When and how to pivot

When to pivot your startup

The ability to pivot can be a superpower.

Pivoting isn’t just about drastic changes.

It can also be about subtle shifts that realign the startup with market demands and opportunities.

Understanding when and how to pivot and recognizing that a pivot isn’t a setback but a strategic move can be the difference between floundering and flourishing.

Famous pivots

Some of the most successful platforms began life as something quite different, only to pivot into the models that made them famous.


Originally named “AirBed & Breakfast,” Airbnb started as a website for renting air mattresses and providing breakfast.

The founders pivoted to a broader model of short-term, peer-to-peer property rental, responding to clear user demand and market opportunity.

This pivot was driven by the realization that their initial concept addressed a seasonal or occasional need, whereas the pivot opened the door to a much broader, scalable market.


YouTube initially functioned as a video dating site under the slogan “Tune In, Hook Up.”

However, the founders quickly noticed that the platform was being used to share a wide variety of videos, far beyond the original dating concept.

This observation led to a pivot to a general video sharing platform, a move that ultimately positioned YouTube for acquisition by Google.


Instagram, originally called Burbn, was a check-in app that included gaming elements from Mafia Wars and a photo-sharing feature.

The founders decided to pivot by stripping down Burbn to focus solely on photo sharing, spurred by the observation that the photo-sharing component was the most utilized aspect of the app.

Knowing when to pivot

Deciding to pivot can be challenging, especially when you’re emotionally and financially invested in your original vision.

Here are indicators that it might be time to rethink your direction:

  • Market feedback: Consistent feedback from your target users that points towards a different need or problem than your current solution addresses.
  • Slow growth: Despite best efforts in execution, growth has plateaued or never taken off.
  • Competitive pressure: New entrants or existing competitors have significantly altered the market dynamics, and your current model no longer provides a competitive edge. You play catch up to the competitors.
  • Technological and market trends: Shifts in technology or consumer behavior that open new opportunities which your current model or product cannot capitalize on.

Also read Fail fast

The dilemma of another feature vs. pivot

Startups often face the dilemma of whether to add another feature in hopes of success or to execute a pivot.

This crossroads is critical; adding features can sometimes mean complicating the product without addressing the fundamental issues that hinder growth.

If features are being added reactively rather than as part of a strategic vision, it might be time to consider a pivot.

Adjusting the direction with a soft pivot

Not all pivots mean overhauling your startup’s foundation.

A soft pivot involves subtle shifts in strategy or focus that can open new avenues for growth without abandoning the core business model.

This could involve targeting a new customer segment, altering the product to serve a different use case, or leveraging technology differently.

A tech startup initially focused on providing detailed analytics software to large enterprises might find greater traction and less competition by pivoting slightly to serve medium-sized businesses, adapting their existing product to this new market’s needs and budget constraints.

How to do a successful pivot

Pivoting a startup involves more than just recognizing the need for change; it requires a methodical approach to redefine your business strategy effectively. Here’s how to execute a successful pivot:

  1. Identify the core issue: Before making any changes, deeply analyze your current situation. What exactly is not working, and why? Is it the market, the product, the business model, or a combination of these?
  2. Market research: Engage in thorough market research to identify potential opportunities. Look for trends that align with your startup’s strengths and resources.
  3. Conceptualize the pivot: Based on your findings, develop a new concept that addresses the uncovered opportunities or issues. This might mean changing your product, altering your service, targeting a different audience, or even overhauling your business model.
  4. Validate the new direction: Before fully committing, validate the new concept with potential users. Use MVPs (Minimum Viable Products), prototypes, or beta services to test market reactions without full-scale implementation. Also read How to evaluate your startup idea
  5. Develop a pivot plan: Outline a clear plan to transition from your current trajectory to the new one. This should include timelines, milestones, budget allocations, and required resources.
  6. Communicate the change: Clearly communicate the pivot to your team, investors, and customers. Transparency helps manage expectations and maintains trust.
  7. Implement gradually: Roll out changes gradually to manage risk and allow time for adjustment. Monitor progress closely and be ready to make further adjustments based on feedback and results.
  8. Learn and iterate: Use the pivot as a learning opportunity. Analyze what works and what doesn’t, adapting your strategy in response to real-world feedback and performance.

Slack, the widely-used communication platform, originated from a tool developed for internal communication by a gaming company, Tiny Speck, during its development of the game Glitch.

When the game didn’t succeed, the company pivoted by turning their communication tool into the primary product, now known as Slack.

This pivot wasn’t just about changing the product but also required a complete shift in business strategy, targeting, and customer engagement.

The pivot as a learning experience

Pivoting should never be seen as an admission of failure.

Instead, it’s a sign of strategic adaptability. Every iteration of your product or business model, even those that don’t succeed as hoped, offers valuable insights.

These lessons can guide your pivot, ensuring that the new direction is informed by past experiences rather than just by instinct.

Pivoting is an integral part of the startup journey.

Whether it’s a major transformation or a minor tweak, the decision to pivot should be driven by strategic considerations of market dynamics, user feedback, and internal capabilities.

Also read 22 reasons for why a startup fails and how to avoid them