5 Times a Tech Pivot Paid Off

Turn, Turn, Turn

Sometimes change is good. Occasionally, it can lead to greatness.

Just look at some of the biggest tech companies in the world, many of which started out with a radically different business plan before pivoting into success.

Check out five times a massive pivot actually paid off, starring Pinterest, YouTube, Instagram, and more.

It was the public who pushed Yelp! to move from an email system that allowed users to request recommendations, to the amateur review site it is today. When the founders saw that users were writing reviews instead, they switched directions. (Also emailing your friends for recommendations on plumbers and restaurants wasn’t really working out for them.) Less than a year after launching in 2004, Yelp! had pivoted from its email service. Today, users have written 115 million reviews.

Users also helped YouTube find their focus when their video dating site (slogan: “Tune in, Hook up.”) wasn’t panning out. After launching in 2005, the company even paid women $20 to upload videos of themselves to YouTube. But it turned out, users just wanted to watch cool videos, not dating profiles. YouTube’s first official video was uploaded by co-founder Jawed Karim and called Me at the Zoo. It was a video of him at the zoo. Today YouTube has almost one billion users.

Burbn anyone? When Kevin Systrom was trying to learn coding he created a location-based app called Burbn. Systrom noticed that people weren’t using the app’s check-in function but rather its photo-sharing features. After months of prototyping, Systrom released Instagram, a simple photo sharing app in 2010. “It’s about going through false starts,” he said at a conference a few years later.

PayPal used to be a way to “beam” money to your pals through your PalmPilot. “All these devices will become one day just like your wallet,” someone named Peter Thiel told WIRED in the late 90s before PayPal’s launch. “Every one of your friends will become like a virtual, miniature ATM.” A few years later, PayPal had shifted gears and was handling 40% of Ebay’s transactions among other payment services. Ebay acquired PayPal in 2002. Today, Paypal has 179 million active accounts.

Before Pinterest founders realized the phenomenon of “pinning” could be big, the company was known as Tote. The site allowed users to shop online and alerted them to sales. Rather than shopping, users just created collections and shared them with friends. Sound familiar? Today Pinterest’s 100 million active users are doing the same thing.


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