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Is It Time for Your Business to Pivot?

By Sonjui L. Kumar Email By Sonjui L. Kumar
June 2017
Is It Time for Your Business to Pivot?

To pivot is to turn your business around to adapt to changing technologies, market demands, or just a better idea. The pivot can be hard to recognize by those closest to the company, and may be much easier to appreciate after the fact. YouTube was first conceived as a video dating site until the startup allowed its users to determine the best use of the website, posting what they wanted. Nintendo was a Japanese playing card company that migrated its animated characters to the world of video games, and Instagram started as a mobile gaming site that nobody but the owners knew how to use. The HBO show Silicon Valley is a master class in the art of pivoting. The founder of the fictional company “Pied Piper” creates a breakthrough compression algorithm which he envisions as changing the world of music streaming, but which (over multiple seasons) has morphed from a glorified storage device to a video chatting platform. (By the way, Silicon Valley is a must see for anyone trying to keep up with the latest in Silicon Valley jargon and trends.) Although the startup technology sector has given us the most vivid examples of pivoting at the right time, the concept of pivoting can apply to any industry and at any stage in the life cycle of an enterprise.

This column has often addressed the need to periodically check in with employees, customers, and the market, to evaluate the perception and success of your company. Similarly, companies should constantly consider the value of their products and services to make sure they are delivering the best and highest use of their products, and for the greatest value. Often, a noticeable change in purchasing patterns or financial indicators may trigger an evaluation. It may even come as direct feedback from existing or potential clients. The key, as an owner or manager, is not to ignore the signs and commentary that could lead the company to the next level. Once the change or pivot is identified, there are recommended common sense ways to move forward.

• Have a story ready to explain the change: whether it is a 180-degree turn or a tweak in concept, owners need talking points for themselves and their stakeholders. Everyone loves a good story, so make it factual but compelling. “We wanted to serve the [fill in the blank] need that our customers are asking for.” “It may not be what we designed the product for, but we are following the rule of the market and supplying the demand.”

• Once the trajectory is set, be confident. Every change comes with its naysayers, internal and external. The real test of leadership is the ability to turn the ship even though it may be easier to move forward. Management retreats and strategy sessions may be required to focus energy on the new direction.

• Be adaptive, but efficient. Not everything needs to be recreated. There may be skillsets or features from the prior iteration of the company that can be used in the new. In the YouTube and Instagram examples above, the technology didn’t change, only the marketing and use of it.

• Less talk, more action. If a change is imminent, keep the discussions under cover till you are ready to implement. The timeline between announcement and launch should be as short as possible to minimize employee and customer defections.

• Most importantly, be ready to pivot again if necessary.

Pivoting is really just an accelerated form of business evolution. Companies are constantly evolving anyway. A pivot is the recognition that an immediate change may be needed to keep the business alive. To quote Jared from Silicon Valley, “But now I’m back, and I am recovering, and I am focused, and we’re going to pivot. Don’t lose faith, guys!” 



Business Insights is hosted by the Law Firm of KPPB LAW (www.kppblaw.com).
Sonjui L. Kumar is a founding partner of KPPB LAW, practicing in the area of corporate law and governance.
Disclaimer: This article is for general information purposes only, and does not constitute legal, tax, or other professional advice.

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