At last week's iConic event, Neil Blumenthal, the co-founder of vision industry disruptor Warby Parker, admitted "the thing I'm most afraid of is four guys in a college dorm room."
Let me tell you what I don't stay up at night worrying about--four budding entrepreneurs in a dorm room (or a garage, where I started Big Ass Fans). This is not to pick on Warby Parker. The model of success the media touts for disruptors focuses on one act of innovation, but the most interesting problem in business is how to grow a company without losing your creative edge.
Seek Out Blue Ocean
The only way to stay relevant in a climate of disruption is to avoid fear and embrace change. When you're constantly trying new things, there are two people who don't know what the hell is going to happen next--you and your competition. It's an easy way to outmaneuver potential disruptors, but it does mean you have to work twice as hard as they do.
My favorite business metaphor, and one of the only ones I value, is blue ocean strategy. Using that model, companies earn success not through competition, but by seeking out new markets, or blue oceans, where competition is scarce, if not irrelevant.
In practice, start-ups usually make their first move away from the hard work of creativity by making small design tweaks to a product or rebranding an old service. Just look to the original smart phones, Blackberry and the Palm Pilot (for those of you who remember those). Neither company encouraged app creation like Apple and Android. In fact, when confronted with the emergence of the touch screen, BlackBerry developers effectively closed their eyes, dismissing the technology as difficult.
To sustain an innovative model you have to create your own turmoil. In your start-up days, the urgency comes from needing to make a living, passion for your product or the drive to prove yourself. A little bit of success makes life comfortable, and if you're happy being comfortable, then driving a growing business will always be a stretch.
Make Innovation Your Life Story
A lot of people want to start a business, sell it and declare victory. That's one model, but there's a more interesting game afoot for those who are up to the challenge--crafting a company. The life of an entrepreneur is a merry-go-round and you have to hit the brass ring each time, or kill yourself trying. Recently, another CEO asked me "Are you happy? Should I model my business and my life after yours?" The true answer is yes, I am happy, and no, you probably shouldn't model your life, or your business, after mine.
Problems sustain me, turmoil energizes me and a monomaniacal focus on making quality products truly makes me happy. I love waking up in the morning wondering what the hell is going to happen next. It surprises my competition and, most importantly, it delights me. If that sounds good to you, welcome to the lifetime disruptors club.