Pivoting and Iterating in Startups are Different Things

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Pivot entered the startup vernacular a few years ago when Eric Ries popularized it on his blog with Pivot, don’t just jump to a new vision. Previously, I’ve espoused the benefits of iterating and believe it’s important to differentiate between the two. Each term has its place in the startup world and should be used accordingly.

Here’s how I look at pivoting and iterating:

  • Pivoting – A wholesale change of the current business model in an attempt to capitalize on a different market opportunity
  • Iterating – A minor change of the current business model in an attempt to capitalize on a closely related market opportunity

Pivoting is simply a much more drastic form of iterating. When I talk to entrepreneurs and they tell me how they’ve pivoted recently, most of the time they actually mean iterated. Iterate is something you can roll out quickly and casually. Pivoting is a wholesale change to the business and typically takes much longer to execute.

What else? What do you think of the differentiation between pivoting and iterating?

4 thoughts on “Pivoting and Iterating in Startups are Different Things

  1. Good post David, and spot on. I use the analogy of backpacking; iterating is course correcting between two points, and pivoting is a new course altogether. In the corporate world, we used the words evolutionary (iterating) and revolutionary (pivoting). The key is to know when you need to one or the other, or neither…sometimes you are just too early, and you need for markets and products to sync up for instance…I really enjoy your daily posts, probably one of the only things I read daily.

    1. Thanks Jamie, I appreciate your kind note. I like your use of evolutionary and revolutionary — they fit perfectly with iterating and pivoting.

  2. One can too caught up in semantics sometimes. These are two words that in context mean essentially the same thing. I like pivot better since it implies bold action. Iteration means doing the same thing, just a little bit different.

    Either way, when things aren’t working, or even when they are, be bold and constantly tinker.

  3. I always seem to get lost when startups start talking about pivoting and iterating (and sometimes the terms are interchanged), but now David has made it clearer and simpler. Thank you David.

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