procedures.
“We worked very hard and long on a platform to balance what the patients look for and what doctors look for. We had to meet the needs of both and wanted to mimic what happened in person.”
Though he still keeps his plastic surgery practice going, Breslow pivoted. He soon put together a team, including his wife, attorney Loren Breslow. “I love plastic surgery, but I’m committed to making sure this succeeds.”
** It’s Time for Plan B
Sometimes your original business plan just doesn’t work. It’s time for “Plan B.”
Pivoting is far more common than you’d ever imagine, especially for startups. Many of today’s most successful companies started with a different concept, then changed, when they hit a wall.
Some well-known recent pivots include:
* Twitter – a podcast directory called Odeo
* Groupon – a consumer action site called The Point
* Pinterest – a mobile shopping site called Tote
* Instagram – a social check-in site called Burbn
* Flickr – an online game called Game Neverending
* PayPal – a system to beam payments to Palm Pilots
But companies were pivoting long before the tech boom.
One of the most successful pivots happened over a century ago. In 1902, five businessmen formed the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing (MMM) company, bought a mine, and set out to extract a valuable mineral, corundum. Only problem: there was no corundum there. Whoops.
The company quickly pivoted. The company now known as 3M started selling sandpaper (there was a lot of sand in that mine). But the company kept failing, and pivoting. Their openness eventually led 3M to become one of the world’s most innovative companies. Some of the many inventions from 3M include masking tape, cellophane (scotch) tape, magnetic recording tape, video tape, PostIt notes, and a whole host of medical, solar, photographic, and industrial products.
** Something better comes along
Occasionally, entrepreneurs pivot because they recognize a better, or at least different, opportunity. In fact, that’s what happened to me.
When I first went into business, I intended to be a consultant to wealthy individuals and small family foundations. I’d worked with non-profits and recognized wealthy donors needed professional management of their charitable donations. I saw a need, had the contacts, and soon landed a big client.
Around the same time, purely by accident, I ran into someone who needed a business plan developed. I needed the work and plunged in. And then, a funny thing happened: I fell in love with business strategy and planning. And I pivoted.
Copyright, Rhonda Abrams, 2015
This article originally ran in USA Today on October 16, 2015