Before starting Instagram, Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger started a HTML 5 mobile web app called Burbn which was a cross between Foursquare and Mafia Wars.
It let users check in to locations, make plans (future check ins), earn points for hanging out with friends, post pictures and much more. Their product raised $500k in funding and saw some initial user adoption.
They even created a mobile app for the same. However it looked really cluttered and over run with features. They wanted to focus on one thing and be at it really good.
As per Kevin “It was really difficult to decide to start from scratch, but we went out on a limb, and basically cut everything in the Burbn app except for its photo, comment, and like capabilities. What remained was Instagram.”
So they completely shifted gears and morphed into photo sharing app and removed everything else. And the rest we know is history.
Founders Noah Glass and Evan Williams had created a tool called Odeo for finding and subscribing to podcasts from around the web. However Apple launched iTunes store and killed their dreams by capturing almost the entire market.
They however quickly changed course and created many different products, one of which was short messaging service called Twttr initially and finally Twitter.
This became their most successful venture and a multi billion dollar business.
Flickr started as an MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role playing game) called Game Neverending. It had many features like - a navigable map, real-time interaction with other users, instant messaging, buying, selling and making items and was playable in-browser with no additional downloads, breaking new ground in web application development.
However one of their feature became more popular than rest of the product. No points for guessing, it was their photo sharing feature which pulled in users.
They quickly realized it and trimmed their product to just a photo sharing app called Flickr. Subsequently it was acquired by Yahoo in 2005.
So what’s common in between them?
As evident from their stories, they all started with some thing else and ended up doing entirely different. Essentially they pivoted.
Word Pivot has become an important part of tech startup’s parlance. Switching up your startup’s product and business model in order to survive and grow is nothing but called pivoting.
Twitter, Flickr, Instagram and hundred’s of companies like Paypal, Groupon etc. survived the test of time by seeking feedback from their users, listening to their own gut feeling and with constant zeal, passion and determination.
They had faith in their ideas but were ready to change course when proved otherwise. They did not get attached to their original idea. They were open to new ideas and way of working, resulting in focus and better product.
By quickly getting feedback from users, they were able to validate their assumptions and cut losses.
So if you are running your startup and feel that things are not working, than it’s time for a serious retrospection.
See what features of your product are working. Can you do more of those things in better way and remove every thing else? Can one or more of your product feature can be spun into entirely new product?
How can you bring focus in your efforts and drive growth?
Needless to say if things are not working, its time to Pivot.
Here are two nice presentations on pivot definition and popular startup pivots