Learnings from Unicorn Status Tech Pivots


As COVID-19 forces many in the tech community to take a second look at their product or service, we’ve had the opportunity to work with great companies in readjusting product roadmaps and come up with the perfect pivot.

Historically, there have been some incredible tech pivot stories which, along with 3 key areas of focus have propelled themselves into “Unicorn” status by making the right tweaks:

Shopify: A Canadian success story to be proud of! Originally, Shopify was an in-house solution for the founders’ own snowboarding company and couldn’t find a viable storefront option back in 2004. One of the co-founders coded their own eCommerce platform for buying and selling their products online. It didn’t take long for them to realize that the framework to build a digital storefront was much more valuable than their snowboarding business could ever be. Today, Shopify helps facilitate over $100 million per year in transactions for businesses that use their platform to setup digital storefronts.

Twitter: Twitter’s pivot from Odeo must be one of the most legendary. Starting out as a network where people could find and subscribe to podcasts, Odeo’s founders hit a challenge when iTunes began taking over the podcast arena. By working with their existing employees, the company made a drastic change and pivoted to developing a status-updating micro-blogging platform conceived by Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone.

Slack: We know Slack’s Founder Stewart Butterfield had great success with Flickr but his second pivot was remarkable. While creating his game Glitch, after many hours of work the company was in financial trouble. So what did they do? They flipped over to building out the chat app that they had internally created for the team. The pivot paid off immensely. When Slack IPO’d last year, they were valued at upwards of $23B – Way to go fellow Canucks!

YouTube: Is it even possible to remember YouTube as anything but the massively successful video streaming service it is today? From day one, it was a video streaming service, but did you know that when it started, it was a video-based dating service, where users could upload short videos describing their ideal partner, and browse for potential matches? In the early 2000’s, with streaming nowhere near where it is today, it became imperative to make a change. After seeing the potential in becoming a wider and more efficient host of online videos, YouTube pivoted and slowly turned itself into the empire that Google eventually acquired for $65 billion.

Key Considerations when Pivoting your Tech Company

  1. Focus on what you have:  What are your core competencies internally?  What can your team do very well and what are the key base technology differentiators you have?  Focus on the wins and build upon them.
  2. Follow the money:  Get back to your market research and see where there are opportunities for your business to make money. This can be short term or for long scalability.  For example, many companies during COVID-19 have pivoted temporarily to keep the lights on and their employees taken care of.
  3. Cut your losses: One of the most difficult things to do is to take an objective look at things to identify what works and what doesn’t.  Sometimes, this can mean a drastic pruning or cutting back.  Although it’s challenging, being realistic is key here and it’s nothing personal.  We all learn from our deemed failures.  After all, you need to make a profit at the end of the day.

Need Help with your Product Roadmap or Pivot Strategy?

CTO Boost works with Toronto’s top tech companies to pivot their tech product towards success.
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