If At First You Don’t Succeed, Adapt



When things look bleak, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s over. You can always adapt, or the popular term always being used is “pivot”.

There are definitely degrees of pivoting. You can change one minor thing that will make all of the difference, or you can change the entire business model. The point is, change is good, and you should embrace it.

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often” – Winston Churchill

There are actually many famous examples of businesses pivoting, and then finding success. Here are a few:


One of the most famous pivots, Twitter was once Odeo, a platform to subscribe and listen to podcasts. When iTunes started gaining popularity with podcasts, the company decided to pivot, and after brainstorming for a few weeks, decided to turn it into a micro-blogging network. I think it’s safe to say that they made the right decision.


Another very famous story, Instagram used to be called Burbn, a check-in app somewhat similar to Foursquare, with gaming elements to it. After looking at their data, they realized that the one feature everyone seemed to love was the photo sharing. So they removed every other feature, and made the UI very simple and clean. After being bought by Facebook for ~$1 Billion- it seems that they made a smart move.


Not many people know this, but Fab used to be Fabulis, a social network for gay men. After that idea completely failed, they pivoted and turned their site into a fashion retail destination. They now do over $100 million in annual revenue.


YouTube actually began as a video dating website called “Tune In To Hook Up”. It also failed, and the founders decided to pivot and focus simply on letting users upload and share videos. I think we can all agree that they ended up making the right decision, since they sold to Google just two years later for $1.65 Billion.

The point is, don’t be afraid of being wrong.

I’ve seen this many times first hand, and my guess is that it’s because of pride, and these founders being too stubborn, but it’s important to remember not to rely on your gut instinct. Most of the time, your gut instincts are wrong. Instead, what you need to be relying on is data. Use data to help you, and use tools to collect feedback from your customers.

Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Intercom.io – I use this tool every day, and if you run a SaaS company, I would say that this tool is essential. If you haven’t heard of Intercom, it’s a tool that lets you segment your users based on what they do inside your application, and sends them targeted messages. For example, if you want to see users who signed up within the last week, performed at least five actions, but haven’t invited anyone yet, you can send them all a message with a quick explanation about why to invite people, and how to do it.
  • Survey.io – This is a free tool built by the amazing team at KissMetrics, with the help of the legendary Sean Ellis. As the name says, it’s a survey tool to ask your customers questions, and find out what they like vs what they don’t like. I recommend taking a look at the example survey they provide as a guide to get you started.
  • Qualaroo – You can think of this as the premium version of survey.io. It’s another survey tool, but this one is really cool. It’s usually used in contextual situations, and it helps you understand more about what works and what doesn’t. An example would be that if you’re on a pricing page of a website and they see that you’ve been there before (through analyzing the data), a little widget will pop up and say something like “what is preventing you from signing up right now?,” with options to fill out that will help you, as the website owner optimize your pricing page. That was a simple example, but Qualaroo is more powerful than that. I definitely recommend checking it out.
  • CrazyEgg – Built by the geniuses behind KissMetrics, Neil Patel and Hiten Shah, Crazy Egg is an amazing analytics tool that shows you heat maps of how your users interact with your site. Where are they clicking? Where are they scrolling to? These are the types of questions that you’ll get answered with Crazy Egg.
  • Mixpanel – Another analytics tool, this one is much better than Google analytics, in my opinion, because it’s what’s called “event-based analytics”. For example, you can see things like who came to my site from our Facebook ads, signed up, but haven’t logged in in the last 30 days. So Google Analytics will show you things like pageviews and number of clicks, but Mixpanel will show you who is actually doing these things.
  • Optimizely – I use this tool at least once a week, and it’s amazing. What optimizely will do is let you run A/B tests so that you can test out which words, colors, or elements work better on your web pages. So if you wanted to know if moving the “Sign Up Now” button to the top of the page would work better than leaving it at the bottom of the page, you can test that.

What you need to understand is a term known as product/market fit. This is a term that many of you reading this should be familiar with already, but just in case, let me explain what it is.

Product/Market fit is a way of validating whether or not you are actually serving a need. What Sean Ellis says is that if you ask your users “how disappointed would you be if you could no longer use this product?” and at least 40% say “very disappointed,” then you know you have product market fit, because you’re obviously providing enough value.

If you want to learn more, I’d suggest reading this article from Ellis.

The real the magic behind the lean startup movement, or working in a very agile way, is being able to pivot quickly based on user feedback. We had a couple of setbacks as an employee engagement platform and it wasn’t until started working agilely and targeting the right people that we started progressing, both from a development and a marketing standpoint.

Whenever you implement something new (new feature, new support process, new website), you need to do it in such a way that it’s relatively easy to change it, and potentially revert back.

Always ask yourself the question, “can we pivot easily if this doesn’t work?”

In case you’re interested in learning more, I want to share three free courses that I think will help you further understand what I’m talking about.

Build. Measure. Learn. Lean Startup SXSW 2012
The Lean Startup Talk at Stanford E-Corner
Lean Analytics Workshop – Alistair Croll and Ben Yoskovitz


Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Image credit: CC by Weld House LLC

About the author: Jacob Shriar

Jacob is the Growth Manager at Officevibe. When he’s not reinventing the world over a glass of scotch, he likes to find new skills to learn.

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