The Pivot

“The pivot” has become such a stereotype in the startup space that it’s almost become a punchline. But it’s become a stereotype largely because of how common it is. Eric Reis describes it as “a change in strategy without a change in vision” and many companies that went on to become huge successes have employed the pivot.

I was reading Do More Faster and they discussed iRobot pivoting (outlined below). It got me wondering what other successful startups pivoted successfully. Below are a few.

The interesting thing to note here isn’t that the companies pivoted, but that they almost all in some way maintained their original overarching vision while changing their product offerings.

iRobot: Originally built for “a private mission to the moon and sale of the movie rights,” before pivoting to “industrial cleaning robots in partnership with Johnson Wax, oil exploration robots with both Baker Hughes and Halliburton, and robot toys with Hasbro.” Finally settled on the ubiquitous Roomba they‘re well known for today.

import2: Started as a team communication tool called Pivoted to a data migration service a few weeks after finishing the 500 Startups’ Accelerator.

Pinterest: Began as a mobile shopping site called Tote that gave users the ability to save items that they liked. Failed because mobile payments weren’t ready at that time, but saw a flux of users favoriting products to share with their friends. Favoriting turned to pinning and Tote pivoted to Pinterest.

Android: Andy Rubin, one of the people who created Android long before it was under Google’s umbrella says that Android wasn’t originally built for phones: it was built for cameras. The Android team decided to start building for phones in the fall of 2004 after seeing the growth in digital cameras slow.

Groupon: Possibly the most famous of pivots. Started out as The Point in 2006, built around fundraising for non-profits with the notion that a donation would only be made if a “tipping point” of donations was reached. Pivoted to group shopping, keeping the tipping point feature, and beginning with daily deals on a blog created by founder Andrew Mason.

PayPal: Pivoted possibly five times before settling on the model that really took off. Started out as Fieldlink—a company for PDA cryptography—then pivoted to mobile-IOUs with Confinity, before moving to PayPal, which gave users the ability to make payments over email.

Flickr: Originally started as The Game Neverending before moving to “a place where you could go to chat and talk about photos” and from there to the photo sharing site that Yahoo! eventually bought.

Slack: Originally started as a gaming company, Glitch, before moving to a place where you could go to chat about work. Sound familiar? Slack founder Steward Butterfield was also a founder of Flickr.

Instagram: Began as a check-in service called Burbn. This was around the time when Foursquare had really started consolidating the check-in space from competitors Brightkite and Gowalla. Burbn found that people really enjoyed posting photos on the service, so they pivoted to being a photo-sharing app. That app was Instagram.

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