Pivot or Proceed: How to Decide

Every entrepreneur faces tough questions about the progress of their startup. Pivot? Proceed? Quit? Learn how to think about these challenges.


So one of the real tough questions for any entrepreneur is when do I pivot, when do I proceed or when do I just do a restart. So what you’re trying to understand at this pivot or proceed part is, is did we find number one, product market fit. That is, are we talking about value propositions, products, service that actually matches a set of customer needs. And then do we understand the archetype of those customers in detail. And does our MVP, our minimal viable product, match those needs of those archetypes. The other thing that might happen in this process is you take an honest look at what you’ve been doing so far and go, you know, we’ve tried pivoting, we’ve tried different customers, segments, this idea just isn’t working.

We used to think that startups simply execute per plan and the biggest problem you were going to have as an entrepreneur is to make sure you got a space big enough to put the bags of money when they arrive at the door. The reality is that most startups actually fail. Most of your hypotheses are going to be wrong. And you need a mindset of learning from each iteration and from each change and from each pivot.

The best example of this in the last couple years was a company called Odeo. They had tried a ton of moves and it just wasn’t working. And one of the founders said well look, let’s give the money back to our investors. And the investors had so much faith in this entrepreneur he said, why don’t you keep the money and try some other ideas. And he said we have this crazy idea about 140 characters and making that into a communications business. Turned out it was Twitter. Twitter was a complete restart, not just a pivot. But they threw out everything, but kept the same team, same building and whatever, but just started from scratch. At some point in time you might want to decide that that is the right thing to do; so either proceed, pivot or restart. 

Suggested Readings

Founders School || Startups || Pivot or Proceed: How to Decide || Impact Guide (PDF).

Blank, Steve and Bob Dorf. The Startup Owner’s Manual. The Step-by-Step Guide for Building a Great Company. Pescadero, CA: K&S Ranch, 2012. Chapters 7 and 12.

Blank, Steve. The Four Steps to the Epiphany. Successful Strategies for Products that Win. Pescadero, CA; K&S Ranch, 2013 Appendix A: The Customer Development Team.

Forbes: 14 Famous Business Pivots.

Miller, Claire Cain. “How Pandora Slipped Past the Junkyard”. New York Times, March 8, 2010.

Blank, Steve. “Why Startups are Agile and Opportunistic – Pivoting the Business Model”.

Blank, Steve. “Crisis Management by Firing Executives – There’s A Better Way”.

Blank, Steve. “Consultants Don’t Pivot, Founders Do”.

Blank, Steve. “Do Pivots Matter?” Xconomy January 14, 2014.

Questions for You

What are my most important metrics?

What have I learned about my customers that helps me determine whether to pivot or proceed?

Can I refine my business model?

What changes can I make to create a better product/market fit?

What hard choices do I need to make?

Tools and exercises

Blank, Steve. Founders Workbook. A companion to the Startup Owner’s Manual. (Website: Zoomstra.com/foundersworkbook)