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The Art Of The Pivot: Five Start-ups That Failed To Swivel


swivelling on a chair

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” ~ Ferris Bueller (Photo: Ben Bunch on Flickr)

It’s not often that things go exactly according to plan.

For every successful business, there are multitudes that failed outright and a handful that are just there, humming along, existing. And then there’s the companies that didn’t even know they were starting up. They didn’t even have a plan. They just set out to make something cool, and it blew up in their face.

Facebook, Twitter, Groupon, Instagram and Flickr are five juggernaut examples of projects that started life as very different versions of the colossal incarnations we know today. At a crucial point, they all changed tack, refining – or completely reimagining – their business model to achieve success.

Twitter co-founder Biz Stone in running gear

Always be agile: Twitter co-founder Biz Stone (Photo: Joi on Flickr)

To achieve this, they ‘pivoted’. In business speak, this means investigating a “structured course correction designed to test a new fundamental hypothesis about the product, strategy, and engine of growth” (Eric Ries, The Lean Startup), but it’s easier to relate to if, as Jason Del Rey has written, you imagine a basketball player swivelling on one foot to get a better view of the court.

But what about the start-ups that failed to pivot, the guys who, through bad luck or sheer stubbornness, clung to their original course and paid the price? Fliptop presents five start-up ideas that failed in the art of the pivot.

Start-up: OurBeginning
Usurped by: Established printers nationwide
What happened? It’s the year 2000 and the boom of the first dot com bubble., ‘the first Internet resource for selecting and purchasing high-quality wedding invitations online’, is so psyched by its own hype that it rolls out a thirty-second spot at the Superbowl. The Superbowl! It’s a spectacular misjudgement of their target market, and as resources dwindle, their market share is cooly overtaken by already established, traditional printers. is now a day care centre in Seattle.

Start-up: Blockbuster Video
Usurped by: Netflix
What happened? At its peak in 2004, Blockbuster had 60,000 employees and were operating in 17 countries. Somehow, they failed to see the threat of canny upstart Netflix, who needed little more than a simple website and a good knowledge of the postal service to make the idea of driving to a store to rent a movie and then drive back again seem, well, bonkers. The company filed for bankruptcy in September 2010 and were acquired by satellite television providers Dish Network.

Start-up: HiGear
Usurped by: GetAround, RelayRides, Spride, Tickengo
What happened? Often times referred to as ‘the AirBnB of cars’, San Francisco luxury car sharing service HiGear was all set for expansion to Portland and San Diego before a criminal ring stole four cars worth $400,000. As founders Ali Moiz and Murtaza Hussain realised the risk level involved in focusing on luxury cars made the business model untenable, they simply shut down shop and were acquired by Rent2Buy in February, 2012. Meanwhile, peer-to-peer services that concentrated on economy, everyday cars are flourishing.

Start-up: Hipstamatic
Usurped by: Instagram
What happened? Hipstamatic was the original retro-filter app. In fact, it was Apple’s ‘App of the Year’ in 2010, but founder Luis Buick failed to spread its wings by embracing social. Hipstamatic peaked at 4 million users, while Instagram was snapped up by Facebook for a cool $1 billion and has now soared to an audience of over 100 million. Hipstamatic executives cried into their retro-filtered martinis.

Start-up: Cinegram
Could be usurped by: Vine
What’s happening? Launched in early 2012, GIF creation app Cinegram, “the fastest way to share videos with your friends and family”, enjoyed a steady growth curve. But just as they were settling into their space, Twitter rolled out Vine, their six-second video app. Cinegram’s fate isn’t sealed, but they’ll need some nifty footwork to outmaneuver the clout of a service backed by Twitter.

This is a guest post from Paul French, a content strategy consultant based in Berlin. You can follow him on Twitter and Google+, or find him on LinkedIn.


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