basketball_fullAs entrepreneurs, we almost never get it right from the start. Most of the ideas we bring into the world aren’t spectacular from the beginning. An idea may begin with “I want to run a bakery” and over time it evolves into “I want to sell organic, gluten free, cookies at local farmers’ markets,” and then evolves further into a delivering your organic, gluten free cookie dough directly to coffee shops and gourmet groceries every week.
In business, this is called the pivot. Taking your original idea and tweaking and modifying it in small, but profound ways. Imagine a basketball player with one foot firmly planted, but able to move the other to protect from the defense. Pivoting allows us to adapt our ideas to the market without throwing away our current businesses, and it’s one of the most important skills of 21st century business.
There are a few things that allow your company to pivot more effectively:
Build a Flexible Structure
Small teams are much more flexible than large departments. If you’re grouped into research, human resources, marketing, etc., it becomes a real challenge to turn the ship, even slightly. Even a small change can be like pulling teeth.
The most effective organizations manage small teams of 3-5 people and give them the tasks of “defining the problem” or “solving the problem we’ve defined.” Even if you’re working by yourself, don’t be afraid to share your ideas with small groups of friends and have them help you better define problems and solutions.
Shrink the Feedback Loop
One of the amazing things about the web is how quickly and easily we can get feedback from our customers. Whether it’s the “your product stopped working on Tuesday” variety, or the “this feature would really help out” kind of feedback; you can build a very direct relationship with customers early in the lifecycle of your product or service.
This is a fantastic reason for the “Ready, Fire, Aim” approach to delivering products. The quicker you get your products in the hands of customers, the quicker you can start to see where to pivot. 37Signals released Basecamp without the ability to bill. They figured, customers will use it for a month and that gives us 30 days to build a billing system. In those 30 days they got really useful feedback from their customers that helped them build a better product.
Find a Way to Track Non-Buyers
Sometimes the kind of feedback you need is from potential customers who didn’t buy your product. A great way to do this is exchange a free tip sheet, e-book, or video for an email address. That way you can start building a conversation with clients who didn’t buy right away and get an idea of what else they’re looking for. You can try out special offers to them, different price points, bonus material, etc. You’re also building a great list of potential clients for future pivots of your products.

Experiment with Different Ideas

The web also gives us great tools to experiment with different products or services. Google offers a free service that lets you show different pages to incoming traffic. Let’s say you want to experiment with your gluten free cookie dough and see if it sells better as a weekly service, or a case delivery. You can build two identical pages with slightly different offers and test to see which gets the best feedback. This allows us to explore our pivots without betting the company on them.
The key to running a 21st century business is to stay flexible, listen to your customers, and watch for opportunities to pivot.