Do you have to be a start-up to be a disruptor?

By Wazoku

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When we think of disruptors, we think about bold new start-ups like Netflix or Airbnb.

Can established corporations be disruptive, too?

It is possible to achieve what these disruptive organisations have? Yes – as long as they are clear in their mission.

As Richard Branson said, “Disruption is not about advertising for your brand; it’s about where you want your brand to go, and how to get there.” The size and origins of a brand – disruptive start-up or not – does not affect an organisations’ ability to innovate.

Disruptive innovation is successful simply when satisfying customers is more important than making sales. It works when innovation is indispensable, rather than a half-hearted side-venture or a cultural box-ticking exercise. It thrives when organisations create a culture that is friendly – rather than hostile – to new ideas and ways of doing things. True innovation is the product of a combination of a deep understanding of customers’ needs and the creativity to approach a problem from a new angle. Steve Jobs was frequently quoted as saying that “creativity is just connecting things”. And he was right; disruption is simply a case of connecting dots that no one has connected before.

Small start-ups, born as disruptors, are turning industries on their heads

Start-ups are small and more agile, so can avoid a lot of the bureaucracy that is commonly found in large organisations. This agility allows for a learn-fast approach to experimentation. The best start-ups know that at the start, the most important thing isn’t funding, choosing the best technology, perfecting your pitch or creating a great website. It’s the people you are engaging with, and being clear on your goals and the change you are trying to bring about.

Gousto thought about the customer pain point and worked back. It identified a consumer desire for healthier cooking and eating, but also a frustration at the effort and time involved with doing so. A cheaper, more diverse range of recipes that can be filtered and rated give Gousto the customer-centric edge over Hello Fresh. Goodness, togetherness, longevity, honesty and empowerment make up the five company values, and emphasise how and why the brand has become an ingrained staple of thousands of lives.

It is said that you should start the business that you wish existed. Awful late-night dinners at a London office is what inspired one investment banker to revolutionise the food delivery industry. Will Shu disrupted Just Eat with Deliveroo, the “best food delivery service in the world” – and one that actually took care of the delivery part itself (unlike Just Eat).

By filling a gap, disruptors often see ideas catch on very quickly and spark rapid growth. In the case of Deliveroo, it saw 25% month on month growth. Between 2013 and 2016, the company’s revenue increased by 107,117%. Now, Deliveroo also delivers alcohol, express lunches and even supplies RooBoxes – off-site kitchen initiatives that provide restaurants with extra kitchen space. Just Eat has responded to this disruption the right way: by not only pivoting to provide the delivery service, but also partnering with others. It launched a new food tech accelerator, assisting early stage start-ups in the food technology space through mentoring, guidance and investment. It is also looking to create delivery drones and has already developed software for Microsoft’s AR HoloLens to enable customers to preview their food in 3D.

Some start-ups have also been shaking up the healthcare industry by transferring power and control back into the hands of the consumer. The wearables trend shows that people are now more engaged than ever with their health and fitness. While the NHS is an incredible system, Thriva’s CEO Hamish Grierson argues that it is no longer able to deliver proactive, preventative medicine to patients. So, Thriva offers a home finger-prick blood test that is sent to NHS-certified labs for analysis. Every patient receives a bespoke report by a qualified GP via an online dashboard, rather than waiting weeks or even months for a face-to-face meeting.

Innovative, larger corporations are disrupting themselves

What start-ups lack in resources, they make up for in agility. Costs are lower and there is less risk involved with experimenting. Larger companies can get wrapped up in a perfectionist mindset and be hesitant when it comes to risk-taking, thinking about shareholders expectations. However, if processes are effective, a large organisation can be as agile as any start-up.

Take Polaroid, for example. It declared bankruptcy in 2008 but last year, the largest shareholder of the Impossible Project acquired the brand and intellectual property. It rebranded as Polaroid Originals, forcing change and stepping up to meet evolving expectations and environments.

At CES 2018, the new Polaroid Originals brand proved that the company focus is still on people; making the latest technologies available to absolutely everybody, in the simplest format. It presented a retro-meets-modern mix of analogue instant and instant digital cameras, as well as 360 cameras and fully refurbished vintage Polaroid cameras. It has even created 3D printers, TVs, smartphones and (Alexa-enabled) audio speakers – proving that it is open to reinvention based on social climate and consumer needs. Though the brand is dedicated to reinventing analogue instant photos for the modern era, its new generation of original format instant film (available in colour, black and white, and a range of filter-like special editions to choose from) still features the same classic texture and aesthetic that made Polaroid famous.

Olay also completely reinvented itself. Skincare products had long been aimed at women over the age of fifty, but the brand opened up a conversation with its customer base and discovered that women in their mid-thirties are just as worried about wrinkles. So, Olay repositioned itself to “fight the 7 signs of aging”, appealing to – and attracting – new audiences. A more customer-centric focus has resulted in successes like Olay Skin Advisor, an AI-powered platform designed to give women all over the world a more personalised skincare experience, and better understand their individual needs.

For most organisations, the challenge of innovation is less about generating good ideas & more about creating a nurturing environment where the best ideas can be quickly developed & evaluated.

Often, larger businesses lose the hunger and energy that start-ups are so famous for. Every business starts there, but over time, it’s easy to lose sight of what you’re really trying to achieve. Most of the systems and processes that organisations rely upon are designed to keep you on a steady path, rather than creating the next big disruption that could transform your business and industry. You can end up managing yourself into a corner.

Established organisations must take a leaf out of the start-up book and focus on generating and developing ideas within your communities. Collaborate with your employees – those who know your customers best – your supply chain and your customers. With increased perspectives, more insight and constant sharing of knowledge and ideas, you can learn how to quickly and nimbly identify opportunities for disruption. Start the journey towards disrupting your industry by generating and developing ideas within your communities. See how an idea management tool can get you there, request a demo.

By Wazoku

Wazoku is an innovation SaaS business that helps some of the world’s biggest organizations to innovate at scale. Whether it’s making the most of your employee's ideas, identifying new partners to collaborate with, or exploring the boundless potential of open innovation – or all three! – Wazoku makes innovation happen.