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Startups: It’s O.K. to Change Your Mind / Product

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I’m not a football “guy”.  Actually, the only thing I like about footballs are the inspirational movies, great quotes, and cheerleaders (yep, guilty). However, here’s a startup analogy involving football: having the ball, taking a hit, rolling [bouncing] (without touching your knee to the ground) and continuing your charge forward!  That’s the mental movie I see when I think about startups.

Run. Run. Hit. Run. Hit. Hit. Run -> End Zone!

We get hit – stuff doesn’t work out – yet we keep pushing forward.  The only time you stop is if you give up (i.e. knee touches the ground).

Note: Personal story about Flowtown below


A product pivot is like taking a hit and changing directions.  The idea is better described here using a basketball analogy – but I think it’s more than that. To me, It’s the equivelent of taking a hit (no product traction) and spinning (product pivot) to find another path at the end-zone (product market fit).

Customers Development

Created by Steve Blank allows startups to follow a methodology that should, in essence, reduce the amounts of time “hits” you need to take, to reach the end-zone (touchdown! [insert dance]).

Different Types of “Pivots”

I believe 2 types of “pivots” exist. Customer Development (feedback) led pivots, and Vision (management) led pivots. Arguably, the vision led pivots may have started by customer feedback – but it’s not so obvious on the outside. [again, I have no proof, other then what I have read].

Here are some examples:

Customer Development Pivots

  • YouTube: Video Dating Site -> Video Site (/w Embed Feature)
  • Flickr: Massive Multiplayer Online Game -> Photos (USA Today Story)
  • Rapleaf: Reputation Engine -> Customer Insight for Marketers
  • Imeem:
  • Nintendo: Trading cards -> Electronic games
  • Spokeo.com (feed reader for your friend to people search) http://www.techcrunch.com/tag/spokeo/
  • tailrank -> spinn3r (consumer media company to b2b service provider)

Vision Led Pivots

  • PotBelly Sandwich Company (Antique shop -> Sandwiches)
  • TwitVid.com (Read below)
  • Wikipedia: Life begans as nupedia, and vison led pivot to wikipedia.
  • Berkshire Hathaway: Cotton mills to investments
  • Pixar: Pixar Image Computer -> Animation Studio
  • Apple: macs -> ipods -> iphones -> itablets (? I liked it, not 100% sure)
  • .. and many tech startups {You know who you are, yes I’m talking about you. It’s all good – but recognize}

If you still want more, read: Surprising first products of 14 famous companies

Story: www.OneRiot.com

Two years ago, they launched as Med.ium – a browser plugin to allow you to view what your friends where navigating online in realtime – which they eventually pivoted to a real time search engine.

Listen to Kimbal Musk (Founder) talk about the pivot (@kimbal)

Story: www.twitvid.com

Adil Lalani (Co-Founder) via email: “Pivoting is something we’ve been doing for quite some time (although we never called it a “pivot”). So one example is my company: EatLime.com switching to TwitVid.com. Here’s an article that briefly talks about our switch to twitvid: Twitter Hype Trickle-Down Provides Boost To TwitVid ( btw that valuation in the article is old. )”

Our Pivot: Flowtown.com

We thought we were listening to the market, but we realized there was a HUGE difference between what we thought people wanted, and what they were willing to $ pay for (= how we measure traction).  We had 700+ registered accounts, however, only a small percent converted to paid accounts (very small).

Long story short. We threw out 3.5 months of code (video), built a new solution www.flowtown.com and brought it to market (pivot).

The results: 11,063.35% increase in revenue in our first month. That should tell you how bad it was before ;-).


  • Decide what traction means to you.
  • Do Customer Development (CD) (or whatever you choose to call it)
  • Don’t be afraid to change directions (a.k.a pivot)
  • Don’t drop your knee [quit]. Ever!

P.S. For the record, doing a pivot doesn’t always work. Just saying.

P.P.S Thanks to the following peeps who provided insight to the examples above.

Jon Boutelle, Co-Founder of Slideshare.net

Jason Calacainis, Founder of Mahalo + ThisWeekInStartups.com

James Sherrett, Founder & CEO AdHack

Jon Bischke, Founder of EduFire

Marcus Nelson, Salesforce.com

Richard Mordini – Javaelin VP

Helen Zhu, Founder of Chictopia

Raj Gajwani

Christiaan Vorkink – True Ventures

Jonathan Abrams, Founder of Socializr, Friendster

John Anderson, CEO of GroupCard

Joshua Brewer, SocialCast.com

Steve Jang

Garry Tan, Co-Founder of Posterous

Arjun Dev Arora, Founder of ReTargeter

Rodney Carvalho, Founder of ScrumNinja

Julien Genestoux, Founder of SuperFeedr

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