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A case against pivoting

ideas

I didn’t think I’d believe this. I’m a major advocate of killing things that don’t work and quickly moving on to new ones, but I’ve noticed an interesting pattern in a few companies I’ve been studying lately – they don’t pivot.

They do change product features, but the products they made at the very beginning are the same products they make today. This could get really nit-picky, but hear me out:

  • Facebook – began as a social network with personal profiles. Today, it’s a social network with personal profiles.
  • Ford – began making engines and vehicles. Today, over 100 years later, makes engines and vehicles.
  • Airbnb – began by renting out room in a home as an alternative to a hotel. Today, renting out homes as hotel alternatives.
  • Apple – began by making personal computers. Today, makes personal computers.
  • GoPro – began making camera products for action sports. Today, same.
  • Google – search engine. Search engine.
  • Dropbox – online storage to replace Drew Houston’s thumb drive. Now, online storage.
  • Qualtrics – survey software. $1 billion later, survey software.
  • Spanx – undergarments. Now, undergarments.

The product features have changed over time, but the core products simply haven’t.

Each grew from very humble beginnings, typically with a single founder working in a dorm room or garage making a product he wanted to use for himself. Over time, more people began to use those products, and now each of the companies on the list above is valued from $10 to $675 billion. Yet, remarkably, if we trace those billions back to the inception of each product, we find that the path we take is a very straight one, without dramatic curves or detours. The products that are now worth billions are strikingly similar to the humble dorm room and garage-spawned products that began years ago.

It’s often said that execution trumps the idea, and I’ve always believed that. I’ve met plenty of people with great ideas coupled with terrible execution, and those people usually don’t get very far. But in researching these companies and creating products myself, I’m beginning to think differently. The basis for this thought is an observation of the most basic activity in business – a person buying a product. People just don’t buy bad products very often. Successful businesses are built with good products as their foundation. If an idea is the seminal version of a product, then the idea does matter. In fact, it’s paramount.

Coming up with an idea, then, is arguably the most important activity in all of business. The coming up with good ideas, however, is a difficult process to manage. It’s elusive and ethereal. Ideas don’t come intentionally, therefore, we can’t plan to come up with them. Unlike a financial forecast or marketing plan, we can’t will an idea into existence with team meetings, or assignments, or deadlines.

If we are to consistently – or ever – come up with ideas so good that they can be turned into wildly successful products, we don’t need a way to create them, we need a way to harvest them.

Once we’ve found a good idea, if it is truly good, it need not be changed much to create significant value.

 

Thoughts?

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  • Ari

    Amazon and Google are better examples than Airbnb to put next to proven big players like Ford and Apple ( Facebook too but still i have doubts).
    Airbnb (and other such tech startups) is an infant under the charming light of the startup global trend and the scary, ridiculus overvalue from investors and funds. Not sure how it’s gonna play out both in terms of actual product (and the need for possible pivot), market share & influence or realistic financial value. People today go into the startup world to build/copy fast and have exit plans. That’s not serious business, that’s just opportunistic behavior (as is most of the startup world’s obsessions) and tied around pivot and “customer validation” cults.
    Other than that i agree with your point that “a good idea, if it is truly good, it need not be changed much to create significant value”.
    A truly good idea needs a little push, not pivot.

    Just a few thoughts.