A common problem with internet marketers is that they jump from trend to trend, gimmick to gimmick, loophole to loophole, always hoping that this time, it'll be their turn to hit the jackpot.

Just like the lottery, it's true that people do win. But the odds are probably about as good, er, bad.

I once calculated that winning the lottery is about like picking the right 1-foot stretch of I-80 between Lincoln, Nebraska and Evanston, Wyoming. Imagine all those hundreds of miles packed with people, each staking claim to their 1-foot of road. The winner is picked, and everybody else...well, I hope they enjoyed the scenery.

But I digress.

Over at Mashable, Nicholas Thomas wrote:

Although some discount "The Pivot" as an overused buzzword, for a startup, pivoting can mean the difference between becoming the next success story and joining the deadpool.

So, what is "The Pivot"? From the subhead to an Inc. article on the subject:

Lean startup guru Eric Ries recommends that start-ups refine their business models through small tweaks"”or pivots.

In other words, rather than trying something out, deciding that it's not going to work, and hopping to something else, you try something out, assess what is and isn't working, and make course corrections.

Sometimes, those course corrections result in something drastically different than what you started out doing. The Mashable article I linked to above listed 11 companies that had "Pivoted" from their original business concept and made it big.

  • Yelp started out as a way to ask friends for recommendations.
  • YouTube started out as a video dating site.
  • PayPal started out as a way to exchange money using Palm Pilots.
  • Flickr grew out of an online role playing game company.
  • etc.

The article reminded me of what happened with my business back in October of 2002. I had built a singles site with my brother, but it just wasn't sticky enough. People would join, log in a few times during the next few days, and then leave and never come back.

Reader Comment:
Chuck Woo said:
Great and timely post. I know exactly what you mean.
(join the conversation below)

To try to make the site stickier, I decided to add a news page. But I didn't want to have to manually update it all the time, so I went looking for an automated solution. That's when I first discovered RSS feeds.

At the time, the available tools for displaying RSS feeds on websites weren't very good, so I wrote my own script to do it. To try to build more traffic, I made it a free download for anyone else who might want to use it. It turned out there were plenty.

Over the next several months, I got lots of feature requests, and thought of a lot of new features myself, and the script evolved. Eventually, I realized I had a viable commercial product.

The singles site is still limping along, but the RSS parser script went on to become my company's core product.

In a way, the move from singles site to RSS parser is a huge jump. But the difference between simply saying, "my singles site isn't working -- maybe I'll create an RSS parser" and what actually happened is key.

I didn't just give up on a struggling idea and jump to something else. I took the little piece of the struggling business that was succeeding, and "pivoted" off in a new direction.

There are times when you need to persevere until a good idea gains traction. And there are times when you need to jump off of a sinking ship. Knowing which situation you're in is one of the big challenges of being an entrepreneur.

But it's important to remember that it's not always an either-or decision. Regularly look at your business to assess what's working and what isn't. When you find that your best opportunity lies in a different direction than where you're going, don't be afraid to shift your emphasis -- to cut dead weight, and concentrate on the parts of your business that are showing the most promise.