I've written a bunch about Hashable and I use it more now than I ever have before--for one simple use case: sending you my business card. Carrying around business cards is an archaic waste of time, yet adoption of Hashable for solving this is going slower than I'd expect given it's usefulness. The problem is that the people who know about Hashable, even a lot of the people who use it, identify it with the introductions feature. That's kind of an esoteric use case, in my opinion, compared to how often people need to exchange contact info. So, a lot of people have looked at it and passed on using it. Reeducating those people about a new use case is hard, because people try to file and forget.
People do the same mental filing with apps as they do with restaurants and even people. Thinking that someone is a jerk and writing them off is easier than constantly reevaluating someone from scratch given each new piece of information you learn about them. Remembering that you can get a breakfast sandwich at Jamba Juice is harder than just keeping it filed under smoothies.
It's not only about public opinion. Its even hard for the internal team itself to fully commit to a reinvention. The Hashable mobile app front page commits 2/3 of its real estate to not sending out your business card, even though I think that is by far the most universal and useful use case. I might suggest they completely abandon the other features or even strip them from the front page, making them more difficult to find, but that wouldn't be very easy for the team who built those features up to do. No one likes killing their babies.
This is a little different than launching early, totally sucking, and coming back to the market with a better product. If you tried to build a file sync product, it didn't work, and then you fixed it, I think it's easier to say "Hey, we finally figured out how to do what you wanted us to do in the first place" vs "Remember us? Well forget what you know because now we're something totally different."
It's interesting because if you launched to 5,000 users with one idea, and then you pivoted, you'd figure that there would be another 5,000 out there that didn't know your old thing and who would be open to adopting a new use case. The problem is that, in that original 5,000 are your closest contacts, the media and investors that were following you, and the influencers that can get the ball rolling on your project. Finding an an entirely new 5,000 people is probably harder than going from 5,000 to 50,000 with a consistent product.
One of our portfolio companies, Fab.com, just pivoted from being a gay-friendly social networking site to a design focused daily deals site. If you're the type of person who thrives on great design--spends all their time flipping through magazines, design themed Tumblr blogs, these are the kinds of deals you'll find inspiring and interesting. However, it's probably going to be a little bit of an uphill battle to get people out of the mindset of "Oh, yeah.. Fab... that's the gay site, right?" It's no accident that their front page directly counters that with the motto "daily design for everyone".