The Single Word Every New Entrepreneur Must Know (and Practice) – My First Pivot and Profit Podcast


Are you an entrepreneur? If you say no, here’s a wake up call.  We’re all entrepreneurs now, with jobs or actually doing the startup schtick, you have to act and respond like an entrepreneur.

There’s one word you need to know now, Pivot!

Some people are born to be entrepreneurs, others figure it out, and today, everyone is being challenged to think and act like an entrepreneur, even if they have a job. So what exactly does this mean?

I became an entrepreneur because no one would hire me out of college, and after taking a few years to figure out what that meant, I learned how to do it right. Now 25 years later since I began as an entrepreneur, you hear about smart people like Peter Thiel of Paypal fame calling out the education bubble, and Dilbert creator Scott Adams talking about integrating entrepreneurial training into education, or as a replacement for higher education itself.

Let me share my first pivot, as part of my first Pivot and Profit Podcast:

What’s a Pivot?

If you are in the Internet startup community, especially Silicon Valley, this term has become part of the lexicon. For the many who don’t know what a pivot means for entrepreneurs, check out 2 people who made this word an essential part of any startup, Eric Ries and Steve Blank.

Pivot means a shift in the way you do business, adapting to both the market for your product, the competition, and really your initial plan for doing business. Many startups set goals and try to make them real, try to invent something new or simply bullrush their way through business, trying to prove themselves right.

Yet for startups today, that approach is pretty much suicide. Steve Blank teaches a whole course at Stanford on entrepreneurship, and it’s focus is about creating a business idea as a premise, researching and testing its validity, and adapting, or pivoting, to a better idea based on your research.

Since a Harvard study stating 97% of businesses change their initial business idea and/or model, it’s clear that the move now is not to follow old school ways of being an entrepreneur, trying to set goals and proving them right.

Now with markets, and customers, in control, a new form of doing business is shaping up. This is part of what I’m exploring and inspired by Ries and Blank, I will soon be opening up my own entrepreneurial training based on my 25 years of experience as an entrepreneur, and my 16 years of teaching experience online.

My First Pivot

After graduating college and saving my money to go to law school, I experienced my first pivot. This happened on a personal level – I discovered that after working for a year to go to Hastings in San Francisco, a good school, it really wasn’t a right fit for me (something every law school helps students identify quickly, because if you are not hard core about the law career, legal education is not for you).

So I left and used my savings to buy my first Mac Plus, and published a magazine. Much like people set up blogs today, I identified a key topic of interest for people – in this case drug testing, which was just coming out.

Now to say this was a success is relative, because back then I would just make up an idea, spend my time and money, and try to make it work. Today you can’t do that, and it’s not smart to do it. My first pivot taught me that it was good to pursue what I loved, but like many it took me time to define what that was, and how I could make a living, or better, doing it.

Eventually that pivot led me to working with Bay Area companies, offering Macintosh and Next computers and related services.  Because I learned how to use a Macintosh, it became easier for me to sell, and teach others how to use that computer, and that led me to where I am now…and to the Internet.

What I learned from my first pivot:

  1. Don’t rely on what others tell you will work; test out every idea and realize that you are not alone, there’s a market out there. And the customers are in control, not you.
  2. Pivots keep happening, and nothing stays the same. Bank on it and don’t get stuck doing the same thing.
  3. Keep a close on your competition, and a closer eye on your audience, your market. They will show you how to pivot, what works, and what is really happening with  your business.
  4. Business is not a lottery ticket, you have to earn your success.Throw out the lottery ticket mentality, the “I’ll do this and work so hard and it will work because I deserve it” mentality I see so often.
  5. Measure you business by cash flow, not just your dream. It’s nice to say you’ll make this much money when it is all working, but how will you get your first dollars, your grocery money as I like to say, or as one of my early mentors taught me, “Your plan is well thought out Declan. How do you make your first $1,000?”
  6. Answering that question is key for any business, and for any entrepreneur, as is understanding the nature of pivots. How do you recognize a pivot? How do you know your idea is going to work, and how do you establish that knowledge?
  7. Faith is belief in something that does not exist, which every entrepreneur must have to create the business in the first place. Proof is in what is working, if people understand what you are doing, and buy what you have to offer.

How about you?  Do you pivot in your business, or do you choose to follow goals you set? How do you recognize when the market is shifting, or when your idea is not work?  How do you pivot?

I’d love to know your experience as an entrepreneur, and answer questions you have about the pivot, both business and personal, and/or your challenges as an entrepreneur.