If you’ve watched a game of basketball, then you might’ve grasped the simple truth that the path to scoring a basket is never a straight one from one hoop to the other. Rather, it is a zigzag path where the player encounters several defenders. The same principle applies to business. Success is never a straight transition from point A to point B. Akin to defenders, startups stumble upon several obstacles which create the need for something known as pivot.
The art of Pivoting
A pivot is basically refining the business model through small tweaks. The term has been coined by Eric Ries, the author of Lean Startup, a famous tech-entrepreneur and blogger. “Through pivots”, says Ries, “we can build companies where the failure of the initial idea isn’t the failure of the company.” A pivot occurs when a startup tests a new direction while still keeping one metaphorical foot in the original business.
Essentially pivoting involves tracking the purchasing behaviour of consumers to determine whether the business is viable or, whether it needs to make a pivot by adjusting some components of the business model. It’s a customer-centric process.
Examples of successful Pivots
1. Twitter – It originally started as Odeo in 2005, a platform for podcasts. The release of Apple iTunes towards the end of that year threatened Odeo’s existence. Jack Dorsey, an employee of the company, turned this possible colossal failure into an opportunity by proposing the idea of a microblogging platform. Twitter is now worth $10 billion.
2. Starbucks – When this omnipresent coffee-chain was started in 1971 in Seattle, it originally did not sell cups of coffee to patrons of caffeine. It started out as a retailer of coffee-beans and coffee-equipment. However, when the company was sold to the current CEO Howard Schultz in 1987, Starbucks pivoted to become a major coffee-house and not just a retailer of supplies.
3. Nintendo – This hugely popular company originally started out as a playing card manufacturer in 1889. It took a series of pivots in which it pivoted to become a taxi service and then a motel chain till it finally established itself in the video-gaming industry in the 1970’s.
4. Nokia – A Finnish paper-mill in 1865, this company manufactured all sorts of goods ranging from rubber goods to electronics and eventually their first mobile phone in 1992. Subsequently, the company decided to focus exclusively on mobile devices and sold all its other divisions.
5. Wrigley – When Mr. Wrigley Junior took up work as a soap and baking powder salesman, he conceived the idea of giving away free chewing gum along with the purchases. Incidentally, he found that people took more interest in gum rather than the actual product and Eureka! Wrigley went on to manufacture its own chewing gum.
6. Android – Founded in 2003, its initial vision was to build an operating system for cameras. The downward trajectory of mobile sales combined with the healthy growth of mobiles led to a pivot. Today, Android accounts for 80% of global smartphone market shipments.
7. YouTube – Launched on Valentine’s Day 2005, as a video-dating site, with the tagline “tune in and hook up”, the founders eventually realized that the idea was a dead end. The moment of epiphany was when they realized that their users had a lot better idea as to what they could do on the platform and they pivoted to become a video-sharing platform.
8. Instagram – Starting out as a HTML5 app that combined check-in and gaming features, the app never attracted people owing to its bizarre and confusing mix. However, by transforming the app into a photography app where users could comment and like, it took off beyond the founder Kevin Systrom’s wildest dreams.
9. Groupon- It started as point.com, a site launched in November 2007, which let people start campaigns for money. It pivoted to become the group-buying site that we see today.
10. Flickr – It was Game Never-ending, an online multiplayer game whose concept wasn’t validated. It was too different and difficult for users to understand. The team then successfully pivoted Flickr into a photo-sharing platform. It is today, one of the go-to sites for sharing photos online.
Key lessons from these successful pivots
1. Validate your idea – You don’t want to spend a fortune and the next four years building a product or service that has no market. You need to clearly formulate your idea, talk to prospective customers about your solution and check if there are formidable competitors. If there are no competitors then your idea has no market. Click here for a complete article on validating your idea.
2. Don’t get too attached to your original idea – The decision to pivot can be a heartbreaking one for any startup founder. But if your customers are telling you to do so, then it is time to set aside personal convictions and be more flexible
3. Have laser-like focus – By narrowing down to the photograph feature Instagram became a sensation. Narrow your focus when you are attempting to pivot.
4. Stay agile – It is not just enough to pivot. You should have your ear listening what customer are doing and looking forward to… all the time. As the experience of Nintendo shows, the strategy of pivoting is not a one-time affair.
Talk to Hakuna Matata
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