“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often” – Winston Churchill
The most critical decision for an entrepreneur is to know when to stay the course vs. change direction. I’ve spoke at length about how to deal with “The Entrepreneur’s Dilemma.” Today we launched the new version of Docstoc that completes our 6 year evolution from a professional document sharing website to the go-to resource to start and grow small businesses. In part we were inspired by some of the most famous business pivots of some of the most famous brands. Here are fourteen extraordinary examples:
The most legendary pivot in social media history is the transformation of Odeo into Twitter. Odeo began as a network where people could find and subscribe to podcasts, but the founders feared the company’s demise when iTunes began taking over the podcast niche. After giving the employees two weeks to come up with new ideas, the company decided to make a drastic change and run with the idea of a status-updating micro-blogging platform conceived by Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone.
PayPal has always focused on payments, but it has gone through many permutations. It was developed by a company called Confinity in 1999 to allow people to “beam” payments from their PDAs (handheld digital computers, such as the Palm Pilot, an early incarnation of the smartphone). After merging with a financial services company called X.com, PayPal became the preferred online payment system for eBay sellers, which propelled its name into payment processing fame.
In 2007 Andrew Mason created a website called The Point, which was a “social good” fundraising site that ran on a “tipping point” system, where a cause would only receive funding once the pledged donations reached a certain number. Mason started Groupon as a side project, which applied a similar “tipping point” concept to local deals: if enough people pledged to do an activity, they would unlock a discount on it. The Groupon project quickly eclipsed The Point in popularity, and became the daily deal tycoon we know today.
The coffee shop which now inhabits every street corner (and sometimes two on each street corner) did not always sell fresh-brewed coffee to customers. They started off in 1971 selling espresso makers and coffee beans, which Howard Schultz (current chairman, president and CEO) fell in love with on first taste. After his visit to Italy in 1983, Schultz was determined to actually brew and sell Starbucks coffee in a European-style coffeehouse, and transformed Starbucks into the nationwide java sensation it has become today.
These days Nokia may be in need of another pivot, but we all remember the glory days when a large percentage of cellphone users sported a Nokia (usually adorned with a trendy plastic case). Nokia actually began as a Finnish paper mill in 1865; the second mill opened on the Nokianvirta river, which inspired the company name we know today. Nokia created a wide variety of products throughout the 20th century including rubber goods, electronics and telecommunications devices, and eventually their first mobile phone in 1992. They decided in the same year to focus exclusively on their mobile devices, and sold off all other divisions of the company.