Gini Dietrich

Pivot Your Business: What Hitchcock Can Teach Entrepreneurs

By: Gini Dietrich | November 11, 2013 | 

Pivot Your Business- What Hitchcock Can Teach EntrepreneursBy Gini Dietrich

In the movie Hitchcock, there is a scene where he is lamenting to his wife, Alma, that no one wants to make the movie Psycho because it was a large departure from his previous movies.

Though he suggested an inexpensive budget and a fast timeline, Paramount Pictures still rejected him, claiming their sound stages were booked, though the industry was in a slump.

So Hitchcock and Alma, while sitting by the swimming pool in their backyard one afternoon, discussed the pros and cons of making such a movie, particularly without a movie studio behind them.

He begins to build the case for going back to making the movies the way they did when they were younger…by putting everything at risk, making a pivot, and going for it.

He looks around their property and says they should make the movie themselves.

Alma, who is still in her bathing suit, says, “Even the swimming pool?”

And so they do. They put everything at risk – even the swimming pool – and go back to Paramount Pictures to put up the money to make the movie.

Hitchcock tells the studio executives he has made a pivot: He will personally finance the project and film it at Universal, if Paramount will simply distribute.

They agreed to this arrangement and the movie was made.

Psycho, of course, was one of Hitchcock’s best movies and he and Alma not only didn’t have to give up their swimming pool, it was nominated for several awards (though it never won an Oscar) and is considered one of the greatest movies of all time.

The Blockbuster Story

I tell this story because it’s a fantastic entrepreneurial story (and an even better movie, if you haven’t yet seen it).

Here is a couple who is fat and happy. They’re accustomed to getting their way in Hollywood. Hitchcock has already earned respect and a reputation. And yet…

Everyone told him no. The movie couldn’t be made. Audiences weren’t ready for nudity (the shower scene) or masterful suspense or large, elaborate (expensive) scenes.

But he found a way. The pivot he made was to risk his family’s entire livelihood because he knew he was right…and it worked.

But when you look around the business world today, you see some in trouble (BlackBerry) and others completely go out of business (Blockbuster).

Blockbuster saw the change coming with Netflix and Amazon and Hulu and Redbox, but they stayed their course. They never veered from their nearly 30 year strategy, which was built to rate the popularity of its older films and immediately check the availability of new releases.

By 2002, the video-renting giant had more than 8,000 retail stores, but was soon faced with increasing competition from Netflix.

Rather than launching a video streaming service then, they refocused on their retail stores, a decision that landed them into bankruptcy just eight years later. (For the record, when a large brick and mortar organization competes with a nimble, virtual one, it’s hard for the former to compete in today’s world.)

By the time the DISH Network bought them out of Chapter 11, they had only 1,700 stores remaining. The announcement last week that the rest will be closed is neither surprising nor sad.

Blockbuster had the opportunity to buy Netflix in 2000, develop video kiosks before Redbox, and even had the inventory to beat other video streaming organizations to the punch.

They did none of these things and instead focused on the investment they had made in the stores, a decision that kept them fat and happy for a while, but eventually failed completely.

Pivot Your Business

It’s important to stay on strategy, of course, because it’s very easy to be distracted by the shiny, new penny.

But when your strategy is completely wrong, it’s time to pivot your business, not ignore external factors that are changing the game.

If you run an organization, your job is to watch industry trends, imagine new products, tweak the strategy, and fail fast.

Take Spin Sucks Pro, as an example. We really thought there was a need for PR and marketing pros to gain online education through courses versus webinars and white papers and the like.

It turns out we were right, but that no one was willing to pay for it (sort of a big factor in creating a for-profit business).

So we put an immediate hold on the development of the online courses and are rethinking the strategy (which is part of the reason Clay Morgan was hired).

As the entrepreneur and the brains behind that idea, it was a really difficult decision to make. But, if I set aside my ego and the money we’d already invested, I knew it was the right decision to make.

Because, sometimes, your strategy is wrong (or changes) and, instead, you have to pivot the idea.

Learn from Hitchcock…not From Blockbuster

Think about what Hitchcock did: He knew his strategy was right, but he couldn’t find the investors. So he pivoted his idea, took some risk, and made it a success.

It’s scary to do. In some cases, you’re changing everything that’s worked in the past.

But if Blockbuster had paid attention to external factors, made the hard decision to close some of their stores in lieu of a mail service and streaming, and focused on the future, who knows where they would be today.

Most likely not out of business completely.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, the lead blogger at Spin Sucks, and the host of Spin Sucks the podcast. She also is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.