Insights: Don’t be afraid to pivot because a change in direction can be the key to creation

The value of pivoting

At a fork in the road on your entrepreneurial journey? Don’t be afraid to pivot and take a new path.

Part of the thrill and appeal of entrepreneurship lies in the ability to turn your vision into reality.  Through tireless work and persistent commitment, you get to take your personal dream and work to create something tangible and material out of it. Your actions create something that people utilize and value to make something about their lives better. It is the heart of it that is transforming your personal idea into a product and reality larger than yourself; something for society.

Yet one of the most common pitfalls of entrepreneurship is falling in love with your own idea.  Passion and determination are keys to creating success, and nothing inspires those key traits so well as pursuing your unique vision and chasing your dreams.  However, successful businesses are not defined by realization of personal visions but market profitability and scalable growth.

One of the most essential qualities of entrepreneurship is the ability to accurately read and respond to market demands. There is no sustainable business without a product that people actually want to buy. Every fledging entrepreneur knows that market research and customer discovery is one of the first steps in the process to building a successful business. Creating a product that investors will support because market research proves a gap and a need in the market is a well-understood essential aspect to getting your business off the ground.

However, the less-understood quality within entrepreneurship is the ability to pivot and adapt quickly to changing market needs. While the most in-depth customer discovery may confirm the viability of your product at the ideation stage, markets may shift, and consumer needs may change rapidly. The ability to accurately understand and respond to those shifts is key to creating a company that can sufficiently weather the inevitable adversity and unpredictability that defines the process of building companies.

The need for flexibility within entrepreneurship has become wildly apparent this past year with the global pandemic that rapidly forced intense change upon businesses in every sector. Small locally owned restaurants that depended on their neighborhood business suddenly had to switch to models of online delivery and takeout. Entertainment industries had to change their entire product from live performances and experiences to virtual or socially distanced events. While larger companies had the funds to absorb shocks from loss of sale, smaller businesses or startups who did not adjust rapidly enough simply ceased to exist.

One of our most successful startups here at the Blackstone LaunchPad & Techstars at Syracuse University  is the perfect case study of responding to changing market needs and quickly pivoting. Matt Shumer, a junior studying Entrepreneurship and Emerging Enterprises at the Martin J. Whitman School of Management, spent his first two years at Syracuse working on Visos, a company aimed at selling virtual reality devices for use in the medical industry.   

His venture was growing, and he was close to closing several key investments.  However, as COVID-19 hit, VR wasn’t top of mine for healthcare professionals.  The field of medicine and healthcare became solely focused on epidemiology and PPP. Though he had spent two years sacrificing his time to and pouring his talent into medical VR, Shumer quickly realized that market timing wasn’t aligned in a pandemic climate. 

He hit pause and pivot, built a team focused on a new vision with co-founders Miles Feldstein and Jason Kuperberg, and created a different company, OthersideAI, that today has millions in investment.

Pivoting is no easy task. To walk away from a project, idea, or company that you may have spent years working on and pouring your energy into may carry feelings of loss or wasted time. We create things because we care about them, and then are forced to walk away from the things we care about. But as entrepreneurship is the vision of creating a better world, the ability to pivot is the ability to give society what it needs and pinpoint how your talent can benefit others.

And as Matt’s story proves, good timing, good insight, and a good pivot can lead to even bigger and better outcomes.

Story by Claire Howard ’23, LaunchPad Global Fellow