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Chad Priest on the right time to pivot your startup

Chad Priest is building social media startup Linkies even though when he started he never intended to build a company like this.

Priest and his co-founders originally started with the idea of creating their own social media network. They worked on it, they worked on it, and they worked on it. And they got no traction.

"It was a lack of traction," Priest says. "We went to a lot of incubators and co-working spaces and nothing panned out."

So Priest and his team went in a different direction for a moment. They helped push forward the initiating to bring the X Games to Detroit. While working on that they stumbled upon a new way to capture public support for social media. It turned out to be the basis of what Linkies is today.

"That was a pivotal point in our business," Priest says. "That's when we realized this opportunity was our breaking point to pivot."

Pivoting is a hallowed term in startup culture. Lots of successful tech companies today started doing one thing and pivoted to another when the initial idea petered out. It’s so familiar in tech that the TV show Silicon Valley turned the idea into a comedy bit in the season finale.

Linkies did the same thing. The downtown Detroit-based startup, it calls Lowe Campbell Ewald's LCE Labs incubator home, is now gaining traction. The Linkies’ platform is a social media aggregator, capturing hashtags across major social networks like Twitter and Facebook. It organizes and displays theses hashtag posts so its client (usually a major organization) can show off the social media conversations. It recently did this with a high profile Lions game and gained a moment in the media spotlight while doing it.

But getting to this point required a pivot. Deciding to execute a pivot is not an easy decision. It requires the startup to team to swallow its pride and admit its idea wasn’t as great as they originally thought. It requires getting buy-in for a new vision from both the startup's team and the people backing it. Most importantly, to successfully pivot, it requires an idea that will gain traction.

The moment the CFL went off over the heads of Priest and his team took place at a business plan pitch competition in Washington, D.C. They realized the participants weren't enthused enough about the social media network idea to sign up, but the hashtag platform they created for the X Games Detroit campaign is something they liked, a lot.

"The D.C. event was the 'Aha!' moment for sure," Priest says. "We knew this was the direction we needed to go in."

So far it has proven to be the right decision. It earned Linkies the spot as the first tenant in the LCE Labs incubator, gave it some much-needed public exposure, and enabled it to play to a national audience. So when it comes to making a decision to pivot, Priest advises entrepreneurs to keep their eyes open and an open mind.

"Pay close attention to the surrounding area and the opportunities available," Priest says. "You can build one thing and not even realize the opportunities around the corner with just a few tweaks."

- Written by Jon Zemke

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