Yesterday I headed down to Austin, TX for SXSW. This is my fourth year at the event and every year brings new things. At this event you see lots of companies trying to make a name for themselves, historically these are startups.
This event has the opportunity to really put a company on the map, especially if you are targeted at consumers. You have the opportunity to get a ton of people to try your app since there are a large amount of early adopters. If you provide them a good experience and value there is a shot that this event is a major springboard for you.
Foursquare launched in 2009 at SXSW. Quite a few people downloaded it but many of us weren't connected so the appeal was pretty limited. In 2010 they had grown quite a bit and SXSW was an event that showed the power of Foursquare. That was a fun year because I ended up with the agency sub-culture since I was hanging out with my friend Matt Trego (who is currently working on our new branding and website we will launch soon!). Foursquare was getting traction but this was before they were on the cover of every magazine. They had some funds so they did some cool things and threw some parties where there were only ~100 people there so the entire Foursquare team was there, which gave us a chance to chat with them quite a bit.
Foursquare has done well and they continue to grow but for every Foursquare there are 100's more that don't do so well. As I was packing I came across an item in my junk drawer from SXSW 2010 (actual pic from last week).
This is from a company called Stickybits. The idea was that you put these little bar codes on things, scan them with your phone and it took you places on the web the end user could dictate. For some reason I remember them well. They were running around with bright red t-shirts on with their logo and one of the guys had a huge mop of blond curly hair. They also had a table set up at the Foursquare party, which is where I had a chance to chat with them a bit. I don't remember what I did 10 minutes ago but for some reason I remember that? Go figure.
The other thing I remember about them is thinking - this idea will never fly. Being an entrepreneur you spend a lot of time with other entrepreneurs. There are some companies you look and and you just can't see the long term potential. Stickybits was one of those companies for me.
Fast forward to 2012 and these guys have massively pivoted to be one of my favorite sites on the internet. Somewhere along the way they realized that Stickybits was not all that sticky and they needed to do something else with the money that they raised. What they came up with was Turntable.fm. This is a music site where people go into a virtual room and take turns DJing their favorite music. I discover a ton of great music that you would never hear on the radio.
Turntable.fm been an interesting site to watch because of some of the social dynamics that go on, but more interesting to me is their pivot. I don't know these guys but I would love to talk to them about their experience. Most startups pivot at some point. I was having coffee with a friend the other day who is the CEO of a company that has pivoted two times since we last chatted 6 months ago.
Luckily we have not had to pivot to this point. We took a ton of time before we started this company validating the market and the problem. Nitin spent 5 years doing PhD research discovering a significant hole in the actual science behind how social networks work and he filled that gap. Most people walk away really excited about what we are doing after we have a chance to speak with them, but there is no telling what tomorrow brings.
The reason I am writing this is the pivot is an interesting reality that most startups have to face. Some are big and some are small, but how do you know when it is time to face that reality? As entrepreneurs, we are passionate about what we are doing. We believe we can change the world. We are also very close to the problem and our solution. We have never lost a bit of conviction that we are onto something that can change the way people and businesses use social networks, but I have thought a lot about how do you make sure you have a dose of reality when needed?
One lesson I've learned is you have to surround yourself with the best team, advisors and friends that you can who can give you an objective look at your business. You listen objectively but don't let you conviction waiver unnecessarily. That is the only way people have ever created amazing products, companies and experience that have an impact.
Have you had to pivot? What was your experience like? I would really love to hear from you.