AJ&Smart - Power of the Pivot

AJ&Smart's Journey of Pivots while Staying True to Their Roots

There are some great product pivot stories. Yelp started off almost as an ‘Instagram’ product – originally called ‘Stopp’ it allowed users to share photos and opinions about local businesses. Yelp pivoted when they realised that the reviews and recommendations were more valuable than the photos. A rebrand and focus on becomming a review site saw them achieve significant success in the online review industry.

Did you know that Slack was originally a gaming company called Tiny Speck? Their game Glitch didn’t quite work out but the internal comms tool they built to help them became ‘Slack’ and the rest is history.

So why is AJ&Smart’s story different and worth mentioning as a pivot case study? Simply put – relentless adaptability, great decision making and consistently good results even through multiple pivot points. AJ&Smart also practice what they preach and this is what makes their success interesting. Let’s have a dive into how design thinking and innovation has made so many of their pivots successful.

↪️  Embracing the Design Sprint Methodology

AJ&Smart, founded by Jonathan Courtney and Michael Smart in 2011, initially began as a web design agency. However, they recognised the need to differentiate themselves in a crowded market and discovered the potential of the design sprint methodology developed by Jake Knapp at Google Ventures. Recognising its value, they decided to fully commit to the design sprint process, leveraging it as a core offering for their clients. By embracing this innovative approach, they quickly gained a reputation for delivering tangible results and established themselves as leaders in the field. Their timing was also very fortunate – product teams embraced the process and it became the de facto method to ideate in many companies.

↪️ Diversifying Service Offerings

While AJ&Smart found success with design sprints, they understood the importance of evolving and diversifying their service offerings. They expanded their capabilities beyond design sprints to include workshops, training programs, and consulting services. This diversification allowed them to cater to a wider range of client needs and establish themselves as a holistic design and innovation partner. But they did it VERY well – their attention to detail and execution was top notch which meant they could capitalise strongly on an already engaged audience.

↪️ Launching Online Courses

Recognising the potential to reach a larger audience and share their expertise, AJ&Smart then ventured into the realm of online education. They launched a series of highly successful online courses, including the acclaimed “Design Sprint Masterclass.” These courses have empowered countless individuals and organisations worldwide to implement design thinking methodologies and drive innovation within their own contexts. By sharing their knowledge and processes AJ&Smart were now offering those interested to play a part in replicating their success. That’s both generous AND smart!

↪️ Producing Engaging Content

AJ&Smart has consistently produced engaging and valuable content, positioning themselves as thought leaders in the product, design and innovation space. Through their podcast “The Product Breakfast Club” (Renamed Jake and Jonathan before disbanding) and YouTube channel, they share insights, case studies, and interviews with industry experts, offering a wealth of knowledge to their audience. This content not only showcases their expertise but also strengthens their brand and fosters a community of like-minded individuals.

↪️ Building a Thriving Community

With tens of thousands of highly engaged listeners the Product Breakfast Club podcast was a joy to listen to every week. It gave huge credibility to AJ&Smart and offered a unique and very personal insight into the minds of the founders.

AJ&Smart’s commitment to their community is evident in their active engagement on social media platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. They regularly interact with their audience, answer questions, and provide valuable feedback. By fostering this community, they have created a network of passionate individuals who share their vision for design and innovation, further solidifying their brand presence.

🔮 Secret Sauce

As AJ&Smart launch EITO who knows where their next pivot success will lie? Their passion and deep understanding of their market means they build a great moat around them to beat the competition and continue to grow. 

There’s no silver bullet here. However there are some key tenets I’ve observed and loved about AJ&Smart and their CEO Jonathan Courtney. Integrity, honesty, humble, hard working, experimentation. The appetite to embrace change, staying true to your passions and continually evolving and learning have allowed the company to grow. If you want the secret sauce of AJ&Smart’s success then I highly recommend starting right from the beginning of the Jake and Jonathan Podcast.