Pivot is a frightening word in my line of work and from at least one angle it’s easy to understand why. Building a software product business is not just hard it can be incredibly expensive. It can cost a tremendous amount of time, money, energy, etc. This is why when the topic comes up, founders get scared. It’s uncomfortable thinking that you’ve just spent years or millions of dollars on a direction that was wrong. If you can feel this pain, trust me I can too and I’ve been there. However, what I want you to do is walk with me as I explore this concept from an entirely different angle.
Pivoting is a good thing. At this point I feel compelled to clarify that like all good things it needs to be done in moderation. Pivoting just to pivot is foolish. Pivoting because you’ve learned a valuable lesson and identified a greater opportunity is brilliant. Allow me to make my case with a few additional points and some historical data.
It’s not failure if you’re learning
A wise angel investor once told me “…it’s not failure if you’ve learned something.” This was in response to me venting to him about a product business I worked on many years ago that lacked the kind of traction I was hoping for. He walked me down a path to help me see my own experience from an entirely different angle. By the time we were done talking he helped me realize that my journey was incomplete. If chose to do so, there was a great opportunity right in front of me to take that same product and try again with the valuable data that I had now learned. I went from being disappointed to being excited for the future. He changed my perspective just like that by helping me focus my effort in the right direction.
Now don’t get me wrong, none of this is easy. Pivoting is hard. However, so is building a product business. If you’ve started this, you have what it takes to see it through, but you’ve got to force yourself to be open to new directions based on the right amount and quality of data. If you don’t believe me yet, read on to my next point.
There are literally too many examples of successful pivoting to count. For now, let’s focus on a few well known companies and their lesser known successful pivots.
The PayPal Pivots
Everyone knows PayPal, but few know about the real journey they traveled to get to where they are today. The original idea was cryptography software for handhelds (we call them cell phones now). Think sending information with the use of codes. Not exactly the same PayPal many of us know and love today. When that didn’t work PayPal moved to consumer applications then a digital wallet then handheld-to-handheld payments. That last one gained them some traction, but it still wasn’t enough. It wasn’t until they created a website that supported email-to-email payments that became a very popular tool from users over at a little website called eBay that PayPal took off. The rest they say is history.
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I could wax on for days about stories like these. Microsoft started by selling compilers, Apple only wanted to sell plans to sell computers not the actual computers, Symantec (the anti-virus company) was solely focused on AI (artificial intelligence) and the list goes on forever.
Pivoting done the right way generates results. If you’re looking for success with your product company, chances are you’ll be presented with one or many opportunities to pivot. If it makes sense – do it and make sure you keep learning. Before long, you may find out you are where you wanted to be all along – product-market fit.