— Fragments

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Urtak

I wrote a piece analyzing the results of CBC’s questions about First Nations people in Canada for the Urtak blog. Enjoy it here.

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As we walked along 27th St., headed back to Urtak HQ after lunch, the team and I were talking startups. As Eric Ries argues, when a startup changes direction but stays grounded in what they’ve learned, that’s called a pivot. What we were talking about was whether we as startups are pivoting, or whether we are actually travelling.

In basketball, a player who has picked up her dribble and and planted herself can continue to pivot off of one foot. But if she moves the other foot she has walked with the ball – travelling. It’s a rule violation, and her team loses possession.

The term pivot is thrown around pretty loosely in the startup world, which might be in part because it is quite vaguely defined. After all, in life, we almost always stay grounded in what we learn regardless of what new direction we choose to take.

Steve Blank, another guru of entrepreneurship, contends that, “a startup is a temporary organization designed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model.” Pivoting would thus appear an absolute requirement for any startup, no matter how successful – just think of the evolution of Facebook since 2004.

What then is the difference between pivoting and travelling? Venture capitalist Rob Go, in an excellent article, argues that a travelling violation means selling an entirely different product to entirely different customers. This is very close, but not satisfactory. For instance, it could be argued that with the iPhone, and especially the iPad, Apple in fact sold entirely different products to entirely different customers. So it’s not just about the product and market. What’s missing?

Mark Pincus of Zynga nails it. In an interview with BusinessWeek, he says that while a company should keep trying different strategies, what should never change is your vision. If Apple sold bicycles, we can imagine what they might look like. Beautiful, sleek, and definitely fixed-gear.

If you’ve changed your product, your target market, and your vision, you haven’t pivoted – you’ve travelled. But then again, sometimes you get away with it! Just ask Instagram, or LeBron James.

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