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For whatever reason, the word “pivot” in the business world has come to have a negative meaning. If you need to “pivot” your business, many people think your original plan was a complete failure. They think it’s a last-ditch effort to save your business.

Well I call bullshit! I’m here to tell you that pivoting isn’t related to failure, it’s related to strategy. 

When you first create a product or service there is a certain group of people it is built for, this is of course known as the target market. As time goes on, that target market changes because different groups of people view a product/service in a different way.

Take an iPhone for example, who buys an iPhone on day one? The people who are extremely loyal to Apple and technologists who are obsessed with phones. Who buys the same iPhone two years after release? People who want a new phone but don’t want to pay a high price or people who simply don’t care much about phones. On day one, is your target market people who want to buy it or people who don’t care to have it that day? As time goes on you must pivot your business to match the needs of those who will buy it two years from now (the average consumer). 

You’re not a failure, you are simply meeting the needs of different groups of people. Take a look at the image below, it’s the adoption lifecycle graph.

As you can see, there are five major groups attracted to a product over its lifecycle. The first group are the innovators, they are the hardcore “techies” of the industry and will buy any new product in a particular industry.

The next group is the early adopters. This group is a little larger than the innovators and they see the greatness of the product from early on but might have to be persuaded a little bit.

The early majority is what you would consider the average person who is in touch with the world but hesitant to make a purchase. This group requires heavy marketing and perhaps a slight product change, this is ultimately where a company pivot happens. This is also known as “crossing the chasm” as coined by Geoffrey Moore.

The late majority are the people who really need to be persuaded to buy it, perhaps after they see their friends with it or when they have enough money.

Laggards are the absolute last people to buy a product. Laggards typically purchase products when it is really cheap in price and the company has already released their next product.

Because pivoting typically occurs between the early adopters and early majority phase I will focus on that. 

Because the first target market for your product are the people who are extremely excited about it, they don’t require many features to be happy and make the purchase. The early majority; however, has stricter requirements and therefore may require a “pivot.” Below I will explain the different types of pivots as mentioned in The Lean Startup by Eric Ries to give you a better idea of the many different types of pivots and what a pivot could actually mean for your company. 

Pivot Types


Zoom-in Pivot

Sometimes you are offering a lot of things initially but the early majority really only needs one feature. Rather than holding on to all features you cut out the unneeded ones and focus on the one people love. Don’t get me wrong, all the previous features got you here, but the early majority may not need them. More doesn’t always mean better. 

I really love hamburgers and I think it is a great example to use here. Why are fast-food chains like In-N-Out and Shake Shack so loved my Americans? Because they not only taste great, but they are simple! Bun. Meat. Cheese. That’s what makes an American hamburger so great, yet there are so many places adding truffles, foie gras, and stacking it two feet high while having multiple options on the menu. Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely a market for that stuff, but sometimes people just want simple and not all the bells and whistles. It could also occur where innovators love all the features because they are crazy about that product, but the majority doesn’t want everything a hardcore innovator does!

Zoom-out Pivot

Exactly the opposite of the zoom-in pivot. One feature isn’t good enough to support an entire product, you need more to make an overall better product. Take Facebook for example, posting about yourself wasn’t enough. After the innovators and early adopters got bored, Facebook needed to reach a much larger audience and introduce Messenger. Now FB is an application that entails more than just sharing and most people love it (maybe before the political scandal).

Customer Segment Pivot

This pivot focuses on the target market rather than the actual product/service being offered. The product itself is fine, the original target market is not. Let’s say you have a dropshipping business and your primary product a sapphire bracelet. Perhaps you originally target women under 30 who live on the east coast but you don’t meet your sales goals. Now you choose a more responsive market such as women over 35 who live on the west coast. You are changing your customer segment, not the actual product itself.

Channel Pivot

The main focus of this pivot is how the product/service is delivered. Typically there is one main channel for every product but as it turns out, other channels can prove to be more lucrative. Take groceries for example, the main channel of distribution was at a grocery store. A physical location where people would have to take time out of their day to shop. With the advance in the internet there is now the ability to purchase online with services such as Amazon or Peapod. Even on a deeper level, rather than farmers selling products that are part of a long supply chain, they actually can sell direct to consumers which of course can affect the price.   

Customer Need Pivot

You are solving a problem when you offer a new product, but sometimes the problem isn’t that important to your customers. Sure, it’s still a problem but not one that they care enough about to buy in to what you’re offering. This can require a small incremental change or a large change in the product. As mentioned by Ries, the Potbelly Sandwich Shop originally sold antiques and offered sandwiches as an effort to bring in traffic. The owners soon found out that sandwiches were actually more attractive than antiques and the rest is history.

Don’t Worry About The Pivot!

Listen, pivoting isn’t a failure of any kind and you shouldn’t be discouraged to do so. Pivoting is merely a strategy where you make tweaks in certain areas that add more value to your business and product. Pivoting is vital to cross the chasm mentioned above and if you can pull off the pivot, you can achieve success in your business.

Need Help?

If you need help designing a pivot for your company feel free to reach out to me via email or if you need help designing a business plan you can check out my gig on Fiverr!

Jacob Pippenger

Author Jacob Pippenger

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