10 Businesses That Had to Pivot Before They Became Successful


Change to some is hard. But when the writing’s on the wall, sticking to what you’ve always done can spell the end of your business forever. Don’t be like that; instead, emulate these 10 successful business that first had to pivot in a big way before they became the giant companies we know them as today.


When you think of Nintendo, you probably think of the insanely popular Pokémon Go app, or maybe the NES Classic that nobody can get anywhere this week unless they’re willing to pay hundreds or even thousands on the black market. But once upon a time — and by that I do mean 1889 – Nintendo was a playing card manufacturer. Throughout the years, it tried on various concepts like becoming a taxi service and even a sketchy chain of motels before it finally found its place in the toy industry in the 1950s. It wasn’t until the 1970s it entered the video gaming industry and its path to fame and fortune. Success always starts somewhere.


Ever heard of Game Neverending? It was an online role-playing game from gaming startup Ludicorp where its users would interact with each other by buying, building, and selling within the framework of a digital map. Its most popular feature was a photo-sharing tool, which became the impetus for scrapping further development of the game and pivoting to become Flickr, the simple photo sharing site we all know and love and one of Yahoo’s most successful acquisitions ever.


Want free Wrigley gum? Take a time machine to 1890s Chicago and hunt down William Wrigley Jr., a salesman hawking soap and baking powder who offered free chewing gum with every purchase. When the gum become more popular with customers than his actual products, he started his own company and went on to give the world Juicy Fruit, Spearmint and Doublemint gum. The insanely recognizable Wrigley’s still grosses billions today.


You’ve got money! But when PayPal first began, you wouldn’t have – unless you had a Palm Pilot, the device for which it was originally invented. Peter Thiel saw the potential for expanding the company to allow anyone to exchange money online. In 2002, Ebay acquired PayPal for $1.5 billion – a good deal for eBay, since PayPal was handling over 40% of eBay’s transactions. Today, PayPal has over 100 million active accounts (guess how many it would have if it hadn’t thought beyond Palm Pilots).


When Metallica nabbed Napster for making its entire studio catalog (and a previously unreleased track) available for free download, a German media giant, Bertelsmann, bought it for $85 million. Their mission? To create a new, commercial business model for a service that was once free. It wasn’t easy, but in 2008 they sold the now totally legit and above-board Napster to Best Buy for $121 million; its catalog, available by subscription, includes more than nine million songs today.


If pivots inspire you, you know about Twitter’s amazing transformation from Odeo, a podcast subscription network, to the social media mainstay it is today. When iTunes made Odeo obsolete, the company solicited suggestions from its employees for two weeks. Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone came up with the idea of a micro-blogging, status-updating platform that we now know as Twitter, and Odeo went full steam ahead. Today, Twitter is worth $10 billion.


Haven’t heard of Igniter? It’s because you don’t live in India. Igniter, a dating site for groups that began in 2008, only got 50,000 people to sign up in the United States. In India, where dating, especially alone, can still be taboo the same number of users signed up in a single week. In 2010, one of the founders officially announced that Igniter was an Indian dating site, and the pivot was official.


Though it’s hard to imagine a time where Starbucks wasn’t synonymous with fancy lattes, even your neighborhood coffee shop had to reinvent itself. In 1971, they began selling coffee beans and espresso makers. The current CEO and president, Howard Schultz, loved the coffee, and he transformed the company so everyone could easily taste European-style coffee. If it weren’t for his discovery and the company’s pivot, you’d have to go to Seattle at hope for a free sample if you wanted to get your Starbucks fix.


Once there was a website called The Point. Andrew Mason founded it in 2007 for the purpose of using “tipping point” principles to encourage users to donate to fundraisers for good causes. Groupon was just a side project in which a critical number of users agreeing to do an activity would release a discount to all of them. When it eclipsed The Point in popularity, it began its journey to fame and fortune.


When Yelp first began, it wasn’t full of amusing recommendations for quirky taco places in Austin and don’t-go-here rants about bad sushi in Oakland. In 2004, Jeremy Stoppelman and Russel Simmons started an automated system for emailing recommendation requests to friends. It turned out that what people liked most was the “Real Reviews” feature; instead of responding to requests, they most enjoyed writing unsolicited reviews on local businesses, just for kicks. The founders changed up their plan and went forward with the new idea, which now has more than 17 million reviews published online. Sometimes, it’s good to compare yourself to others.