THE PIVOT – 3 tactics when it’s time to change direction

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It’s 3am again and I woke up in a cold sweat.  That uncomfortable feeling gripping my stomach, wrenching it into knots.  No sense fighting it – so I swung my legs over the edge of the bed and stumbled to the bathroom.  As I flipped the switch, it was like being slapped in the face as the darkness blinked away.  The first sight was my reflection in the mirror, with a slight disgusted shake of my head, I reached down, turned on the cold water and splashed some on my face.  It was going to be a long day … as many had been over the past few months.

Launching a new business or new product is never easy, although it is significantly easier than pivots and re-launches.  Either of those is filled with more dread, more stress, more pressure, than doing something new and exciting.  It’s easy to stay excited about a “game changer”, bouncing out of bed with new ideas, talking to partners and potential customers, telling them how “great this will be when it’s launched”.  That – well frankly, is easy.

What’s not easy is after the”great” thing has been launched and it missed the mark.  It didn’t do what you wanted it to do, customers who were excited at launch, are not as excited today.  And you’ve struggled over the past year to make any significant dent in the market.  The “air is out of the balloon” – few people around the office are excited – and now, it’s time to move in a different direction.

No one likes to admit when things are not working out (in either our personal lives or in our professional lives), the reality is this:  all the way through the development from Idea to Product, you made assumptions, and those assumptions could be 100% wrong.  Once you launch, and do actual battle in the market is the time you are proved right or wrong.  If you were mostly right, only slight adjustments to the direction are required.  If on the other hand, you were mostly wrong, a dramatic change is required …

Enter the Pivot

That is why, you are waking up at 3am.  Not because you’ve lost confidence in yourself or your ability (if you have, get over that one quickly), it’s because of one hard cold fact:

it’s hard to dramatically change direction

Now the people around you are second guessing your decisions, there is decidedly a lower level of excitement, and the most dreaded thing happens — all of sudden, it feels like WORK again.  You know, the thing everyone left behind to do something new and exciting.

So, here is another list of things to do – will they work (who really knows), but there is a higher likelihood of success if you do them, because as we all learn (and re-learn) throughout our lives, success if elusive …

(1) Talk to those users / buyers again

Anyone willing to take money from their pocket and put it into yours is worth a few hours of your time.  Any of those people, who are still sticking around, are either your dumbest customers or your biggest cheerleaders.  I’m going to take the high road and say they want you to succeed – either because the alternative would not bode well for their own career, or they really do believe in what you are doing.

You want people who will be brutally honest with you.  Those who care enough to give you the bad news first, and finish up with some good news.  Ask, Ask, Ask – keep pounding until you have drained them dry of their suggestions, their theories, how they “broke” your product, what they have modified, where they tripped, and where they succeeded.  Get it all from them.

(2) Look at the market again

I know, it’s only been 18 months since you put the beta out there and a year since launch.  I realize, the market hasn’t changed that much – well, look again.  You missed something in your previous research.  You assumed too much or too little.  I have no idea what changed – it could be as simple as “it’s an election year” or “that new tax law really had a bigger impact than we thought” or maybe even “Facebook changed their API and now we can’t get the data we expected to get”.

Markets shift.  Buyers lose interest.  Laws change.  Technology changes faster than most people change socks.  There is something having an impact, it’s up to you and your team to figure what is causing the problem and decide what you can do about it.  

(3) Rally the Troops

Have you ever noticed all great stories have an arc – you know, the moment where the protagonist is all but beaten, they are down (but not out) – and then something happens, some spark ignites the fire again.  Be the spark.  It is time to rally everyone involved, regain the enthusiasm you had when you first launched. 

Get people together.  Not just in the pressure cooker of meetings or deadlines or project plans – I mean, get them together, and thank them first – then reestablish the mission.  They don’t want to work in the corporate grind, where everyday feels like the last.  Where they do A, someone else does B, all the way to Z and no one knows if doing A made any difference what so ever.  Give them part of your fire, it is your job – your only real job – to get everyone going again. 

Now is the time to find your real leaders.  It does’t always come with a title – but you will be able to see those natural leaders, because other people seek them out.  Once you identify who they are, have a heart to heart with them.  They will be the foundation for your pivot – they will make or break you.  And if they “leave the ship”, watch out, because others will notice and wonder why.

That’s about it.  It’s your story.  How do you want it to end?  


If you got this far, thanks – you are one of the few (based upon research of readership of online articles – check it out … from Slate).  You have a product, idea or company – I have both the experience and enthusiasm to help.  I specialize in Tech companies, but really, what product isn’t based on technology these days.  Neither of us knows, right now, if I’m can help you, so go ahead and contact me – either here, via email or on my website.

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Contact me today (really I mean that).  I can help you and am available for short/long term consulting or employment for the right opportunity.  Additionally, I invite you to read more of my articles, I post on many of the sites above.  Sharing ideas, taking products to market, or just understanding more about the process - that's what it's all about.   Issues with any or all content used in this post should be directed to the author.