It’s a big week for pivots. But what does that even mean? Let’s unpack the ‘pivot’

Startups pivot for a variety of reasons ranging from opportunism to investor pressure, and a surprising number of businesses owe their success to pivots.


November 21, 2019

Ebury Reads/YouTube

Earlier this week, TechCrunch reported that Maslo, a startup that started out as a personal mindfulness app, would be pivoting to become an executive coaching app –– and, separately, SocialRank’s team pivoted from audience analytics to a mobile-first professional networking app. 

News of startups pivoting from one business niche to another –– and often remarkably different –– business niche is common. 

It’s easy to poke fun: What do you mean you pivoted your gay social network to a flash sales site, and after raising $336m now you’re pivoting to e-commerce? (Yes, that actually happened.)

But pivots are more complicated –– and more common –– than they may initially appear.

So, why are pivots so common?

Are startup founders just serial opportunists hell-bent on making a buck? In some cases, maybe.

But more often than not, pivots don’t come about merely due to internal opportunism, but also due to external pressure from investors –– many of whom encourage pivots to facilitate growth.

Pivots are possible only when entrepreneurs behind a slumping business have enough money to pivot –– and that money often comes from someone else.

Sometimes, pivots end in complete failure. But other times companies pivot past their original ideas –– and consumers often don’t even realize it.

A surprising number of well-known businesses resulted from pivots

Here are some other noteworthy companies that pivoted their way to productivity:

  • Wrigley started out as a soap company that gave away free baking powder and then pivoted to a baking powder company that gave away free gum and then pivoted again to focus on the sweet stuff.
  • Avon’s founder started out as a bookseller who attracted buyers with perfume samples before pivoting to launch a cosmetics company (and, arguably, a multi-level marketing operation).
  • Suzuki began as company that built looms for silk weaving before pivoting to motorcycles and other machines.
  • YouTube started out as a dating app before its founders realized they’d find more success as a general video platform.
  • Twitter began as a podcasting platform before it pivoted to its current, status-posting form.

Shopify started out as a snowboard store called Snowdevil before shifting its focus to e-commerce.

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