Disruption is one of the buzzwords often used in today’s business world. In the era of the start-up company, businesses must either go out and disrupt or prepare to be disrupted themselves.

Disrupt or Be Disrupted: How to Disrupt Your Industry

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But what does it mean to disrupt an industry? This guide will look at 1) the meaning of disruption and the biggest business examples of changing the market for good. You’ll also be able to read about 2) the four steps it takes to disrupt your industry and 3) a selection of ways you can do so.


It is easy to think disrupting an industry simply means coming up with a new product or service in order to replace an old one. But creating products or services that are somehow better and cheaper doesn’t necessarily mean they are disruptive.

Each business is essentially trying to come up with a new idea and a different way of doing things. But disruptive companies don’t just make new and innovative products or service, but they also add more value to the market and completely shake it. Disrupting an industry requires deep changes in the way the industry operates and always requires other companies to respond to this new way of doing business.

One of the best descriptions of disruption came from a Harvard Business School professor, Clayton Christensen. In his book the Innovator’s Dilemma, he characterizes two different ways businesses can be disruptive:

  • First, a business can disrupt by new market disruption, which means a disruptive product or service addresses a market that previously couldn’t be served.
  • The second way to disrupt is by low-end disruption, which means the product or service is simpler, cheaper or more convenient alternative to what is already out there.

In essence, disrupting an industry means challenging the status quo.

Examples of disruptive businesses

With the above in mind, it isn’t any wonder to notice disruption is often used in the tech world. Many examples of truly disruptive businesses highlight the use of technology and how it has paved way for innovative ideas in traditional industries.

Consider the example of Uber, for instance. The idea behind Uber seems simple and it can seem quite strange that a simple app could disrupt the whole industry. But the company has shaken the car-pooling industry upside down and caused quite a bit of stir in doing so.

The idea behind Uber is simple: you offer customers a reliable and a cheaper way to move from one place to another when they don’t have a vehicle. It’s a taxi service, but rather more convenient, as well as cheaper to traditional taxi service.

It has been able to challenge the status quo with clever software development and use, sufficient focus on logistics and adequate recruiting process. Yet, at the heart of it all is a very ancient and simple business idea.

You can also see similar thinking behind the disruptive business idea from VideoBlocks. The stock footage industry was shaken to the core when the company entered the stage and paved the way for current subscription-based video streaming services such as Netflix.

VideoBlocks started out by offering amateurs and professional filmmakers access to video clips and digital effects. It completely transformed the old thinking in the industry, which used to mean obtaining video footage was difficult and expensive.

The company didn’t come up with a revolutionary product or a service. But it looked at the industry and found a way to make it easier for the customer to get their hands on video footage. Easing the access also meant it was able to lower the price.


There are further examples of businesses that were able to disrupt an industry. But all of the examples share very similar patterns and strategies. These can easily be used to find a way to disrupt any given industry.

At this point, it is important to note disrupting an industry doesn’t necessarily mean the same as solving a problem. Indeed, no one had thought getting from A to B is somehow very difficult, but Uber still made tweaks and showed it can be done in an easier way.
Therefore, instead of figuring out what the problem is you want to solve, your business needs to take a methodological attitude. The following four steps will help you look at your industry and find the ways to disrupt it.

Define disruption and embrace your idea

First, you need to carefully look at your industry. You need to find the thing within the industry, segment or category you’d like to challenge and change. In most instances, the areas, which have remained the same for a long time, are the best for disruption.

Therefore, you want to look at areas, which might not seem riddled with problems. Rather, you need to find the parts that no one has thought about could be changed.

You’ll also need to carefully define disruption. As stated above, an innovative or cheaper product doesn’t necessarily equate to a disruptive business idea. You’ll need to be aiming for something that complete challenges your industry or a specific section within the industry.

Overall, you shouldn’t be aiming for disruption for the sake of disrupting. You need to make sure you understand what you are disrupting for and who will benefit from it.

At the early stage, you want to be brainstorming ideas. Don’t discard any idea until you’ve looked at it carefully and seen whether it can work and create the effect you want.

As you come up with the idea for a new product or service, you need to follow the usual path of business plan development. You need to know how you are going forward with your idea and fully embrace it before you move forward.

Learn to understand your customers

One of the most essential steps to take is all about understanding your customers better. You need to define your audience clearly, but you also need to understand what they want.

Above all, you need to understand why your customers buy your products, if you already have an established business, or what you’d expect the reason to be with your new business venture. Focusing on the reason for using your product or service will reveal a great deal about the kind of customer you are dealing with. In fact, it doesn’t only reveal your customers’ needs, it also tells you more about the competition.

You want to look at your industry through your customers’ eyes. Think what are the things that drive the customers to buy a certain product or service you are competing with. This provides you a better understanding of the things that work well and which make customers happy, as well the aspects that don’t work well.

Furthermore, if you’ve worked in the industry for a long time, you might need to seek outside opinions. Finding the fresh perspective can often be hard when you know a little too much about the industry and the way it operates.

Therefore, as well as discussing the ideas and problems with other people in the industry and the customers in your industry, a fresh perspective will be good. Talk to people who don’t know anything about the industry or use its products and services.

Gather the resources

You’ll also need to put some thought into your resources. Disrupting the industry isn’t easy and you are often competing against companies that have plenty of resources at their disposal.

