According to Michael Seibel, the CEO of Y Combinator:
Pivot – when you change your customer and/or problem that you solve
Iteration – when you change your product to better solve the same problem
Many people speak of pivoting as it should happen very often. And it might happen often, indeed at first, when you don’t even have an idea to work on.
While you don’t have an idea that you decide is worth spending your time on, you are constantly pivoting. Asking friends, strangers about their problems. Making MVPs for proving if the problem solution is feasible, to check for hidden obstacles, to see if your customers love the solution.
It’s easy to fall in love with your MVP because it’s your baby. And it is a VERY dangerous moment when you can switch from “In search of a solution to the problem” to “in search of a problem for the solution”. If you see that it happens, and you do not have any real customers for your solution – do not try to search for the first customer, this is one of the reasons for the early failure of startups. Always start with one customer and no MVP, create an MVP for that customer, and then find customers like the first one.
Pivot, on the other hand, happens when you don’t like your problem or customers. The best way to understand if you are pivoting instead of iterating – if the new direction can be treated as a whole new business. It is even recommended for established companies to do all pivots as new businesses, to better separate customers.
How often should an iteration happen? If you have a software product, the best would be 1-3 weeks. For a hardware product, we can take the iPhone as an example with 1-year iterations.
How often should a pivot happen? If you already have some customers, then the good period lies within 1-2 years. It is highly not recommended to discard existing customers after 2-3 months after starting because in this short time there is a 100% chance you didn’t have enough time to dive deeply enough. One good saying is “if it was so easy, somebody would already have done it”.