As founders we all want to be successful. I wanted to take a few days to download some observations I have made over my last 20 years as a leader, founder and student of business. My hope is that this will help you find wild succession your endeavor.
When you are building a startup of any kind there are certain buzz words that seem to still capture the attention of others. For nearly a decade now the market space has been flooded with the concept of disruption. If you’re a founder, co-founder or startup team member my guess is that you are using this word far too often. In fact, I would venture to guess you aren't truly sure what it even means in practicum.
When entrepreneurs use terms like disrupt I think most of them miss the true meaning and application of disruption. So, what do I mean? Let me explain.
Most think that by tapping into a niche' spot in a large pipeline of commerce they have "disrupted" something. They have discovered a new buyer, a new method for attracting buyers or a more “sexy” way of presenting an established market place. This has lead to MANY incredible startups and companies who are truly growing and successful. But they have merely engaged more commerce if their only success is creating more transactions, without causing ripples in the market place that actually disrupt the business of other leaders. Because my focus lately has been in FinTech I can give you a an example.
Robinhood is a company, an app, which has helped introduce many people to the world of buying and selling stocks by removing a friction point for most novice investors. They charge no trading fees for the buying and selling of those securities. For a young investor or a veteran cynic of the big banks they have attracted a big group of users. They have found a niche’ in a large and expansive market place. These guys have done well in growth and execution of tapping into a niche’ in the market place.
Most look at Robinhood and call it a disruption. But, I challenge that is not the case. They have simply created a new storefront for the same products with a better price tag. The products in their market place exist in the same form as before. And, they are not challenging a cultural shift of the product and “manufacturers” in their market space. They have simply and successfully engaged a customer base for an unchanged market place.
True disruption happens when you shift cultural, creative, manufacturing and operative norms for an industry or market place. In disruption you enter an existing market space, you identify a niche’ for entry, but build a “product” that causes multiple ripples across the entire market space. Those who disrupt cause entire industries to stop and pay attention because those ripples disrupt the norms.
Disrupting in an existing market space is a complex recipe. The ingredients include creating a new way of transacting, new expectations for results and new demands on products which cause the industry leaders to innovate or exit. Disruption reaches its opus when an existing cultural base, customer base and industry leaders begin to accept, adopt and appreciate the disruptive idea or product.
The best example in recent history is Facebook. Sure, when Facebook came along there were plenty of similar ideas in that market place. MySpace, Friendster and more had a good market share. I know, I had tried them all. Facebook was ingenious in it’s disruption. It began with a scarcity model, by only being accessible to select university students. Then as the scale expanded it began to reach the college graduate, GenX audience. They adjusted the product to become a communication super power for the world to connect by adopting some of the legacy ideas in the tech world. They took time to honor the last wave of leaders. This is a CRUCIAL ingredient in disruption, because without honor, there can be no integrity in disrupting!
Facebook changed the way people transact relationally, they created a new wave of demand from the social media world and they caused the other industry leaders in social media to change their practices if possible. But, as we have seen, they reached the opus when the product became useful, desirable and common among traditional leaders and general masses. What started as a tool for 18-22 year olds has become the largest accessible, adaptable and usable form for social interaction in the world.
Apple followed a similar path. Amazon followed a similar path. And the list can go on and on.
Of course, everyone wants to know what the “secret sauce” for this kind of success happens to be. First, realize there is no replacement from hard work, hustle, learning, growing and pushing beyond their preferences to new territory. But at the center there is one reality in every disruptive company or movement in the world….
That reality is that disruption ALWAYS starts inside the company leaders themselves! It starts with the vision, passion, mission and values of the founder(s). Every company takes on the personality of it’s founder(s). At the core, companies like Apple, Facebook, Amazon and more, had founders who’s personal convictions, DNA and values were the driving force behind execution. But it goes deeper than than. Those traits must shape, inform and guide the culture of the entire company. This is the key to success.
If you are going to tackle this idea of disruption, start by making sure you have been disrupted as the founder. Be sure your passion is born from a disruption in your soul. Then build a team who understand this, believes in this and will sacrifice personal preferences to uphold the disruption. After all, disruption will always be the hardest sell, the hardest to fund and the most criticized idea in your early days.
This is just the beginning. Stay tuned for my coming posts to help you take the next steps for success…
- Creating Mission, Vision and Values with your team
- Creating and Championing Your Common Language and Culture
- Celebrating your culture