The first rule of improvisational comedy is - you never say no. You say “Yes, and..” and accept the direction in which the scene is evolving. If your cafe scene turns into a war on dragonback in order to rescue the barista from the evil queen - you just go with it.
In what is a similarly riveting evolution, a weird video game morphed into a billion-dollar messaging platform. Before Slack became the ubiquitous productivity tool it is today, it was a video game called Glitch where players could collect strange items and interact with other people inside the game. When Stewart Butterfield realized the game couldn’t be profitable, he decided to strip it all the way, retaining only the internal communication tool. He called it Slack (aka Searchable Log of All Conversation and Knowledge) and launched it in August 2013.
It was a pivot of unlikely direction and unprecedented success. Game features were molded into productivity tools and game characters became Slack emojis. The messaging giant went public in 2018 and was acquired by Salesforce in 2020 for $28B.
This isn’t the first time Stewart Butterfield pulled a software company out of his hat. In the early 2000s, he shut down an online video game Game Neverending and salvaged one feature that displayed photos of items that players collected. He spun it off as a photo-sharing app (Flickr) and sold it to Yahoo! for a reported $40M.
You can’t hustle your way out of a bad idea or double down on wrong positioning. Sometimes businesses miss a real opportunity simply because they refuse to accept their current one isn’t working.
In Glitch, the ability to chat with fellow players is what made the strange game endearing. In Game Neverending, an important aspect of the game hinged on instant messaging and so they thought the ability to ‘drop’ photos directly into conversations could be valuable. While the video games themselves weren’t profitable, Butterfield identified the core components that could provide value and exist outside their current architecture. Instead of reinventing the wheel and starting from scratch, being strategic about what you can retain and repurpose can pave a profitable road ahead for your business.
Pivots can be scary - ask any person who does improv - but sometimes you need to say “Yes, and..” and find out whether the barista gets your order before the evil queen eats all the whipped cream.
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