After working in the startup community for four years, I’ve noticed that most founders who come to me don’t really know what it takes to disrupt an industry.
I think that most founders come into this thinking that they’re going to change the world and that they’re building the next Uber when in reality, they’re not.
They’ll tell me about their business, how great it is, how many people love it already, and how it will be the industry’s future.
Sometimes these founders have a fantastic business with a great product and a solid team, but I always have to tell them that their idea isn’t disruptive enough to raise a significant amount of money from investors.
So what does it really take for your startup to become a disruptor? And why are so many startups failing?
What is a Disrupter?
Before I dive into this, I want to clarify what a “disrupter” really is. A disrupter is a company that comes out of nowhere and completely changes how something has always been done.
A disrupter is a new product or business model that forces the market incumbents (the companies that have been in the industry for a long time) to change their strategy and innovate.
For example, Google was not the first search engine on the market, but it completely changed how we look for information online when they came out with their algorithm search.
It forced other search engines to change their strategies and get better at what they do — otherwise, they would start losing users.
As an added benefit, Google also became an advertising platform on top of their search engine.
They were able to monetize search results in ways that other search engines couldn’t do before them because they were changing how people searched for information online.
Or another example: Facebook wasn’t the first social network; there were already MySpace and Friendster before them, but Facebook was the most successful because it changed everything about how we connect with our friends online.
They changed the way we use social media by giving us a platform where everyone is connected, and it’s easier for people to interact, share and exchange information.
Facebook also changed how people advertise on social media. You can easily target your audience based on demographics, likes, location, and much more, which weren’t available before them.
Disrupters are the companies that change the way industries operate, not only in terms of the product itself but also in terms of business models.
Disrupters are companies that make other companies wake up one day and realize they have to do something about it or go out of business because they’re not innovating fast enough.
Those are the companies that investors want to hear from.
How do you build a Disrupter?
Now that you understand what a disrupter is, I want you to think about your own startup; how disruptive is it?
How does it disrupt the industry? How does your product change how people interact with their worlds?
Does your business model provide an opportunity for other businesses and industries to follow suit?
Or maybe there’s another way to look at this.
You might think that your company is not a disrupter, but one thing I know for sure is that very few startups are. So why are there so many startups out there?
The reason is that everybody thinks they’re building a disrupter, and they’re not.
They’re building the next big thing, but I can guarantee you that it isn’t a disrupter most of the time.
The reason behind this is because most founders have no idea what it really takes to build a disrupter.
It takes a lot more than just getting attention and getting users — actually, it takes less work than you think.
Most people think they need to build an amazing product first and then monetize later.
And they think if they build something great, growth will happen on its own.
That might be true for some companies, but it also might not be true for you in the long run.
This is what happens: You start with an amazing product and get funding right away, but then you realize that it’s not enough because you need more users — more money — to keep growing your business.
After all, things aren’t working out as planned; and then you get more funding, but then the same thing happens again and again.
This is why I think most startups fail.
You start with an amazing product, and that’s good — it’s a great start, but then you realize that it’s not enough because you need more users and money to keep growing your business.
This is where most founders quit — they say, “okay, this isn’t working out like we thought,” and start looking for something else to do.
But what they don’t realize is that maybe they didn’t execute properly. Maybe the product wasn’t as amazing as they thought it was.
Or maybe there wasn’t enough marketing strategy behind it to get them to a bigger stage or a bigger audience.
But if you really want to build something truly disruptive and different, don’t build an amazing product first and then figure out how to monetize later — because you might not know how to monetize your product in the first place!
It has happened so many times before in other industries: You have an amazing product (like Facebook), but then nobody knows what to do with it because nobody knows how to make money off of it.
The same thing happened with Google: It was an amazing search engine, but nobody knew how to make money off it! It was just a product; they didn’t know how to monetize it.
How did Google figure out how to make so much money?
They did it by building an algorithm that was better than any other search engine on the market.
They changed the way everyone searched for information online, and when they did that, they monetized their product in a completely different way than anyone else had before them.
How is your business going to be different from all the other startups out there?
What’s your idea? How are you going to monetize differently than everybody else?
What exactly are you doing differently than everyone else in your industry? How are you going to change things for the better?
And why should people care about your business if everything else is already out there doing the same thing?
How are you going to stand out from the rest of the crowd and be a disruptor?
That’s what investors want to hear, and if you can’t tell them what makes your business different from everybody else’s, you should probably re-think your business.
Remember, if you want to build a disrupter, it doesn’t happen overnight.
It takes time and effort — it takes more than just building an amazing product; you need to know how to monetize as well.
You need to figure out how to get users and money simultaneously because most of the time, that’s what ends up happening: You don’t get any users, or you get many users but no money.
Then you can’t hire anyone else because you don’t have any money!
I hope this article has helped shed some light on the difference between building a startup and building a disrupter.
Most startups out there are not disrupters; they need more work before they can be truly disruptive in their industries.
If you want to build something that will disrupt the market in your industry, take your time with it, make sure it is right and keep on working on it until you have something completely different than anything else on the market!
About the Author
I am the Founder of Cudy Technologies (www.cudy.co), a full-stack EdTech startup helping teachers and students learn better. I am also a mentor and angel investor in other Startups of my other interests (Proptech, Fintech, HRtech, Ride-hailing, C2C marketplaces, and SaaS). You can also find me on Cudy for early-stage Startup Founder mentorship and advice.
You can connect with me on Linkedin (https://www.linkedin.com/in/alexanderlhk) and let me know that you are a reader of my Medium posts in your invitation message.