The Golden Rule of Pivots

One of the greatest things about the digital age is the capacity for whizbang and spectacle. When you get right down to it, the most successful sites of our day have a simple core and a few key features that make them stand out. And when you’re a startup with a good idea in your head, it’s easy to start fixating on those features or other ideas before finishing your core build.

It happens on every project so don’t feel bad. But there have been plenty of times in my career where this reflex to chase the shiniest thing will get your project killed:

Changing the Conversation

I had (keyword being had) a client who, over about eighteen months, had dramatically shifted their product objectives five distinct times. There was always a greener grass and he’d ring us up about every four months wanting to tear it all down. In each circumstance, we asked plenty of questions and made sure it was what he wanted.

At the end of it, the project launched, and it went nowhere. It didn’t get traction and reviews for it called it sloppy and directionless. He was furious at us. When we pointed out that he’d shifted gears so many times he denied it.

Every developer knows that github doesn’t lie and we could show him the project’s life in detail -- a history of whole passels of code being thrown out just to be rewritten.

Different Horizons

We hadn’t heard back from one of our clients for about four months. Calls went to voicemails, invoices weren’t being responded to. It was like trying to get a ghost to pay us.

When he finally resurfaced, we figured out why -- they had been investigating possible product offerings that differed from the original objectives. In the end, they had no more steam or budget left for their original idea. It killed the project.

Investor/Beta Client Requests

This is one of the greatest temptations out there. Investors have an awful lot of money to throw at a good idea -- but that money comes with an awful lot of expectation as baggage. Oftentimes they’re the ones with an eye for shiny objects because they’re looking to make a lucrative product before a useful product. This usually leads to you getting a big bankroll and a shopping list of requirements -- and your dev team gets front loaded with a heap of changes that may or may not even work for what you’ve built so far. It’s a very expensive way to sink your idea.

Now we’re not saying that features, other projects, or investment interests are bad. What we’re saying is they’re distractions. And in order to avoid those, you just need to remember the golden rule of pivots:

Pivots. Happens. After. Launch.

This sounds like sacrilege in some circles. How can you be up to date if you’re not adapting to changes? What if you find a website that’s taking off and it’s using a brand new innovation that’s helping it gain traction? Shouldn’t you be willing to sacrifice some time and effort to ensure you can compete?

No. Because you’re not that site and that feature might not work for your product. The healthiest thing you can do is prototype small, iterate lots, and keep working on what makes your product important rather than how shiny it looks.

If you insist on a pivot and your product is not launched, you’re not pivoting, you’re not making meaningful change -- you’re distracted.

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