Jay Shirley

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The Daily Practice

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Win once, or pivot trying.

Published: 09 Sep 2012

I read something that struck a nerve with me. I immediately felt anger and anxiety, with a cold sweat starting to form on my neck. What horror was this? It was about pivoting. What startups do when they run out of steam. Except this article was encouraging it. Keep pivoting until you are profitable. Eghads!

Pivoting is the opposite of clarification and focus. It’s discarding evolution in favor of revolution. Evolution is absolutely required for a business to survive and grow. Pivoting in many cases is simply starting over. A drastic revolution is forced; and revolutions are so often fueld with desperation. This is why it bothers me.

This isn’t about money.

Too many bad entrepreneurs are in it for the money. They want to work hard for 4-10 years and cash in, riding it out for the rest of their life. That isn’t me, and I don’t think anybody who creates truly successful companies is in that boat either. I can’t think of anybody who has created something great that wasn’t already financially sound. Even the illustrious Zuck, well, he was at Harvard. Nobody at Harvard worries about their long term finances.

I’m doing this journey to create a product I’m very happy building and using. There are many opportunities for products. Too many, in fact. The world is entirely unexplored, and with software there is no limit. We simply don’t know what products we need yet.

The world gets bigger and smaller every day. I’m more connected than ever before, but new possibilities are created daily. As such, I fervently believe that any product I would pay for will be a sustainable business. I believe this because I read Purple Cow and Malcom Gladwell books. I am not alone and there are enough people similar to me to make a business out of my own tastes.

This knowledge is a blanket of security. It doesn’t mean challenges aren’t present and knowledge evaporates difficulties. I simply must learn to market to myself correctly. While that may be an insurmountable challenge for myself, someone else should be more successful. Rarely are companies successful with just one person. In short, I believe that the business I’m working to build is sustainable. That as a truth in my world.

But what if, during this journey, my livelihood isn’t sustainable? What if I really need money to continue? I have a family to support, afterall.

Enter the siren song of the pivot.

What if…?

I don’t ever want to “sell out” on what I’m working on. I want to always focus on improvement. I have some excellent ideas for bringing this into the business to business sector, but am still laying the foundations. As the days tick by, I think about hastening this. It would be premature.

Then I think about some what if’s. What if someone wanted to come along and change things. What if my idea just needed a few tweaks to get some revenue now, and in the process changes the entire idea and focus. It’s no longer mine. I wouldn’t care. Gradually and steadily my passion would wane and I would get burnt out. Nobody gets burned out working on what they love. That’s the biggest risk with a pivot I see. Passion is a hidden casualty.

Opportunities can be missed.

The fear and lack of confidence can easily create a mindset where one believes every opportunity must be seized. I stay away from that, and run in the opposite direction. I only need to catch one opportunity. The right opportunity will cascade and create countless more. Choose wisely and never worry again.

Of course, there is now more pressure on choosing. The gained freedom from not feeling compelled to pick is worth it. Through the years, I’ve figured out the right balance for me:

Invest enough time to decide something is wrong, but not enough time to justify the decision.

I trust my intuition and gut feelings. I trust my business is sustainable and I trust in the knowledge I only need to be successful with one opportunity.

But only one!?

I was reading Patriot Games a few years ago. There is a very powerful statement in that book. The enemy needs to only win once, but the defense must win every time. Starting up a company is like that. We’re the bad guys in this story. If we choose our targets correctly, that one successful mission is all we need.

Target sparingly and specifically.

Be committed and succeed, we only need to do it once.