How Eric Ries Coined "The Pivot" And What Your Business Can Learn From It

It's only appropriate that Eric Ries is the subject of the first video for Fast Company's new series: The Pivot. He's the author of a best-selling book, The Lean Startup, and the man who made the term "pivot" part of the business vernacular.

Ries's blog offers an advanced course in startupology, which until recently was more alchemy than science. He's all about agile startups that are based on testing hypotheses, collecting data, and constantly iterating products. During the course of his entrepreneurial adventures, he realized that some of the most iconic companies of our time--Twitter, YouTube, Groupon--had abruptly changed course before they achieved success. If they hadn't, Twitter would have stuck with audio podcasting, YouTube would have been a video dating site, and Groupon would have continued organizing political protests (and you likely would have never heard of them). Virtually every startup he could think of had pivoted at one time or another. Ries's observation quickly morphed into a kind of Moore's Law for startups, which he believes are almost certain to change course before becoming successful.

After you watch, be sure to read my column that kicks off the series, Enter The Pivot: The Critical Course Corrections Of Flickr, Fab.com, And More.

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12 Comments

  • Rahul Gupta

    Really? All this hoopla for something which is just common sense? Interesting...This is a better example of learning few tips about self-branding than the concept in itself.

  • Monica

    WHAT'S interesting about the pivot is the way it shift the awareness of the protagonists from the grief of failure. It shrinks the grieving that they keep their vision, so they are still on track, only taking a side road.

  • jack holt

    I like how it's characterized: "A change in strategy..." We (at http://whit.li) had an interesting pivot that I don't think Eric covered in his book: app to platform - API, to be more exact. 

    In fact, the pivot was so interesting, I think it may have not been a pivot. We went from an app which helped you find relevant people to an API that any app can use to rate relevance between people, brands, and content.

    So what do you think? Was it a pivot, or something else?

  • Adam L. Penenberg

    Sounds like a pivot to me. Of course, some might call it an iteration. These terms are not codified in steel, so it'll be interesting to see how the definitions of pivot, iteration, etc. change. I think in the Eric Ries definition of pivot, what you describe would qualify. 

  • jack holt

    Well, we did follow a very lean approach to the dev and release of our API. And found it a lot harder than it seemed, but very helpful nonetheless.

    I wrote an article on how we adapted/adopted lean for our latest messaging - I think it's coming out tomorrow on my blog: http://seat34.com . Hope it helps someone!

  • Sheena Medina

    One could also argue that Tumblr is going through its own "pivot" right now. They've recently introduced sponsor packages for advertisers in its first attempt at generating substantial revenue. What does that mean for the future of the platform? At its core, isn't this idea at the heart of all startups? That is-- they all start with an idea and then iterate until they figure out how to make money. Hello Flickr: http://www.fastcompany.com/183... I would argue that the bigger lesson here is that "failure" breeds innovation. So in order to foster an environment ripe for innovation, we need to make it okay to fail. Twitter, YouTube, Groupon, and Flickr all serve as living examples of how failure serves as a catalyst for innovation.

  • Anjali Mullany

    "A change in strategy without a change in vision" reminds me of what Olapic did. Olapic started off as a tool that made it easier for weddings guests to pool together their photos no matter which platforms they used - Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, etc. They didn't change their vision when they pivoted, they just changed their strategy - they pivoted into a tool that makes it easier for audiences and news organizations to pool together photos of news events from a variety of platforms - Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, etc...

  • Luis

    Yes! We (Olapic) "pivoted" using what Eric Ries calls a "Customer Segment Pivot", switching from consumer to enteprise, but we still focus on helping our clients to identify, collect and display photos that are relevant for them. And the main reason for the pivot was pretty much that there was much more traction in that segment (and so far, so good!)

  • Anjali Mullany

    Luis - that's really interesting. What were the major challenges you had to overcome during Olapic's pivot?

  • Luis

    Nothing special here, testing new hypothesis while maintaining our previous product/user base was probably the biggest one,as we were using the same platform to serve customers with totally different needs.

  • Richard Frias

    Well, this is a disappointment.  Good idea, bad execution. Content-wise it's great.  Eric definitely has great insight.  I'm a fan.  However, it seems like Fast Company could afford to produce a video series with a little more production value than this has.  The background music around 3 min. in becomes so loud it's very difficult to hear what the brillant Mr. Ries is even saying.  Also, what's up with Eric's skin color?  I'm not sure the shooters of this vid know how to white balance.  Between all the quick unmotivated cuts to pointless angles and all the strange graphics and words flying on screen this video is more distracting than informative.  Feels like someone wanted really badly to make a "cool, hip, fast-paced vid" that the YouTube kids of today could enjoy.  I still love you Fast Company, but perhaps a pivot for this series is in order.
    R.F.