Learning to Pivot from Eric Ries

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"Learning to Pivot: Notes from Eric Ries speaking at Women 2.0 Founders lab" is a guest blog post from Sally Grisedale, a Founder Labs participant. The first week of January 2011, I started a five-week program led by Shaherose Charania, CEO and co-founder of Women 2.0, to collaborate with engineers, designers and business leads on building a startup mobile business. By day five, 18 people had formed five teams and were pitching their ideas to a star studded team of mentors and advisors.

Through out the week, the stars of the mobile startup world would appear just in time to instruct, suggest and review our work. Eric Ries, creator of the Lean Startup, spoke about startup lessons learned, customer development and failing fast. His bead on learning to Pivot I found most insightful and painfully true.

The word “Pivot” used in the context of a product development describes what entrepreneurs do when they get stuck. Rather than hit the ground with the product, they “pivot” just in time to save themselves from crashing (a basketball analogy).

Pivoting involves recognizing you are failing and making a radical change such that the product has value to the customer. Value means someone is willing to make an exchange of money, time, skill or passion to have it. When value can be measured, for example, by the number of paid downloads, a base line is established against which a sustainable business model can be forecast.

Since beginning a startup is an act of uncertainty, the best thing you can do is to try and remove the uncertainty by building in a system for measuring value as you go. This will move you toward a sustainable business model. Fail to take this step at your peril.

Those activities we love to do as developers, designers and business leads like noodle ideas at the whiteboard, spend a day coding or adding another competitive feature, is a waste of time and money if the work is not tested for its value to customers.

If you want to crash your startup, then build a product and launch it without establishing if someone wants it. If you want to succeed, plan on learning to measure what you are doing as quickly and as continuously as possible. Open your eyes, learn to steer and you will measure how to get there without crashing.

To read more about Sally's first week at Founders Lab, check out her blog post here.