Nobody's Listening. Here's How to Actually Disrupt an Industry.
Entrepreneurs have long made it a point to leverage emerging technologies to resolve latent needs. Even the wheel itself has been reinvented to outfit everything from horse-drawn carriages to motorized vehicles to electric cars. This kind of disruption isn’t limited to automotive, though.
Bluetooth tracker company Tile, for example, was able to create a simple, elegant fix for a universal problem: misplacing keys, phones, and other personal items. The company’s flagship low-energy Bluetooth devices have been refined over the years and can now be found on store shelves everywhere -- either alone or integrated into partner products. Plus, its app forms a mesh network of smartphone users, and anybody who walks past your device will ping its location on the map.
So what’s the key to Tile’s success? The brand combined simple hardware with excellent customer interface to solve what most considered an “unsolvable” problem. That’s easier said than done.
Make change palatable for the masses
It can be hard to convince people your solution really works. Finding credible early adopters is helpful but tough. I recommend finding adopters who are most impacted by the current situation -- something I did for my own company.
A resounding cry for help from mining and construction companies to finish projects on time and on budget required improvements that existing solutions couldn’t offer. One company was so dissatisfied with its current paper-based tracking that management considered issuing iPads for each operator to manually enter operating hours on-site. Another spent millions on rental equipment, while nobody knew the true state of machine utilization. Yet another company spent millions over several years on an internal IT team that could never make a solution work.
We discerned the most basic insights managers needed to ensure high productivity and keep the amount of data documents from piling up. Our product was met with objections in mere minutes, but we overcame them by showcasing the simplicity and effectiveness of our solution.
Changing the minds of key decision makers took a five-step approach, and it’s one anyone can follow:
1. Understand customer needs, but iterate on your own.
It’s imperative to understand customers’ needs: Statista reports that 14 percent of startups fail because they ignore customers. However, taking their exact advice and feedback isn’t always encouraged. Find a happy medium by iterating using their feedback and your expertise.
For example, a major pain point for mining companies -- arguably our largest client base -- is extended machine idling times. We were tasked with finding a way to decrease them. So when these companies began using our machine sensors to discern equipment idle times (and how to minimize them), they assumed the sensors achieved this through location tracking. Thus, all our customers started asking for regular GPS tracking.
It’s admittedly not the best solution: GPS burns through battery life, and it can’t be used for static machinery such as excavators. However, we still heard our customers and considered their feedback. In the end, we opted against adding constant GPS tracking (though we do offer limited versions) because doing so wouldn’t completely solve the original pain point.
2. Focus on the most dissatisfied.
Desperate customers are the best customers -- especially in a crowded field. They’re irked by the status quo, so they are willing to try just about any new solution. Use this discontent to your advantage.
Uber offers perhaps one of the best examples of this. It worked to not only break up transport gridlocks at crowded events such as concerts, sports and other gatherings, but also make the process of getting a ride easy. In the process, Uber disrupted the traditional taxi industry. It quickly became an appealing alternative and changed the way consumers think of transportation. And those once desperate, frustrated customers became happy, healthy leads.
3. Stay in your lane.
It’s tempting to try to be all things to all people, but that’s a fool’s errand. Yet even companies as successful as Tesla have made this mistake. In late 2016, Tesla acquired solar energy company SolarCity for $2.6 billion -- causing the stock market to lose trust in the company. Tesla hoped to become a general-purpose battery company through this maneuver, but it should have stuck to doing what it does best: making sexy cars.
To add insult to injury, this occurred around the same time Tesla was struggling to get its production on track, and since the acquisition, its overall solar installations have dropped by more than 76 percent. So stop trying to play in two different sandboxes at once. To attract those early adopters, you need a sharp, easy-to-follow value proposition.
4. Reduce barriers to entry.
Unproven solutions come with barriers to entry -- it’s a simple fact of business. People aren’t always willing to try new things, so make the transition as easy as possible.
Casper is a great example of this. Buying a new mattress is expensive, and trusting a new, mostly e-commerce brand is a hefty ask. However, through its 100-night guarantee -- where customers can try Casper mattresses risk-free for 100 nights -- the brand significantly reduced the obstacles to buying a mattress online. Today, its revenue has grown to more than $600 million, and it’s attracted a late-stage investment and retail deal from Target.
5. Hire insiders and outsiders.
Industry experience is great -- but don’t discount the utility of an outsider. Outsiders don’t have preconceived notions, and they can challenge problems in new ways to find solutions that insiders miss.
Our first salesperson was a construction industry insider. He related well with customers, but traditional thinking hampered his ability to see the power of our solution. Ultimately, he was ineffective, and we let him go. Meanwhile, other members of the team were excelling, and they embraced the solutions our former insider couldn’t. Now, when we recruit for sales roles, we ensure new hires can “unlearn” old beliefs they may hold onto.
Disruption is neither easy nor comfortable. But by keeping a cool head and focusing on the end goal, you’ll navigate the obstacles and find success.