Pivoting for Startups: Knowing When, Why, and How to Shift
Business Management

Pivoting for Startups: Knowing When, Why, and How to Shift

Martin Bell
Martin Bell
5 min read.

Pivoting has emerged not only as a buzzword but a critical strategy for growth, adaptability, and even survival. For startups and other businesses, understanding the nuanced art of the pivot can be the difference between a flourishing enterprise and one that fades into obscurity. We'll dive into the depths of how to pivot effectively, offering insight, real-world examples, tips, and a roadmap that you can apply to your life and startup pivot journey.

Understanding Pivoting in Business

The term "pivot" was popularized by Eric Ries in his book series, "The Lean Startup," where he described it as a fundamental structural course correction to test a new fundamental hypothesis about the product, sales strategy, and engine of growth.

As markets evolve and customer preferences shift, staying the course may not always be the diligent or profitable path. Pivoting, when applied with precision, identifying the need for significant change, and executing it gracefully, can be disruptive and transformative, igniting new life into a business's trajectory.

Embracing a pivot involves not just recognizing the signs that change is necessary but also understanding the diverse forms it can take in our lives and businesses and the strategies that underpin successful transitions.

Recognizing the Need to Pivot

Recognizing when your business needs a pivot is the first of many challenging steps. Fortunately, there are numerous indicators that can signal the necessity for change.

Listening to the Market, Heeding Customer Feedback

You started with a vision, built a product or service, raised money, and entered the market with gusto. But there's a problem: customers aren't biting. Or they're not using the product as you intended. Or your paid marketing isn't seeing a return.

All these situations, and more, translate to a demand that is not aligning with your supply. It’s time to listen and engage with your target market more closely. Tweak your product, pivot your messaging, and re-evaluate your target audience to adapt and thrive like successful entrepreneurs do.

Identifying Trend Shifts

Trends can shift rapidly, and as they do, they can render a product or service obsolete. If you find your offering is falling behind or if you sense there are emerging trends that signify a potential opportunity that you or entire company could leverage, it's a good sign that a pivot may be necessary.

Market Volatility

Economic swings, global events, and industry disruptions can drastically affect your business. Market volatility can signal the need for a pivot, either to better weather the storm or to find how to capitalize on the fluctuations created.

Understanding Different Types of Pivots for a Successful Company Pivot

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to pivoting, and strategic shifts can take many forms, each with its unique considerations and opportunities.

Product Pivot

This is perhaps the most recognized pivot, wherein a company changes a significant feature or characteristic of its product, business models, or service. For example, a cloud storage company may pivot by transforming its product or business model from a subscription-based service for consumers to an enterprise-level data management solution.

Market Pivot

In a market pivot, you retain the core of your original product but change the audience or the original target customer. A prime example of a new market takeover is Instagram, a website which started as simply a check-in app before realizing its photo-sharing feature had much greater potential.

Technology Pivot

A technology pivot involves the company shifts its core original business idea to a different technology platform. For instance, a software company that pivots its offering from a desktop application to a cloud-based service.

Business Model Pivot

This kind of pivot involves a change in how you monetize your product line or service. For example, a company might decide to transition its products from a one-time purchase model to a subscription model, such as Adobe's shift to Creative Cloud.

Strategies for Effective Pivoting

When you decide your compass is pointing towards "pivot," it's not enough to just change direction. You need a detailed plan based on research, concrete objectives, and the support of your team and key stakeholders.

Conducting Thorough Research and Analysis

Before making a significant change, you must thoroughly understand the implications. This involves market research, competitive analysis, and a deep dive into aspects of your operational and product market fit and financial standing.

  • Setting Clear Goals and Objectives: Your pivot must have measurable goals to achieve, ensure accountability and provide direction. Opt for SMART goals—Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
  • Developing an Actionable Plan: With goals in place, it's time to develop a detailed plan of action. This includes the steps to be taken, responsible parties, timelines, and the necessary resources.
  • Communicating and Involving Stakeholders: Your pivot strategy will likely impact various stakeholders, from investors to employees and customers. Open, clear communication about why the business pivot move is necessary and how it will be executed is critical to maintaining trust and support from venture capital to every corner of your ecosystem.

Case Studies: Startup Pivots in Practice

Looking at the moves of well-known companies can provide invaluable insight into successful startups and the art of pivoting a new idea. Take, for example, Slack, which pivoted from an internal communication tool at a gaming company to one of the most popular business collaboration platforms globally.

Or consider Nintendo, which famously started life as a playing card company before pivoting to toys, a taxi service, and ultimately the entertainment giant we know today, largely thanks to its successful pivot to video games.

Common Challenges and How to Overcome Them

When a startup pivots it is rarely smooth sailing. It can be fraught with challenges that many founders have, such as resistance to change, fear of failure, and a lack of resources, funding or expertise.

Resistance to Change

Change can be difficult, but it is also inevitable. Combat resistance through clear communication, framing the effort to pivot as an opportunity for growth, and providing support and resources for those most affected by the change.

Fear of Failure

A pivot implies acknowledging that the current path may not be successful. Combat the fear of failure by embracing a learning mindset. Each pivot offers the ability to adjust, test and learn, bringing you closer to a new business model that works for you and your market.

Lack of Resources or Expertise

If your resources or expertise don’t align with the pivot you envision, seek partnerships or consider upskilling. The Lean Startup methodology advocates for the goal and pursuit of pivot startup with a short Minimum Viable Change (MVC) before full commitment, allowing you to test the waters before diving in fully.

Measurements and Metrics for Evaluation

Post-pivot, it's crucial to measure the success and impact of the change. Key performance indicators (KPIs) will be your true north in evaluating the pivot’s efficacy and results.

Ensure that you're tracking progress against the goals and timelines set during the planning stage. Metrics included may include customer acquisition costs, product usage data, and expected financial performance, among others.

Regular assessment and willingness to adapt and make further adjustments as you learn from the new data is vital for success.


Pivoting is not a sign of failure; it's a strategic tool for shaping a successful business. As an entrepreneur, business owner or startup founder, staying vigilant and responsive to the ecosystem around you is crucial.

Recognize the signs pointing toward the necessity of a pivot, and when the time comes, embark on your business's next chapter with the understanding and confidence that you and successful company are not starting over but building on experience.

About Martin Bell

Martin Bell (Founder & CEO of Bell Ventures) is the visionary and driving force behind the hyper-successful 100 Tasks Startup System which has driven the growth of 20,000+ startups including Zalando and Delivery Hero.

At Rocket Internet, he pioneered the 100-Day-Launch process and led 120+ private and public sector venture-building projects.

Now Martin aims to democratize entrepreneurship by sharing his invaluable practical knowledge and tools to empower aspiring entrepreneurs just like you. Does that sound like you? Then make sure to learn more below ...

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