8 Startups That Pivoted and Found Success

Businesswoman working on business plan at the office.

A startup pivot is when a company changes its business model, product, or marketing strategy to find success. Startup pivots are more common than you may think. In fact, some of the most impactful and successful companies in the world, such as Instagram and Slack, have pivoted their startup model and found success afterward. 

Here are some of the most successful startup pivots.

8 Companies That Changed Their Trajectory

Startup pivoting can result in reaching a more optimal target market or establishing a better-suited business model for a startup. These are eight business pivot examples from companies you never knew changed their business model and found startup success.

Recommended: Learn how to launch your own company by reading our comprehensive guide, How to Start a Startup.

1. Slack

Many people within the professional world have used Slack’s easy-to-use communication platform. However, Stewart Butterfield, the founder of Slack, never intended to create this type of company; it was an opportunity recognized and an extremely successful pivot.

It began with Butterfield’s company Tiny Speck developing Glitch, a game that was returned to beta after an unsuccessful launch and ultimately rejected. This streak of bad fortune, however, led Butterfield to identify a potential pivot for the company, the communication platform that the company had been using between its US and Canada offices. This realization led the founder to create the platform we know today as Slack that was acquired in 2020 by Salesforce for an impressive $27.7 billion.

2. YouTube

Today, YouTube is used for everything from cooking to music videos to elearning and everything in between. However, its origins were much more niche. The platform was originally created as a dating site. Users could utilize the platform to create videos of themselves describing their ideal partner so that they could potentially find their perfect match. 

The users, however, weren’t sold on the concept, and the founders had trouble finding people to utilize the platform for this purpose. Fortunately, rather than throw in the towel, co-founders Steven Chen and Jawed Karim decided to pivot the platform and allow it to host any kind of video — making YouTube into what it is today.

3. Twitter

When Twitter was initially founded by Evan Williams in 2005, it was named Odeo. Created to serve as a platform for finding and subscribing to podcasts, Odeo had stiff competition from iTunes, making the likelihood of success slim. 

One of the startup’s employees (and eventual Twitter co-founder), Jack Dorsey, came up with the direction for a much-needed pivot — a microblogging platform called “Twittr” that would allow users to update and share their real-time location and activities with friends. Twitter was propelled forward by one of Odeo’s original founders, Noah Glass. The pivot resulted in one of the most successful social media platforms today, with roughly 206 million users worldwide.

4. Netflix

From original content to reboots of cult favorite shows, Netflix has become embedded in modern culture thanks to the company’s choice to pivot its business model in order to meet new demands and embrace new technologies. 

Netflix started as a mail-order DVD rental website, competing with video stores that were on their way out of popularity. The convenience and cost-effectiveness of receiving movies and TV shows directly to your door were appealing to customers. 

But, as the capabilities of digital content began to grow at a massive rate, Netflix chose to pivot from its mail-order model to begin offering shows and movies on its website. This, coupled with the company’s production of original content, produced massive growth and solidified the Netflix we know today.

5. PayPal

PayPal, founded by Max Levchin and Peter Thiel, started as a software security company before first pivoting as a tool for PalmPilot users to send “IOUs” between devices called “Confinity.” When the company pivoted to offer email money transfer services with the help of Reid Hoffman, calling the service “PayPal,” the company found initial success through eBay. 

This led to another pivot that would provide PayPal’s new customer base with better features for ecommerce. The company then pivoted again to merge with X.com, an online bank launched by Elon Musk before being sold to eBay for $1.5 billion.

6. Instagram

Instagram, now owned by Facebook, didn’t begin as the wildly popular photo and video-sharing app it is known as today. The app was originally named Burbn and developed while Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom was learning how to code. 

While the original prototype did utilize photo-sharing capabilities, the app featured a litany of additional features such as point earning that would eventually be scrapped from the app during its pivot. Systrom and fellow co-founder Mike Krieger came to the realization that the app needed to be simplified. Therefore, they removed several of the apps’ features to only include posting, commenting, and liking content on the app. 

This decision to pivot from the apps’ original name and functionality parlayed the startup into the wildly successful company it is today.

7. Groupon

In the beginning, Groupon was more akin to a crowdfunding site than the coupon destination it has become. Founded by Andrew Mason and originally called The Point, the website allowed users as a community to generate monetary support for causes that were important to them, similar to the crowdfunding sites we know today. 

The Point, however, offered a feature called “Groupon” where users could collectively negotiate discounts by doing so as a group, and it began to see much more traction than the other features of the site. The founder and original investor Eric Lefkofsky took note of this trend and pivoted the site to be called Groupon, offering one deal a day for local businesses. 

After this pivot, the company grew rapidly, expanding to 45 countries in only 16 months and hiring 10,000 employees within a year.

8. Shopify

In 2004, Shopify (then called “Snowdevil”) launched as an ecommerce site for snowboarding equipment. Unfortunately, the site didn’t see much success. 

The founders, however, took note of a different opportunity embedded in their company’s identity already — their online store. Two years after the launch of Snowdevil, Shopify was founded by Tobias Lütke, Daniel Weinand, and Scott Lake. 

Today, Shopify provides solutions for other ecommerce companies to easily and effectively sell their products using the software developed during its original business venture. This pivot allowed Shopify to solidify itself as a leading ecommerce software company providing online sellers and retailers with point-of-sale systems and platforms.

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