Disruption isn't a new idea that just popped into my head. We've all heard this buzzword thrown around the workplace and have most likely seen it in action several times ourselves.
Another word used quite often with disruption is innovation, another commonly known and thrown-around word. That's because innovation has been around for centuries.
Industry disrupters and the innovative minds behind those companies aren't new concepts. Today, disrupters are all around us. We can attribute this to advances in technology, people who know how to use their imagination, and brilliant minds willing to take chances to become market leaders. Companies like Netflix, Airbnb, and Uber are just a few examples of disrupters in their respective industries (which we'll discuss more later in this post).
In a Harvard Business Review article, co-authors Clayton M. Christensen, Dina Wang, and Derek van Bever summed up the pattern of industry disruption nicely. They write, "New competitors with new business models arrive; incumbents choose to ignore the new players or to flee to higher-margin activities; a disrupter whose product was once barely good enough achieves a level of quality acceptable to the broad middle of the market, undermining the position of longtime leaders and often causing the 'flip' to a new basis of competition." We've all seen this pattern, whether in our own industry or as an onlooker to another industry.
But disruption isn't the same in every industry. Picture it like walking into a Krispy Kreme store. You go there because you want a doughnut, but instead of your only option being a glazed donut, there's an assortment of donuts for you to choose from. Disruption is also quite diverse, and because it's so diverse, there are various ways to disrupt industries. Disruption can stem from an error in judgment or big capital investment costs. Disruption can come from companies wanting to empower their consumers, better benefit the environment, or adopt the newest, cutting-edge technology. Many times, the biggest driver in disruption is that certain people naturally have a keen foresight and that engrained desire to be different; they want to improve things, be better communicators, and interact more within their industry and with their customers.
So what does it take for you to be that innovative mind or company that disrupts your industry?
First, you have to remember that the business world is an extremely competitive world. The weak and indifferent won't survive. You need to be strong, interested in what's going on in and around your industry, and be able to think outside the box. Disrupters like Netflix and Airbnb were able to disrupt their industries because they were innovative and bold, and leveraged the advancements in technology and excellent customer experience to their advantage.
Getting more specific, VideoBlocks founder Joel Holland gave his nine tips for disrupting an industry. Five of those nine really stood out to me and I think are good to keep in mind:
- Understand what disruption is.
- Know who you're disrupting for.
- Think bigger and better.
- Think like an outsider.
- Listen to your customers.
Along with those five, I'd like to add five of my own that I believe to be necessary tips if you want to be the disrupter instead of the disrupted:
- Identify the problem or problems in your industry.
- Work together with others in your industry to solve the problem(s).
- Uncover new ways to approach your already-existing customers.
- Add new customers into your mix of existing ones.
- Discover what else your product can be used for.
When your industry is stagnant or on the verge of expiring, following these 10 tips are what's going to help you save your industry with disruption.
Now let's delve into some specific examples of what a few companies did in their respective industries. These companies started out as smaller, nonthreatening businesses, but were able to become industry disrupters and are now big-name companies making the big bucks in their industries.
Netflix--Netflix started as a movie rental company that sent you the movies you wanted via snail mail. Blockbuster didn't see Netflix as a major competitor--and boy were they wrong, considering Netflix is partly to blame for sending them to bankruptcy. Today, Netflix has shifted to a streaming model. For a small monthly fee, you can watch movies and TV shows from your smartphone, tablet, laptop, smart TV, videogame console, and more. With more than 50 million subscribes in about 50 countries, they are the major disrupters in the entertainment industry, and one millions of consumers are grateful for.
Airbnb--When it comes to the hospitality industry, look no further than Airbnb. They provide an online service that allows individuals and families to rent out their unoccupied living spaces, i.e. apartments, rooms in houses, and even castles, for one night, one week, or really however long is needed and agreed upon by the host and guest. It's an online platform connecting people who have space to share with travelers who want a decent-priced place to stay, giving some stiff competition to major hotel groups, like Hilton and IHG.
Uber--Uber is a mobile app that unites people who don't have a car to drivers with cars that are willing to take people to and from their destinations, for a price of course. Their services are available in cities worldwide, which is completely changing up the taxi industry.
But these well-known, worldwide companies aren't the only ones capable of making a big splash in their industry. Smaller, up-and-coming businesses are just as capable of being disruptive, especially in a stagnant industry. So without further ado, here are my five ways you can disrupt your dying industry, as well as examples of companies that have proven these ways work.
1. Address & Remove Industry Pain Points
No business or customer likes dealing with industry pain points. No one wants to be pained in any way if they can help it. So when you discover what your industry's pain points are, remove them immediately. It's going to benefit your customers, which in turn will benefit you.
When I asked how Signs.com disrupted their industry, CEO Nelson James responded: "The print industry seems to be one of the last to transition online. There are hundreds of thousands of small brick and mortar print shops around the nation that continue to thrive without an online presence. That is largely because of the custom nature of their business. It's difficult to choose the right material for your needs without seeing and feeling them. It's difficult to get just the right design without talking to a designer face to face. And it's difficult to pay for shipping of a sign when there's a company down the street where you can go pick it up. However, there are some serious pain points of these local print shops: They don't offer a wide variety of materials, they charge for design work, they are expensive, their machines are low quality, and they take days to produce.
Signs.com is one of the first sign companies to disrupt the industry and create an online sign solution that is actually easier than going to a sign shop. Signs.com has developed a proprietary online design tool, which allows for all the customization a customer could ask for when creating a sign. For customers who need help with their design, Signs.com offers free professional design services. Shipping costs are resolved by offering free shipping nationwide on orders over $75. And the whole process from start to finished sign in your hands takes less time than it would take at a local shop thanks to their next day production.