If you are already an established business, your resources will be different compared to a situation where you are just setting up. Nonetheless, in most circumstances it is crucial to calculate what sorts of resources are needed to disrupt the industry.

Interestingly, start-ups are often in an easier situation because the company’s resources will already be aimed toward disrupting the industry. You are setting up the business with the idea of disrupting, therefore your resources should all be geared toward a result.

But it doesn’t mean established businesses wouldn’t be able to disrupt an industry. These companies just need to be careful in delegating the resources toward disruption. You don’t want to move away too many resources from the business, which already works.

Overall, it is important for a business to find a balance in running the established business successfully, while also delegating resources for innovation and development.

Even if you break into the industry and disrupt it, you cannot start lying still. Businesses cannot afford to stop innovating at any point because there are always people out there ready to disrupt what you have achieved.

Understand your limitations

Finally, it is crucial you also consider the limitations facing you. These could be obstacles in terms of finances or more to do with the industry. As part of your plan to disrupt the industry, you must think about the problems ahead of you.

When you come up with an idea for disruption, you need to carefully analyse it and notice the pain points. Don’t get overexcited about your great product, but scrutinise it carefully to find the weak spots and the problem areas.

You’ll also need to keep a clear head when it comes to presenting the idea to the world. Uber, for example, didn’t have the resources to take over the world at once. Instead, it chose a single market area, got the product to work there, created the buzz and moved forward.

Starting with a smaller disruption first can often be down to resources. As a start-up, you might not have the finances to roll out your new product or service around the country, let alone the world. But you might also find that servicing customers is easier when you start small.


The above steps will provide you a clear path to follow in your quest to disrupt your industry. You can use them for direction and guidance. Below you’ll find tangible ideas you can use to disrupt the industry.

Eliminate your customer pain points

There isn’t a single perfect industry in the world. Customers always have certain pain points that don’t necessarily stop them buying or using the product, but which they, nonetheless, could do without. If you can find such a customer pain point and to solve it, you are most likely on your way to disrupt the industry.

As mentioned above, it’s a good idea to talk to your customers and to try experience the industry through their eyes. You need to remember that some pain points will be obvious whereas others might not be so striking.

Big part of eliminating customer pain points deals with customer service. When you are coming up with your idea, make sure you keep customer service at the core of what you do. You can enrich the customer experience greatly, simply by making it easier for customers to get an answer to their problems or providing them with a sense of respect.

Redefine market size or target market

Disrupting an industry requires big ideas and thinking outside the box. You shouldn’t be too scared of redefining the market size for your products and services.

For example, the advertising industry used to be controlled by big corporations that were able to spend money on ad space. But Google opened up a completely new world by providing access to smaller companies as well, with affordable prices.

Perhaps your industry has always targeted a specific set of customers and been happy with the revenue it generates. But is there room for a product or service that will expand this market and look at your core customers a little differently?

Reduce complexity

One aspect of customer pain points often deals with complexity. We’ve all been faced with a new product,with instructions that make it impossible to get started. The ability to make a product or service straightforward is not as easy as it sounds, but it is the key to industry disruption.

The more complex your industry is, the more opportunities you have to disrupt it with a clever product. By simplifying a product, you can gain immediate market advantage.

Reducing complexity is not an easy task. Sometimes the ideas that look simple on paper don’t necessarily reduce customer pain points. It is a difficult way to disrupt the industry, while at the same time the most likely path for tremendous gains.

Cut prices

On the other hand, you don’t always need to go and reinvent the box. In order to disrupt an industry, it might be sufficient if you simply reinvent the price of the box. Cutting the cost of a product or a service can dramatically alter the industry and find you a completely new audience.

Unlikely reducing complexity, cutting the prices can be a rather straightforward approach to disrupting the market. It isn’t to say cutting costs will be easy, but it can be much quicker than trying to completely change your industry with a new product.

Keep in mind, cutting costs doesn’t mean an incremental change to the price. This will not lead to industry disruption. If you are aiming for disruption, you need to dramatically change the price point – often well above 70%.

The technology boom has created plenty of opportunities for cutting prices. For example, different apps have been able to slash both customer pain points, as well as product and service prices in an instant.

Smarten up the products and the process

Everything is becoming smart these days – you got smartphones, smart-TVs and even cars are becoming smarter! The revolution of turning dumb things to smart can open many opportunities for disrupting a traditional industry.

For example, you could have collars for dogs and cats, which let the owners know where the pet is or if they are making a mess at home when the owner is at work. On the other hand, you could create sport equipment that measures the speed, angle and force it was struck or swung, for example.

There are tons of opportunities to make specific products smarter with little technological tweaks.

Furthermore, the products and services themselves aren’t the only aspect you can smarten up. Perhaps you can simply smarten up the process of delivering the product or service to your customers. Finding a way to do things smarter during manufacturing can cut the retail price and clever shortcuts can ensure your customers enjoy the product quicker.


As the above has shown disrupting an industry is by no means an easy task. Yet, it is possible and the rewards can be magnificent. If you just have the vision to look at your industry in a new light and find the ways to improve it and to change it, you can provide better service for customers and to grow your business.

When it comes to disrupting the industry, the bolder claims you can come up with and the bigger problems you can solve, the impact of your ideas will also be deeper. Think your ideas through carefully and plan your business idea well.

Above all, remember that you can either be the one showing the way in your industry or be the business that is always one step behind. Whether you like to disrupt an industry or not, you will need to confront it at some point.

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