Why the Consumer and Finance Industries Are Ripe for Disruption

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Founder and CEO, CircleUp
5 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Every day, entrepreneurs hope for inspiration. They hope to come up with some new creative method, product or idea that inspires change. They hope to innovate -- products, disruptive business models and more efficient ways of doing things.

At CircleUp, an online private equity marketplace, we find and fund these trailblazing companies, and in our search to uncover the next bright thing, we've found that two industries stand out as ripe for disruption: consumer products and financial services.

The similarities are striking between these two large pieces of the economy. As big and important as they are to our daily lives, however, innovation lags. This means one thing: Disruption -- a shakeup in which smaller, more creative businesses (think LendingClub in finance or Google’s Nest in consumer) chip away at market share -- is long past due.

Related: How Tuft & Needle Disrupted a Tired Mattress Marketplace

Consumer goods (excluding retail) in the U.S. is nearly a $1 trillion market, or about six percent of GDP. At $1.3 trillion, the finance and insurance market is slightly larger, claiming about eight percent of GDP.

Both industries are ruled by household-brand behemoths. Consider banking, where regulators hold players to no more than a 10-percent market share: a third of all deposits are held by just three banks -- Bank of America, JP Morgan and Wells Fargo. The 10 largest banks hold half of all deposits.

Similarly, the consumer packaged goods market is dominated by a few giants -- Procter & Gamble, Unilever and L’Oreal. Size and market dominance seem to breed inefficiency and a lack of innovation. In the consumer goods industry, only one out of every two product ideas actually moves from development to launch, and only two-thirds of those generate the projected revenues, according to a study in 2008 by AMR Research entitled Innovation in Consumer Products: New products from concept to launch.

This low rate of innovation makes these industries primed for disruption. Time and time again, we’ve seen big, dominant incumbents overtaken by scrappy startups. It’s why Amazon has gained approximately 30 percent market share in book sales while Borders is gone; why Netflix is thriving and Blockbuster is history; and why LendingClub is facilitating more than $1 billion in consumer and business loans each quarter while big banks struggle to hit loan growth projections.

You'd think a pair of trillion-dollar market opportunities would attract angel investors and venture capitalists. But what I see is that despite the inefficiencies and lack of innovation in both of these industries, venture capital is not rushing in. Yet VC continues to pour into software and Internet businesses.

Consumer products captured only $2.2 billion, less than five percent of 2014 venture capital. And financial services, only two percent at  $1.1 billion. In fact, of the more than 4,300 deals in 2014, only 202 were in consumer products and services, and a miniscule 62 deals were done in financial services.

Related: The Idea That Disruption Is Dead Is a Myth

Corporate venture groups to the rescue?

A lot of attention has been given to corporate venture capital, including the venture arms of large financial services companies, but the data suggests that corporate players have little appetite for consumer or financial services deals.

Software received the highest level of funding of all industries in 2014 with corporate venture groups deploying $2.5 billion in 339 software company deals. While corporate venture groups deployed more capital in 2014 than in any other year, just two percent went to consumer products and services while less than one percent went to financial services.

So what does it all mean?  

The disruption of both these industries is starting. New consumer products companies are moving in rapidly to meet changing consumer preferences -- for healthier foods or more convenient packaging or direct delivery of products like razors and coffee. In the past five years, large brands lost market share to small brands in more than 75 percent of the most important food categories, according to investment banking firm Jefferies’ research report, "Food: The Curse of the Large Brand."

Large consumer companies are also having their marketshare chipped away by mid-size and small upstarts. Boston Consulting Group estimates that between 2009 and 2013, large CPG companies lost 2.3 percent in market share -- amounting to $14 billion in sales.

As CEO of an online marketplace that’s connecting investors with private companies in the consumer and retail space, I have the privilege of witnessing the emergence and rapid growth of a new breed of consumer products companies -- all in real time. 

Examples are endless. Look around and you’ll find companies that offer portable solar power, wirefree earbuds, lighting innovations, “think drinks” developed by neuroscientists and countless others -- all businesses that have taken past products and ideas and improved upon them.

Of course, all early stage private investments are high risk, illiquid and only suitable for some investors. Investors should investigate each opportunity carefully. However, today, I believe there's a great opportunity for savvy entrepreneurs and investors to come together to drive a new future for both consumer products and financial services.

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