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Startup Pivots That Changed the World

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Today, the smartphone in your pocket is more powerful than the computers NASA used to put astronauts on the moon.

Modern technology is developing at an exponential rate — so fast that some predict that humans won't even be able to keep up with some kind of artificial intelligence to help us.

Startup Pivots That Changed the World

With the kind of rapid technological development that's going on every day, new startups have to be agile to keep competitive and stay in business.

Not a few startups fail because they don't react fast enough, or focus on the wrong products or strategies from the beginning. Some entrepreneurs fall in love with their original ideas, and fail to pivot soon enough because they can't admit it's not working.

Successful entrepreneurs have to know when it's time to change focus in order to stay in business. One of the most famous examples of successful pivoting is Steve Jobs. When he returned to Apple in 1997, the company has annual losses of over $4 billion — today, it's the second most valuable company in the world. That's because Jobs knew that Apple had to start rapidly innovating in order to keep up with the changing technology. He saved Apple by drastically cutting their product line by 70%, focusing on only four main products.

But some startups go even further, not just refining their focus, but completely changing their entire strategies or industries.

Some of the examples in the chart below are hard to believe. Did you know that Nokia started off as a papermill in Finland, or that Nintendo has actually been in business since the 1800s?

But the reason why these companies have survived and gone on to become hugely successful is because they adapted to changing times. The world would be a much different place if Nintendo never decided to start making game consoles, or if Twitter kept its focus on podcasts instead of microblogging.

Check out the details below — the humble beginnings of these now-famous companies might surprise you!


8 Startup Pivots That Changed the World

Companies like Twitter, PayPal, Nokia®, and Nintendo® have become household names, but none of them operate today in the way they were originally intended. These successful companies were once startups that went through significant pivots, changing the company and the tech world as we know it.

A pivot is a significant change in a startup's original strategy.


  • Nintendo's history dates back to 1889, producing:
    • Playing cards meant to play many games
    • Vacuum cleaners
    • Instant rice
    • Taxi company
    • Chain of "short stay love" hotels
  • They delved into video games in 1966, which have gained massive popularity over the last three decades.
  • Today the company has sold an impressive number of consoles:
    • Wii U: 6,170,000
    • Wii: 101,570,000
    • DS: 158,000,000
    • 2DS/3DS/DS XL: 11,500,000+
    • GameCube: 21,740,000
    • GameBoy Advance: 81,510,000
    • Virtual Boy: 770,000
    • Nintendo: 6,432,920,000
    • Game Boy: 118,690,000
    • Super Nintendo: 49,080,000
    • Nintendo Entertainment System: 61,760,000
  • Did you know?
    • The first Nintendo console, released in 1983, was FamiCom (short for family computer) and was released exclusively in Japan.


  • Perhaps the most legendary pivot in the history of social media, Twitter was once Odeo - a service that allowed people to find and subscribe to podcasts.
  • Founders feared the rise of iTunes® in the podcasting niche would lead to Odeo's demise, so they changed directions to the micro-blogging status updating platform you see today.
  • Today:
    • Twitter has over 1 billion registered users.
    • Users spend an average of 170 minutes per month on the website.
    • Stock traded at $36.79 at the close of market on June 12, 2014, up from the $26/share set at the initial public offering (IPO) in 2013.
  • Did you know?
    • Ellen Degeneres' Oscars 2014 "selfie" picture is the most retweeted, with well over 1 million retweets.


  • Though the platform has always focused on payments, it has undergone many changes.
  • First designed as PDA security software, known as Confinity.
  • Later, changed to become an electronic "wallet" and partnered with financial services to become the preferred payment method for eBay.com, and has gone on to wild success.
  • Today, the company has more than 148 million active accounts.
    • 6 million "top customers" use PayPal to make an average of 98 purchases per year, totalling $4,214, each.
  • Did you know?
    • PayPal accidentally credited a man's account with $92 quadrillion!


  • Originally conceived as a social good fundraising site, "The Point", Groupon became a side project that eventually eclipsed the original idea.
    • When enough people agree to buy something - they unlock a discount.
  • Since it turned out to be a better idea, the founders ran with it.
  • Today:
    • Groupon has featured more than 650,000 merchants.
    • Groupon is available in 48 countries worldwide.
      • More than 200 million subscribers worldwide.
    • Groupon employs more than 12,000 people.
  • Did you know?
    • Groupon has posted a net loss every year since its founding, and still continues to operate successfully.


  • First founded in 1939 as an engineering company, and incorporated in 1947.
  • Before computers, they engineered the resistance-capacitance audio oscillator.
    • The device, known as HP Model 200A, was used to test sound equipment.
  • Introduced the first large scale personal computer in 1968.
  • Since the 1990s, has focused solely on computers and related products, such as scanners and printers.
  • Today:
    • The company ranks 11 on the 2014 Fortune 500 list.
    • Employs more than 300,000 people.
    • Sells ~120 computers per minute.
    • Introduced "The Machine" in 2014.
      • It is a supercomputer that combines principles of workstations, servers, smartphones, and personal computers.
      • It's six times more powerful than today's servers, and requires 80 times less energy.
        • It processes 160 petabytes (163,840 TB) of information in 250 nanoseconds.
          • 1 nanosecond is 1 billionth of a second
  • Did you know?
    • The garage where HP started is an official historic landmark in California. It was named such in 1989, to celebrate the company's 50th anniversary.


  • What's now one of the most popular photo sharing apps, the Facebook acquisition was once known as Burbn - a combination gaming and photo app.
    • Worried that the app was too cluttered and would never take off, the creators removed the gaming features.
  • In 2012, Facebook acquired Instagram for $1 billion.
    • $300 million cash
    • Remainder in Facebook stock
      • At the time, stock traded for $18.36/share making the deal worth ~$736 million.
    • Today, the platform has:
      • 200 million monthly active users
      • 60 million (average) photos uploaded per day
      • 6 billion photo "likes" per day.
  • Did you know?
    • #love is the most popular hashtag on Instagram, to date.


  • Originally known as Tote, the website allowed users to shop with their favorite stores, and notified them when items went on sale.
  • Soon, it was discovered users would rather build "collections" of their favorites, and share them with friends.
  • Today:
    • The website has 70 million users
    • More than 30 billion pins
  • Pinterest hit 10 million U.S. monthly uniques faster than any other standalone website ever at that point in time (2012).
  • Did you know?
    • Pinterest referrals spend more money than any other referral traffic, with an average of $80.54.


  • Nokia started as a Finnish paper mill in 1865.
  • Before moving into electronics, Nokia was a manufacturer of rubber goods.
  • In 1992, they created their first mobile phone and pivoted to focus solely on those products.
  • In 2007, they held 48.7% of the market share for smartphones.
  • In 2012, they held just 3.5%.
  • Today, the company continues to fight for market share in the smartphone realm.
    • They currently hold about 90% of the Windows Phone® market share.
  • Did you know?
    • Nokia sold all of their Devices & Services business to Microsoft in April 2014.

Who knows what the world would be like today if Nokia had stayed in the paper mill business, or if Nintendo had never ventured into video games. The companies may have gone under all together, or they may have found a different path to success.


KeriLynn Engel

About KeriLynn Engel

KeriLynn has worked as a freelance writer for various websites. She is an advocate for domestic abuse victims and has way too many hobbies.


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