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Pivoting Can Keep Your Company Alive. Here's When to Do It

Inc. logo Inc. 7/5/2018 Wanda Thibodeaux

a man in a swimming pool © Getty Images Change can be fantastic. It can keep you in touch with a flexible market and keep your brand alive to the tune of millions or even billions of dollars. Pivot at the wrong time or botch the transition, though, and disaster can eat you faster than a toddler grabs a cookie.

3 signs you need to shift

In 2006, Carson Conant started Mediafly, a platform for podcasts. But it didn't take long for customers to use the platform for business content distribution. So Conant turned Mediafly into sales enablement software, eventually picking up customers like NBCUniversal, MillerCoors and Charles Schwab. He says he knew it was time to make the change by looking at just three factors:

1. Luck and timing--"We were early innovators and early pioneers in mobile content management and distribution on iPads, which turned out to be what a wave of progressive companies wanted. These companies proactively approached Mediafly through our consumer electronics partners asking how they could use Mediafly in an enterprise use case."

Ask yourself:

  • What's the forecast from market trends and feedback?
  • Where do I stand in terms of my competitors?
  • Do I have to create new tools to do the work, or am I able to use what's already available?
  • Who is taking note of my work, and what's their vision for application?
  • Has the number of people who could be affected positively by those alternate applications become greater than the number of people who could be affected positively by my original intent?
  • Has the potential revenue from alternate applications become greater than the potential revenue from my original intent?
  • Am I having to seek out alternative applications or am I overwhelmed with offers?

2. People--"I hired stunningly brilliant people to help me lead Mediafly, and collectively, we saw the market and technological opportunity to pivot into enterprise software from our consumer roots. Our collective momentum toward the pivot helped us to overcome any trepidation."

Ask yourself:

  • Is each hire an expert in their own right?
  • Is each hire able to communicate their concepts efficiently and with respect?
  • Do I see diversity in my workers that can yield a range of perspectives and ideas?
  • Are team members willing to share both information and credit?
  • Does each individual know how they contribute to the big picture and get excited about their role?
  • Have I created pathways or protocols to ensure each person on my team has equal opportunity to engage with me and their teammates?

3. Fun--"After the first enterprise customers started using Mediafly for enterprise mobile content distribution, we realized we could solve a very big problem for some of the largest companies in the world. We became a key component of their mission-critical digital transformations. This was more fun than providing a small value to millions of individual consumer users."

Ask yourself:

  • What seems to excite my workers most, and am I able to provide that in my current setup?
  • What's the status in areas like morale and retention?
  • Are people challenging convention or are they challenging me?
  • Do team members actively participate and take new opportunities?

The 3 phases of a great pivot

Once you know it's time for your company to shift, the process will take time. You have to move through three distinct phases.

1. New ideas

In this stage, you explore all your options, even if some (or all) of them are on a different path than the one you're currently on. You find out what you could do and consider every concept for its potential. Nothing automatically gets dismissed, and defense of the ideas comes before defense of your ego.

2. Divergence

In this second stage, you'll find yourself actively splitting away from your original concepts and trying to decide which is the most viable. You have to make a conscious decision about which path you'll take by looking at your results and the state of your workforce.

"For about a year," says Conant, "we were not sure if the enterprise business was paying the bills while the consumer model took off, or if the consumer business was making us relevant and driving technical innovation while the enterprise business took off. During this time, our sales, marketing and technology investments started to compete for our limited resources. We were also supporting multiple competing use cases within our Enterprise customer network which risked diluting the capabilities of the other use cases."

3. Focus

The end stage of a pivot sees you hone in on a new key area. You reallocate resources toward that area and stop trying to support both the original and new concepts.

"In 2014, we made the deliberate decision to focus exclusively on our Enterprise solutions [...]. At that time we also decided to focus on the two enterprise use cases that seemed the most opportune: sales enablement and media production enablement. In doing this, we decided to stop supporting our video training use case which was the use case of our first and largest customer at the time." It was a difficult decision, but we knew we couldn't successfully execute on more than one or two use cases, so we decided to pour everything we had into the others."

Conant says that pivoting is healthy and creates a foundational willingness to change. Pivoting also doesn't have to mean abandoning your original brand identity or voice. You do, however, have to be able to fully commit to the new direction you've chosen. So perhaps the most critical component is courage. There will be people telling you no, that you shouldn't or, more boldly, that you're crazy. That's when you have to stare your fears in the face and trust what you've seen and learned. Your team will follow you through to the greener pasture, if only you walk with confidence through the gate.

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