Glance across the covers of any business magazine today and you will likely find modern day business icons such as Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos, with articles celebrating their heroic feats of disruption. Such images, however, can perpetuate a myth around what an entrepreneur actually is or entails.
Many envision techies tinkering late into the night building the next Google or Facebook, but with great reward comes substantial risk. In fact, more than 95 percent of startups fail. With failure rates for disruptive technologies even higher, the likelihood of success for such entrepreneurial endeavors is little more than fantasy.
The good news is entrepreneurship doesn't require reinventing the wheel. There are hundreds of working business models already out there in established industries long overdue for new entrants with a fresh perspective. Through small incremental innovations, an entrepreneur can modernize a traditional model, reap millions in the process, and emerge as an industry front-runner.
Here are three ways to do that:
1. Get experience.
There is a tendency for new entrepreneurs to race into a field about which they're passionate yet don't fully understand. Passion is important, but not realizing the amount of work or money it takes to start a particular business is like playing Russian roulette.
Let's say I love watching basketball on TV, but have never played in a competitive league. What would happen if I challenged Stephen Curry to a game of one-on-one? Hands down, I'd lose every match.
Taking the time to first gain experience in an industry can reap major rewards later on as an entrepreneur. For example, if I was the Naismith College Player of the Year and challenged Curry, I could score some points and maybe win a couple games out of ten. If I challenged other NBA players my odds of winning would only increase.
Top expertise in a field not only reduces an entrepreneur's learning curve, but also ensures the ability to compete in a familiar market.
2. Pursue incremental improvements.
I'm often asked how I chose the "unsexy" 100-year-old industry of pest control. I initially learned the business while working my way through college, and transformed a "diamond in the rough" into a top national sales program. I also learned through small incremental innovations one could chip away at old industry practices while working within the safety net of a proven model.
Opening my own company provided me the ability to innovate in all aspects of the business. I initially focused on specialized products and service methods, in-house software development to improve sales ratios, and a unique set of core values to help differentiate from competitors.
As the organization grew larger, I invested in Google-esque employee perks not previously seen in my industry such as outrageous amenities, over-the-top events, and exotic, action-packed retreats for top performers. Today the compounding effect of these incremental improvements has snowballed into increased revenues, attracted top talent and improved employee retention.
3. Create a culture of mass disruption.
Building a company culture that fosters constant innovation is an entrepreneur's secret weapon. Just one new idea weekly can lead to massive disruption within a few years.
Moments of genius occur daily throughout a workforce, but making sure these epiphanies make it to the top is challenging. The best way to create a funnel for suggestions is to pay employees for good ideas. For example, I'll pay one hundred to several thousand dollars per employee suggestion that ends up implemented nationally at my organization.
Searching out innovation becomes paramount as companies grow larger because the best ideas often come from frontline employees who interact with customers daily. Even a seasoned blue chip business can cease to exist when it fails to adapt to market changes. Therefore creating a culture of mass disruption that rewards employees for innovation can be the ultimate competitive advantage, helping ensure an organization's long-term viability.
Considering the vast graveyard of technology companies, first-time entrepreneurs provide themselves a greater chance of success disrupting within the framework of a proven business model. Building a better mousetrap is a lot easier than creating an entirely new way to catch a mouse.
My greatest revelation has been watching incremental innovations compound into a tidal wave of growth for my organization. If small disruptions can make this large of an impact on the timeworn, tried-and-true industry of pest control, there must be hundreds of other traditional business models out there ripe for innovation.