Pivot, Jump, or Shoot?

438px-basketball_game

By Elizabeth

“Pivot” is probably the most overused word in the startup community.  Everyone is pivoting his/her company from this to that.  So how do you know when you should pivot your company slightly, jump to a completely new business idea altogether, or just shoot for the moon with what you have?

My friend Rishi recently wrote a post about how he thinks many entrepreneurs pivot too early — they don’t give their businesses enough time to prove or disprove its hypotheses.  I think he writes a very fair post — it does take some time to validate assumptions.  But, I think there’s another big reason to jump or pivot that is often overlooked: passion.  Do you have a passion for the business you’re in?  Can you be excited about waking up to that same business day in and day out for 3-5 years?  And if the answer is clearly no from the beginning, no matter how good the numbers look, you should not be in the business.

I often hear successful entrepreneurs talk about how you should scratch an itch that you have — this is apparently an indicator of passion.  But, I would guess that 80% of internet and mobile entrepreneurs haven’t got a clue what they’re actually passionate about.

Sometimes you need to experiment with lots of different startup ideas to find your passion.  (tweet this)

 Case in point: I tried to scratch my own itch by developing Shiny Orb with my friend Jennifer.  Shiny Orb is a social shopping site for wedding apparel.  When I was planning my wedding, it was so frustrating to coordinate dresses with my bridesmaids who were scattered all over the globe.  It was a problem that plagued me for months, and Shiny Orb came about as a way to scratch my own itch.  The trouble is — even just a couple months after starting the site, I realized that I wasn’t actually passionate about the wedding industry.  I didn’t actually care which one-shoulder dresses were hot and should be on the site.  I didn’t enjoy mingling at wedding-related tradeshows and events.  And yet, I could not have known just how tedious the whole business idea would become had I not started pursuing it.  There are so many clever startup ideas we think we want to pursue but are not actually areas we’re passionate about.

After spending nearly a year experimenting with different internet business ideas, I finally figured out that I was passionate about solving the problem of customer acquisition.  At LaunchBit, we jumped from idea to idea to try to create an effective platform to help internet and mobile companies grow their customer base.  But, it took me a long time to figure this out — I had to go through many different business ideas across multiple verticals to learn what I liked and didn’t.  So, when I talk with new entrepreneurs who are just starting a business for the first time, I usually suggest looking at the qualitative data more than the hard numbers.  If the qualitative aspects of the business (e.g. tedious nature of the industry, mundane operational activities) are bothersome in the first few weeks, you should not be in the business.  You should jump or pivot.  How will you discover your passion?

Thanks to Rishi Shah for his feedback.  

Want to learn how to avoid common startup mistakes?  Attend FailCon on October 24, 2011 in San Francisco.  Founders from Airbnb, Uber, Udemy, KISSMetrics, yours truly, and more will be sharing war stories and lessons learned.  But only 500 founders and investors can attend, so sign up here to get specially alloted tickets at 20% off.

  1. Rishi says:

    Elizabeth! This is a great post about the struggles of discovering your passion.You knew you wanted to be an entrepreneur and start a business… something a lot of people figure out early on in life. Finding your passion takes time and effort – something a lot of people fail to realize. I’m glad you found yours, I can’t wait to see what you accomplish over the next 3-5 years!

  2. Jennifer Chin, Elizabeth Yin says:

    Thanks @Rishi! A big part of the problem is that what I’m passionate about is web development and building useful things. But, for folks like myself, figuring out a vertical or industry is much harder if that’s primarily what you love.

  3. wjg says:

    Elizabeth, do you have a post describing your current involvement with ShinyOrb? Were you able to reduce your commitment to it?

  4. Jennifer Chin, Elizabeth Yin says:

    @wjg Yeah — we no longer work on it at all. Shiny Orb was an easy one to just leave hanging, because it didn’t require customer support, and we didn’t actually have inventory. So, the site is still up and runs by itself. We have a parser that automatically gets the latest dresses and adds them while removing dresses that no longer exist. A lot of brides still find it useful, so it wasn’t too painful to put away. However, we’ve tried other experiments that were much more hands-on, and those were harder to put to rest. But, in the end, since we weren’t going to work on those experiments, we had to dump those completely. And that can be painful.

  5. Andrew McInnes says:

    Hi Elizabeth. Great post, particularly as I’m pivoting through different ideas for building a startup from my heart. Like you, I started with trying to pick a vertical, and found that restricting, if not entirely fulfilling. Then I got lucky! Last summer, I got to participate in Bill Warner’s lab about how to find an idea for building a startup from the heart. Thanks to Bill’s gift I’m now happily pivoting from one idea to the next, with every idea resonating with what I’m fundamentally passionate about, and bringing me closer to the ultimate idea for building a startup from my heart. The technique entails filling in 4 sentences. At first, it admittedly seemed hokey, but I’m super happy that I gave it a shot. If interested, I wrote a blog post on the technique: http://drewmcinnes.com/2010/08/4-steps-for-building-a-startup-from-your-heart…>Thanks again!Drew

  6. Jennifer Chin, Elizabeth Yin says:

    Thanks @Andrew. Nice post! Yeah, Bill’s great — I’m familiar with his methods, and he helped walk us through a lot of these exercises. I agree — seems totally hokey but so key. The warm fuzzy stuff usually isn’t for me but I’ve found that really being passionate about a particular space or challenge is super important in getting through the tough times.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>