In entrepreneurship circles, the word “disrupt” comes up as frequently as discussions about raising capital. Many startups set out to disrupt their industries by coming up with new and innovative methods to solve problems. But what does it mean to run a genuinely disruptive business instead of just existing among a sea of like-minded companies in your industry?
A truly disruptive business is one that fundamentally changes an industry’s market by tapping into new technology and finding innovative solutions to solve customers’ problems. A disruptive business changes consumer behaviors.
A classic example of a disruptive business is Netflix. It started out offering an easier way for people to rent movies. Instead of heading to their local Blockbuster, people could sign up for a monthly service and choose from a massive selection of films stored in the Netflix library. As the business grew, it advanced to turn into the streaming giant we know it as today. Because it was the first success story, it remains the leading streaming service in the world.
Not every business will be like Netflix. However, every business owner can still think like a disrupter to find ways to add value to the market and impact consumer behavior in positive ways.
How to Be an Industry Disruptor
Many entrepreneurs dream of being disruptors. They want to be the Netflix, Uber, or Airbnb of their industry. Here are a few ways to get there.
1. Have a simple business model
Often, the most disruptive businesses are also the most deceptively simple ones. Take Amazon, for instance. The company’s business model is to sell goods online. (Today, that doesn’t seem so disruptive, but in the 1990s, when the company first started, the prospect of buying textbooks online was utterly foreign to the college students the company was targeting.)
Amazon’s business model competed with brick-and-mortar stores, which had a more complicated method for ordering books. In the early 1990s, if students needed a textbook that was out of stock at their local bookstore, they would have to go to the store and order it from a salesperson. They would then have to wait for it to arrive and go pick it up from the store.
Amazon cut out the middleman by allowing students to order directly from an online warehouse. This simple model made a formerly complicated process suddenly accessible.
2. Serve an underserved market
There are still plenty of underserved markets across industries. If a business can figure out a way to offer a radically new product, service, or process to an underserved market, then they have the potential to disrupt their industry.
An example is an Indian company 999services.com, which offers subscription AC services to homeowners across the country. The company is utilizing recent technological advancements that have brought the internet to rural India to introduce a new online service model to homeowners who had previously lacked internet access. With 999services.com, homeowners in rural India can log in to their accounts to order service and know exactly when they can expect a reliable technician to show up at their door.
The new process ensures that rural Indian homes will have reliable AC working year-round at an affordable price. It is poised to fundamentally change the way that people in India keep their homes cool.
3. Create value for a niche market
Many experts agree that to be truly disruptive, a company should not immediately appeal to the masses. Instead, it needs a core audience to recognize its value proposition. Then, if it makes sense, it can expand into niche markets.
Amazon’s business model was simple and, more importantly, targeted to a focused niche audience—college students. As Amazon’s target audience grew to recognize the value they gained by using the online service, the company was able to expand to offer more than just textbooks.
Stay One Step Ahead
The final key to be an industry disruptor is always to stay at least one step ahead of the competition. Entrepreneurs who dream of disrupting an industry need to keep a watchful eye on what their competitors and the market are doing so they can be ready to move quickly to advance their product, service, or process to fill a market gap.