Will the Real ‘Disruptor’ Please Stand Up?

May I have your attention, please?

Countless entrepreneurs use the words “innovative,” “game-changing,” and “disruptive” to describe their services, solutions, or platforms. The only problem is that oftentimes when founders use buzzwords like these, they don’t actually know what they mean.

It’s become hip to associate innovation with disruption, but a service isn’t truly disruptive unless it’s solving a problem, simplifying a process, or reducing costs. Otherwise, you’re simply creating another offering.

According to Clayton Christensen, author of “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” disruptive innovations let consumers at the bottom of the market — the low-income group that creates the base of the marketing pyramid — access a product or service that used to require great skill or a lot of money. His theory states that innovative companies tend to target higher tiers of consumers who are able to utilize and purchase more sophisticated and expensive products. This leaves the lower tiers open for truly disruptive innovations that can capitalize on much larger markets, if at lower margins. So if you’re not meeting the definition, all your other new products are simply imitating.

Here are three key ways you can become a true disruptor while developing new ideas and cultures:

1. Utilize the Web

This is a big one, and it crosses all industries.

If you want to walk, talk, and act like a disruptor, ignore the jargon and take advantage of the way the Internet has changed almost every industry. Think about how the web can be utilized to make the world a better place. Disruptors make life simpler by improving everyday processes, making expensive things cost a lot less, and getting work done more productively.

Uber, a transportation app company, disrupted the taxi industry by providing more accessible drivers in major cities. Riders can use mobile devices to find more drivers than ever before at a reduced rate. Uber’s crowdsourced model changed the game, allowing drivers with clean records to take clients where they need to go.

Since its founding in 2009, Uber has launched in more than 200 cities around the world. Like other disruptors, Uber used technology to create a mobile web solution to solve a logistics problem for consumer travel.

The taxi industry hadn’t seen innovation or growth in decades. If you focus your attention on a similarly aging industry, you may find a prime candidate for disruption.

2. Take Action With the Customer in Mind

If you want to disrupt your industry, look at an old way of doing something, fix it, and provide a better customer experience.

Starting in 2009, Square simplified the payment space. The point-of-sale industry was born without the advantages of newer technology and had seen little innovation in the last 25 years. Square looked at traditional commerce and built a platform that allowed small businesses to take payments with mobile devices — ultimately providing a better customer experience.

The company, which grew from processing $1 billion in payments in 2011 to more than $8 billion in payments in 2012, reduced credit card fees and eliminated the need for dated point-of-sale systems — problems that had plagued retailers for years.

3. Negate the Complexities and Expenses

You can use the accessibility of the Internet to take something complex and expensive and turn it on its head.

For example, Basecamp sought to create a simple online project management platform. The company made project work easier to track and gave developers and other groups the ability to collaborate for a small monthly fee. Now, organizations ranging from Etsy and Twitter to Nike and Fox Sports use the service for project management.

It all started by solving the problem caused by expensive project management systems that were too complex. After a decade of business, Basecamp has more than 15 million monthly users.

A New World Order

True innovation really is about making the world a better, more efficient place.

Look at Google and Facebook, for example. The pair made headlines earlier this year for their progress in deploying drones to provide Internet access to developing nations. The companies won’t use cables and wiring. Rather, they’ll go through space. That kind of disruption blasts through the old ways that require ground labor, infrastructure, cable, and other hard costs.

Not only do drones solve the problem of building infrastructure in developing countries, but they also simplify the ability of the entire world to access information.

Does your service change the game enough to alter the world itself? If not, throwing around buzzwords isn’t going to make your product a success. Entrepreneurs often use the word “disruption” to market their products, gain brand awareness, and raise capital. But true disruption creates a simpler, cheaper service or product that changes the world.


Jake Villarreal is the co-founder and president of Match Relevant, an IT staffing entity that utilizes social media and innovative recruiting practices to deliver award-winning talent for funded tech startups, SMBs, and Fortune 500 organizations. Find Jake on Google+