Disrupting a Saturated Industry Sounds Crazy -- But It Just Might Work
Citi executive Naveed Sultan doesn't mind a bit if you rattle his company's cage. In fact, he recently said in an interview with the Mobile World Congress trade show that he's happy to help disruptive fintech startups do just that. About 30 businesses have already received investment dollars from Citi, and the company researches thousands each year to find even more startups with potential.
In other words, if you have an idea, bring it on -- even if you're leaping headfirst into a super-saturated market. Many entrepreneurs steer clear of mature fields, assuming they're impossible to invade. But businesses in all categories are focused on survival. They want loyal customers and limited competition; thus, they need scrappy founders to muddy the waters by offering new inventions, tools and processes.
As the Wantedness survey from Wunderman asserted, 88 percent of Americans surveyed said they were waiting to be wooed by futuristic, innovative brands. That translates to a huge need for thinkers, makers and doers to unsettle the soon-to-be-outdated status quo.
Disrupting from the ground up
Sometimes, the biggest shake-ups happen at almost microscopic levels. Take my own company's infancy. Our space traditionally requires players to work in downtown high-rise buildings, employ 100-plus people and spend gobs on overhead. I never tried to fit that mold: I knew it wouldn't work for us.
Instead, we opened a workspace in Tampa, boasting modest square footage for 20 hard-working team members. By nixing all those "have-to-do" items other companies in our cluttered industry clung to, I changed the parameters and set a different bar. It was disruption at ground level, and it allows us to run with the big dogs on a small budget.
This isn't to suggest that entering a crowded field is a matter of simply bucking trends. You must also stay ahead of the curve by being ruthlessly observant and honest about your limitations. Consider the technology industry: Remaining at the front of the pack takes research and reading. However, the leaner and hungrier the team, the easier it is to efficiently pivot and progress.
Preparing to disrupt even the busiest industry
Ready to make your mark in a crowded industry? Muscle your way past the competition by taking these few but crucial steps toward success:
1. Focus your efforts on quality. The truth is that you don't have to create the next great idea; just making an existing idea fantastic is enough to set you on a path to stardom. Airbnb and HomeAway did this for the tourism industry: By closing the gap between buyers and sellers and giving travelers the option to find affordable, high-quality housing in high-demand areas, these platforms changed the playing field.
Suddenly, hotels had to step up their games by prioritizing customer service options, enhancing property amenities and offering unbelievable perks. Hoteliers have even engaged in the credit card industry to appeal to savvy visitors.
So, don't waste time coming up with something new; instead, make something better. Not sure which gadget or industry needs your TLC? Read reviews for products and services that you're personally interested in. Consumers aren't shy about discussing their dissatisfactions. Look for known problems, then figure out how to produce something without those flaws. Voila! You're on target to disrupt even the biggest industry.
Worried that a high-quality product or service will lead to a price jump? Fear not. Nielsen research shows that buyers aren't scrambling away from items featuring premium costs. According to in-depth surveys and investigations, premium products are the highest-growth category of goods and merchandise. So, as long as you're providing real quality and substance, there's no need to fret.
2. Harness the power of a team. Before starting a new venture, you need to know your own abilities and find others who have passion and expertise in areas you lack. That's how I built my team: I chose talented folks looking for steady incomes. I relied on them to contribute, and empowered them to make decisions. They were happy for the extra cash and work-life flexibility, and I was thrilled to progress.
Warby Parker's founders followed a similar path. The company started when co-founder Dave Gilboa was complaining to a few friends about what it would cost to replace his lost glasses. He understood from personal experience that consumers had a desperate need for fashionable eyewear that didn't cost as much as a mortgage payment -- and his friends agreed.
Together, they teamed up to debate industry pain points, to research the eyewear creation process in depth and to come up with a solution that would benefit consumers.
When assembling your own all-star team, remember that you don't necessarily have to hire full-time W-2 workers. An Upwork study shows that by 2027, the majority of American workers will be on the freelance track. Even some C-suite-level contractors are seeking temporary, remote employment. You'll get amazing people without the need to negotiate healthcare perks or even provide an office.
3. Fire up that coffee pot for the long hours ahead. It's no secret that working long, hard hours comes with the territory of entrepreneurship. Elon Musk told CNBC that he works no more than 90 hours a week -- and that that's down from the 100 hours a week he used to be on the job. If he's putting in that much time, you too as a spirited entrepreneur can expect to spend more time awake than ever.
Even if you have some like-minded people beside you who want to be part of something special, you still need to work like crazy. Each of you plays an important part in the growth of your disruptive organization, so be sure you're ready to make some sacrifices along the way.
Try thinking like a college student on a Ramen noodles-only diet. Ask yourself how you can best stretch your time -- and your budget. For instance, you can lean on social platforms to spread brand awareness. You can save time and money by creating posts that don't require in-depth creatives; and you can use tools to schedule posts in advance. This strategy will keep your marketing spend low and your hours spent on the project even lower.
Feeling a twinge of excitement? Your brain and spirit are gearing up to launch you straight into a saturated marketplace. And, you know what? You're exactly where you should be if you want to upset the status quo for a living.