Famous Pivots in Business

Think “pivot”, and many may think of the legendary episode of Friends. However, for entrepreneurs, this word means something else entirely. Afterall, there are many times when yelling “pivot!” is exactly what is needed to get a business back on track. Pivoting in business means a strategic change in direction. It could be discontinuing a product line, rebranding to reach a new audience, or adjusting a concept to meet demand. There are many famous pivots in business. These stories are inspirational for entrepreneurs ready to make changes and level up their company. 

Examples of famous business pivots

Making a strategic change in direction can be scary for entrepreneurs. Knowing that pivots are a healthy part of business transitions can be comforting. Read these famous examples of successful business pivots and learn lessons you can apply.

Estee Lauder Branding

Branding is about creating a distinct identity for a business. This is more than the logo and tagline; it’s the whole style and voice of a company. Surprisingly, the iconic branding of Estee Lauder is the result of a famous pivot in business. Back in the 1960s, ads in newspapers and magazines were the main way to connect with consumers. However, Estee Lauder was still a growing business, and its marketing budget could not afford colour ads. Contrary to the advice of everyone around her, Estee decided to embrace black and white ads. Certainly, this was a pivot. After all, who would think to advertise cosmetics without the use of colour? But Estee Lauder did. And this differentiated their ads from all the competition. The ads stood out as a unique style and became part of the brand identity. In fact, it became so associated with the Estee Lauder brand that used black and white ads long after they could afford colour. Discover more lessons from Estee Lauder in this article. 

Wrigley’s Gum

See the name Wrigley’s and immediately, we think gum. However, William Wrigley Jr. never intended to be in the chewing gum business. Actually, he started out as a traveling salesman for his father’s soap company. Later, he offered baking powder as a free giveaway for every box of soap. Seeing an opportunity, he started a side hustle of selling baking soda. And what was his giveaway? Yes – chewing gum. When he noticed how popular the gum was, he pivoted to focus on developing more flavours. So that pivot built a multi-billion dollar chewing gum brand.

Airbnb

This controversial company disrupted the hospitality industry and transformed how people travel. Ever wondered how the business got its name? It started as the idea to host guests visiting town for a conference, by offering a bed (using an air mattress) and breakfast. Air bed and breakfast became Airbnb. In fact, this was such a part of the brand in its early days, that it sold boxes of cereal as an innovative marketing campaign. Then, a host asked about having guests stay in his apartment while he was out of town for work. Initially, founder Brian Cheskey was against the idea. Afterall, the whole concept of Airbnb was to be a host, serve breakfast, and answer questions about the local area. However, his co-founders thought differently. And this led to one of the most famous pivots in business. By listening to their hosts and changing the rules, the potential of Airbnb exploded across the United States, and then the world.

Nintendo

Although Ninendo is now synonymous with video games, back when the company started, computers were not even a thing. Ninendo’s story begins in 1889 as a card company. Actually, this is a great example of a business pivoting to new products and niches as the marketplace changes. At one point, Ninendo sold ramen noodles. Later, it was a vacuum cleaner company. However, it was only in the 1980s when they pivoted to video games and created iconic games like Donkey Kong that they became a global brand.

Play-Doh

This is a classic pivot: take an existing product, and find a new audience for it. Back in 1912, Play-Doh was actually Kutol, and was sold to homeowners as a way to clean soot off wallpaper. And it was wildly successful, a global leader. But then, in the post-war 1950s, the use of coal decreased. Homes were now heated with electricity and oil, which just didn’t create soot. So the demand for Kutol was falling fast. A strategic business pivot was needed before revenues fell to zero. Fortunately, it was around this time that a woman related to a Kutol owner noticed that her kids enjoyed playing with the soft, moldable putty. The company embraced this opportunity, and pivoted the product to become a children’s toy. Rebranding as Play–Doh, they launched in 1956 and became an iconic part of childhood for generations since.

Lessons from famous pivots in business

Overall, these examples show a willingness to embrace change. For example, when hosts suggested using Airbnb as a way to rent out vacant spaces, they let go of their ideas of what the platform was for. In doing so, they opened themselves up to a wider audience and experienced enormous success. Because Ninendo remained open to trying new products, they hit gold in the 1980s as an early player in the new video game market. The lessons here for entrepreneurs is to stay open to new ideas of what their business can be. As shown above, a pivot can create enormous success. Want steps on how to pivot in your business? Read this guide for entrepreneurs. 

Scroll to Top