The 4 Best Pivots in Tech History

Without these pivots, you wouldn’t be able to waste half your work day watching cat videos.

instagram1. Instagram

Before it was a platform for all millennials to determine “hot dogs or legs?” Instagram was a social network named after the creator’s favorite drink, bourbon. “Burbn” was an HTML5 location-based mobile app that let users check-in, earn points and post photos. Kevin Systrom, the app’s creator, paid close attention to which features the app’s users were using most. Despite the popularity of check-in apps like Foursquare, Systrom found that users weren’t using the app’s check-in features at all. What they were using was photo sharing. Systrom took these findings seriously enough to pivot and launched Instagram, an online mobile photo-sharing app, in October of 2010. How did he choose the name “Instagram” for the app? “It sounded camera-y,” Systrom wrote.

facebook2. Facebook

If you’ve seen The Social Network, you might be familiar with this one. Before it was CEO Zuckerberg’s Facebook, it was Harvard student Zuckerberg’s Facemash. According to The Harvard Crimson, Facemash “used photos compiled from the online facebooks of nine Houses, placing two next to each other at a time and asking users to choose the ‘hotter’ person.” So it was pretty much a university-wide game of “hot or not.” Harvard was not having it and shut down the site pretty much immediately. This inspired Zuckerberg to create “The Facebook,” now “Facebook,” the popular social networking website that you can use to stalk your ex’s sister’s former babysitter’s amazing pictures from her trip to Greece.

youtube3. YouTube

Before there was Tinder there was… YouTube? That’s right, YouTube began as a video dating website. And to make it even weirder, their slogan was “Tune in, Hook up.” Cofounder Steve Chen explained that the website’s purpose was for users to upload videos of themselves talking about their ideal partners. It didn’t take off and after going so far as to offer women $20 to upload videos of themselves (yikes), founders decided it was time to pivot. It was clearly successful, or you wouldn’t be able to spend your mornings watching videos of golden retriever puppies running through sprinklers.

groupon4. Groupon

Groupon began as “The Point,” an online fundraising site used to connect people supporting particular causes or goals. According to Groupon’s cofounder Andrew Mason, The Point was “a platform for groups of people to come together and say, ‘I’ll do something but only if enough other people do it with me.’” A particular group of “The Point” users decided that their “cause” would be saving money. Their plan was to gather a large group of people interested in buying the same product to see if they could get a group discount. Cofounder Eric Lefkofsky saw traction in this idea and the company pivoted to Groupon, a marketing service dedicated to group buying, in November 2008.

Familiar with other successful pivots? Have insight to share? Tweet us at @StarterNoise to join the conversation!