By removing many of the pain points that are typical to the industry, Signs.com has changed the landscape and allowed customers to feel more comfortable purchasing online than off. "
2. Answer Questions, Resolve Concerns, & Solve Problems On Your Website
My second way is to truthfully answer your customers' questions. Whatever they want to know, give them the honest answer. And when you know or keep hearing common questions, put those answers on your website so your customers and potential customers can easily find their answers from a trusted source--you.
When I talked to River Pools & Spas and asked how they disrupted their industry, Marcus Sheridan responded: "When our company, River Pools and Spas, almost went out of business because of the down economy in 2009, we knew the only way we could drive enough traffic, leads and sales to the business without spending more money was through the Internet. Specifically, our philosophy became one that saved the company and has since been used by many businesses of all types (B2B and B2C) all over the world, and that is, 'They Ask, You Answer.'
In other words, our commitment was simple. If anyone had ever asked us a question about fiberglass swimming pools, we were going to answer it. Honestly. Transparently. And with incredible persistency.
Which is exactly what we did, again and again, for 2 straight years. In fact, here is just one simple example of how answering a question--when no one else will--can change a business.
We wrote an article 'How much does a fiberglass pool cost?' that has since been read over 500,000 times and (because of advanced analytics we know it) has made our company over 2.5 million dollars in sales-- 2.5 million dollars we would NOT have had if we'd ignored the question.
Literally, answering one question saved our business.
Answering many questions--better than anyone else in the swimming pool space--has now made us the most trafficked swimming pool website in the world, getting traffic that hits about 400,000 visitors a month during the summer season.
They asked, we answered. Such a simple philosophy changed an entire industry."
3. Embrace New Technology
Our world is constantly evolving, meaning our technology is as well. If your company doesn't adapt and implement the latest technology, then you're going nowhere but down in your industry. Stay ahead in your industry--and ahead of your competition--by embracing the technological changes that are happening and going to continue happening.
When asked how Dentrix Ascend has disrupted their industry, Product Manager Adam McDaniel responded: "Dental providers have been automating their practices with practice management software for almost three decades and it has become a staple for providing a high level of care. Dentists have learned that they can improve treatment tracking, reduce errors and create a better patient record. Unfortunately, dental software systems can also be a burden on dental providers. They have to take time away from patients to manage servers, networking, upgrades and downloads. They also have to invest a significant amount of money in purchasing equipment and ensure that their staff knows how to use it.
Henry Schein Dentrix Ascend simplifies and lowers these equipment costs. Because Dentrix Ascend is cloud-based, it significantly expands dental providers' freedom to work on whatever device they want--including tablets and mobile devices--without cumbersome downloads or installs. Plus, updates and upgrades are pushed out automatically, which reduces the time and resources dentists spend to ensure they are using the latest, most secure versions. While there is still some equipment investment, providers lower their cost of equipment significantly and are not required to become experts on networking and server management.
Dentrix Ascend also introduces a software workflow that follows the way dentists normally work. It's easier to learn and more intuitive to use, decreasing the learning curve for all staff members.
Dentrix Ascend has introduced a new cloud-based way to manage dental practices in a simple and easy-to-use system."
4. Simplify & Streamline Processes
People want simple, especially your consumers. So whenever you can simplify and streamline any process in your industry, your customers will love you for making their lives easier, and they will bring you more business by recommending you to everyone they know who could benefit from your product.
When I talked to Bobby Seegmiller of HIPAAOne.com, he said: "The audit and security industry seems to be late in embracing the power of the Internet as a new technology. Cloud computing, virtual-hosting, mobile devices and increased media coverage of large-scale data breaches has opened a market of abundance for information security and privacy audit firms.
The problem is that regulatory mandates are complex, and how to implement data security is a mix of quantitative (do you have a firewall, what is a breach vs. violation, etc.), and the more subjective (is what you are doing compliant or "secure enough", etc.).
HIPAA One's approach to security and compliance disrupts the industry by exchanging the complex, labor-intensive, error-prone risk-calculations and mundane report writing into a simple, automated solution. The web-based platform invites people from different departments (or the same person can wear multiple hats for smaller clinics, for example) to participate using a simple, guided, step-by-step process.
By removing complexity, we have changed the audit and security landscape by empowering individuals to identify risks and follow best practices."
5. Finding Ways To Cut Costs & Reduce Overhead
Any time you can find a way to save companies money, you'll quickly have their attention, and more often than not their business. Every business is looking for a product that's going to automate tasks for their employees, saving them valuable time, money, and resources. If you can come up with that kind of product in your industry, it's a surefire way to disrupt your industry and bring your company some valued customers and revenue.
When I spoke with Ken Frei of Screenie he said: "One of the most common ways that we see businesses racking up unnecessary overhead costs is by not automating redundant, inefficient tasks. There are many parts of the recruiting and hiring process that can be automated to help companies make a better, more consistent, and affordable hire.
Technologies like Screenie help companies to automate these parts of the hiring process. This allows companies to spend their valuable time meeting with and interviewing key potential hires who can add tremendous value to their company, rather than mindlessly sifting through resumes. We believe that technology will continue to be used to reduce overhead and help HR professionals spend their time with people and not in paperwork. This will allow managers to be more efficient with less resources and save significant money."
There are many that oppose disruptive minds and companies. They only look at the fact that disruption sometimes leads to companies being forced out of business, which in turn forces people out of their jobs. We shouldn't oppose; we should be welcoming disrupting companies and the innovative minds behind them. Disrupters give consumers what they want, and they challenge their industries--making their industries better, which results in getting them out of their stagnant or even dying mode.