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May 3, 2012

My Experience Mentoring TheNext36, They Can Pivot

Mentoring TheNext36 team yesterday was a free flow of big ideas. You do have to plant many flags to get a business going and the team triumf discussed a range of ways to focus their start up technology business. The two enthusiastic entrepreneurs, Paul Lee and Ethan Baron, had all the characteristics needed to succeed, particularly the ability to listen and add in their views. Having listening skill means they will be highly likely to be able to pivot the focus of their business as they get it running.
It reminded me of YouTube that began as a dating site and Twitter which began as a podcast sharing site. Also, Canada's Flickr also changed. Here is an excerpt from Fast Company on this very topic and it is from Al Reis, my all time favourite marketing guru:
PayPal's original mission was to beam IOUs from Palm Pilot to Palm Pilot. Flickr grew out of a massive multiplayer online game as a way for players to drop photos into text messages. Groupon emerged from a community promoting political action while online flash retailer Fab.comcame out of a failed gay social network called Fabulis. Instagram's founders created a check-in technology called Blurbn before settling on photos. Pandora was a B2B musicrecommendation service. Yelp transitioned from email recommendations from friends to a local search and user review website.
 These companies, like many others, are examples of startups that "pivoted" from their original visions. First articulated by Eric Ries, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and author of The Lean Startup, "pivoting" has become part of the business and technology lexicon, the Moore's Law of startupology. Only a soothsayer can know what will happen before it happens, and only the savviest (or luckiest) entrepreneur can take an idea from the initial inspiration to market and beyond without a few hiccups along the way. So perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that pivoting isn't just common, it's become the rule more than the exception. History shows that it's more likely a tech company will undergo a steep course correction at one point or another than stay true to their founders' original vision. Pivots are rooted in learning what works and what doesn't, keeping "one foot in in the past" and "one foot in a new possible future," Ries says. Boiled down to its essence: It's all about survival.
Throughout business history companies have pivoted--we just didn't think of it that way. Nokia once manufactured paper and rubber boots, Nintendo sold playing cards, and the Gap was a Bay-Area record store that peddled Levis jeans. Forty years ago Richard Branson published an indie music magazine and Virgin Records was a modest record store with one London location. The Marriot began as a root beer stand in Washington, DC. And startups aren't the only enterprises to amend strategy to avoid their own creative destruction. There was a time not long ago that Apple Inc. earned most of its revenues from computers and not music players and phones, while no one would accuse Microsoft of whimsy until it created Xbox. IBM used to be a billion-dollar computer maker and now it is a billion-dollar seller of business services.
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