What is a Pivot?
(What Does Pivot Mean?)

To pivot is to change direction. It usually involves adopting a new strategy or testing out a new concept.

Pivoting is an essential component of the "lean startup" mentality. Lean startups are driven to stretch available resources further and generate viable products or services faster than traditional startups. Each pivot allows fledgling companies to try new things and see what works. The term "pivot" implies a fairly sudden shift in direction. Pivoting is meant to happen quickly and seamlessly.

Pivoting implies a change in direction, but this does not mean previous efforts should be wasted or discarded completely. Some sources insist that a true pivot preserves previous achievements and revelations while channeling all effort in a new direction. A comparison is made between this process and the physical act of pivoting on one leg to reposition the other.

How pivoting became a business maxim

Steve Blank's book on lean startup strategies entitled "The Four Steps to the Epiphany" brought the concept of pivoting to life. He later expanded the scope of a pivot to include modifying any of nine separate facets of a business model. These facets are:

  1. Customer segments — A company's customer segments are composed of the people its products or services are created for.
  2. Channels — These are the ways that companies reach out to their customers.
  3. Revenue model — A business's product pricing strategy and money-making processes define its revenue model.
  4. Key resources — Any important products or services required by a company to produce its own market offerings qualify as key resources.
  5. Key activities — Critical business activities such as research and development are considered key activities.
  6. Cost structure — Both activities and resources required to generate value for customers can factor into a company's cost structure.
  7. Key partners — Suppliers of resources and services that are integral to a business's market offering fall into this group.
  8. Customer relationships — Methods adopted to acquire new customers and retain existing ones fall under customer relationships.
  9. Value propositions — Choosing to solve new problems for customers represents a change to a company's value proposition.

Companies are effectively pivoting whenever they change any of the above parts of their business model.

Advantages and disadvantages of pivoting

Pivoting can help companies discover better ways of serving customers and even redefine who their target customers are. Businesses may be forced to pivot when they are faced with any number of challenges. Excess competition, for example, can cause companies to consider completely new courses of action. Poor market reception can also bring businesses to the brink of a strategic pivot.

Pivots are powerful but not necessarily right for every situation. Poorly planned pivots can actually cause problems for some businesses. Previous progress may be permanently lost with little gained if a pivot puts a company up against obstacles that are similar to those that forced it to pivot in the first place. 

Managing a successful pivot often also involves planning out funding and staffing requirements in advance.