You’ve all heard at least once an entrepreneur discuss the merits of how he did a ‘pivot’ — change the business model, product focus or strategy of his startup.
Basically, a ‘pivot’ in startup slang is to make changes to your business model to validate and adjust to your market; or make a drastic 180 degree turn once your validation has proven your startup has little to no market viability in its current model. Simply put, when a startup decides to ‘pivot’, it is changing course to find a winning formula.
First coined by Eric Ries in the “Lean Startup“, pivoting was originally seen as incremental to continuous innovation and integrating feedback loops. That is until it became a corner-stone of the startup lexicon and the conference circuit, and ‘pivoting’ became the new ‘fail’. This trend was exacerbating by other popular semantic fads, such as ‘failing forward‘ and ‘learning from failure‘- and ‘pivoting’ is the perfect word for an entrepreneur to show he has learnt from his mistakes, without the psychological effect, and aftermath of saying he failed. If you ‘pivot’ you get to fail and succeed at the same time. And if a startup ‘pivots’ correctly, it receives a huge amount of credibility from the rest of the industry.
Today, former Twitter founder Biz Stone is resurrecting his social Q&A app Jelly. Founded in January 2014, he had indefinitely put it on hold in November 2014 to found the opinion-sharing app Super. But this isn’t the big news. The news is that he has created the latest fad for entrepreneurs by announcing on@Medium that Jelly is performing an “un-pivot”
For anyone who remembers Jelly, yes, we took a break but we’re back 100%. Silicon Valley types might call this an, “un-pivot.”
Stone ‘pivoted’ Jelly back in 2014 after it disappeared from App rankings despite a much-hyped launch, famous investors (Josh Elman, Jack Dorsey, Bono, Reid Hoffman, and Al Gore to name but a few) and still plenty of money in the bank. Banking on the premise that Jelly enables people to answer questions better than a search engine, after an initially good start, active users plummeted. In a postmortem earlier this year, Stone explained:
Most people didn’t want to ask questions, but there were a ton of answers.
This took Stone back to the drawing-board, and created the underlying concept for Super.His decision to ‘un-pivot’ will raise more than a few eyebrows, and will most certainly lead to a rush in defining the new concept that is ‘un-pivoting’. Questions such as why, if Jelly and Super had, as Stone explained “the same underlying theme” did he not directly spin Jelly into Super and scrap the Jelly idea altogether? It is also worth asking that if Stone was willing to ‘pivot’ so quickly away from Jelly, did he really believe in its viability in the first place?
The bottom-line is that Stone never really ‘pivoted’. By putting Jelly on hold and working on an entirely different startup, he put Jelly in the failure-bin and moved on. Incidentally, he did so by applying the principles of ‘learning from failure’ to launch Super, and maintain the momentum and credibility that he never really failed. It begs to ask on the rationale behind resurrecting “the original vision” of a product that failed.
It is without question that ‘un-pivoting‘ will be the new fad to describe entrepreneurs that have resurrected what was considered a failed premise. It will also become a great ploy, along with other catch-phrases, to describe failure. What it does, is further disassociate Eric Ries’ original definition of ‘pivoting’, and associate it with failure, rather than validation or continuous innovation.
So thank you Biz Stone , not for re-launching Jelly, but for having launched a brand new buzzword that will delight entrepreneurs and investors. I look forward to counting how many times it will be included in the same sentence than ‘failing forward’.
Tatjana is an entrepreneurship & innovation researcher, author, practitioner and columnist. Follow Tatjana de Kerrosand sign up to her blog “The Startup Illusion”. And if you want more of this, recommend!
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