Thoughts on Pivot and Focus

or why and how those are different and matter.


We recently made an announcement at appsfire that we would offload our consumer app in favor of mobile ad technologies.

Most people called it a “pivot”. And that got me thinking about what a pivot really is and means because i knew it was not accurate.

From my observations pivoting usually takes place very early only and points the company to a whole new direction when things were going wrong

But is that the only way a startup can change gear ? By pivoting to a new direction acknowledging failure?

I could not accept that expression applied to what we announced at appsfire because I saw a different pattern which I see in other companies, young and less young. This pattern is called focus.

What is the difference ? When you’re focusing, you’re not rebooting the company to something new. You re just offloading to expand on something you already have.

For example at appsfire we had two activities running in parallel for years, which probably was a mistake. A consumer activity with the app and an ad network running with 10 large publishers and 1000 developpers signed up for various marketing services

But still when we made the announcement that the app would not be available for download anymore people still called it a “pivot” when all were doing was focusing on an existing activity in order to zoom in and expand
So why does that happen? For 2 reasons: because it sounds better — the media love this expression, and it is a de facto pattern of many startups — and because we didn’t do a good job at explaining, along the years, what we were doing (probably by lack of focus)

So it is important that entrepreneurs (and those who are interested in start ups) be aware of not only the relative importance of their assets but with as much priority care about how they are perceived because this also defines their company

No one would qualify Google of pivoting if they we’re say selling , say, YouTube in order to focus on web search. But that would be right to qualify it of pivot if, for example, Google planned to sell its search business to Microsoft in order to focus on YouTube as search revenues crash and bet it all on videos.

When the core center of gravity of a company moves from point A to point B and point B was not on the companies map then you can call it a pivot. That happened with Criteo early on who started as an content recommendation engine before becoming and ad network. But that was not the case with Ebuzzing who already had an a video ad network running when they de-emphasized WIKIO the content syndication service

Some people want to call for example Instagram a pivot of Burbn? i don t think it was: it was a simple focus of a generic social network to pictures. I would qualify it more of focus on something they already had (although to be clear Burbn was not exactly taking off)

A Pivot is a radical change of direction. Focus is about offloading and choosing a path you already had picked up but mixed up in a bunch of other stuff you were doing and making that your priority

Why does that matter? Because, beyond the perception, it is what defines the DNA of a company and how it can truly be appreciated in a market. Because it also sets the priorities internally and puts everyone onboard (employees, investors, providers,…) and the energies required to pivot and to focus are not the same at all.