What being a ‘disruptive entrepreneur’ entails
One evening, an entrepreneur friend and I were exchanging some ad-campaign ideas, and discussing how one can quickly gauge market validity. After much discussion, the friend said we should launch the campaign that very week, and just the both of us.
It surprised me a lot when he said that because he is a multi-millionaire, who owns businesses with a turnover of several hundred crore rupees, and here he was proposing running an ad campaign by ourselves despite having access to top-class digital marketing teams
So, I asked him: I work on our campaigns because we are a startup with a very lean team. But why do you still continue to work on the campaigns yourself for your new business initiatives?
“Sure, I may have a team that helps me, but I review all the ad content myself. And I know you do it too for your business. You know why? Because there are a million reasons why you and I will learn a million times faster,” he said.
That was a profound statement, and it got me wondering what learning has got to do with entrepreneurship?
The answer: Everything.
As legacy accelerators, several founders approach our firm, looking for ways to fast-track their growth to the next stage. We’ve realised that there are broadly two ways to go about business:
1. Do something in an industry and a market that already exists, but come with your own innovations, and deliver results better than anyone has done before.
2. Do something that hasn’t been thought of, or hasn’t been well-implemented, until now, because you are driven to find a solution to a problem that hasn’t been solved well-enough.
The startup community refers to the first type of business as a ‘lifestyle business’ – you have a template or a blueprint, you hire the right people, invest by taking a loan if necessary, set up systems and processes in place, and things start happening. An example of this is taking up a franchise, opening a restaurant, or a coffee shop, or manufacturing commodities that already have a well-defined market.
Then there is the other kind that creates a market and industry that didn’t exist before – the way GE introduced electricity, the way Xerox introduced photocopying, the way Microsoft introduced a PC in every home, the way Google introduced search to every user, and so on.
I refer to people who create such businesses as “Disruptive Entrepreneurs”. The idea is not to disrupt anything, but to solve a problem that has not been solved adequately, and making it affordable to millions of people.
There are a few things that ‘Disruptive Entrepreneurs’ do that traditional business owners don’t have to:
1. Invest to Learn the Industry
Traditional businesses have some specific trade secrets – if you learn them, you will avoid making expensive mistakes. For example, if you are starting a diamond business, there is some wisdom that is unique to that industry. It won’t help if you have been the CEO of a multi-billion dollar business in another industry – you will still have to learn about the diamond industry. It may take a few years, but the good news is that you don’t have to discover all of it by yourself – you can find people and mentors who already know how to do that business.
However, if you are solving an existing problem in a unique way, no one will have done it before – you will have to discover your industry's unique secrets yourself.
2. Data Driven
We advertise a lot. But we advertise not only to get additional customers, but also to accelerate our learning about our customers. And we want to impact as many people as we can.
So, if advertisements can accelerate our learning, why waste a few months? If you can track market behaviour – what drives people to take actions (buy), and the psychological chain of events that they go through – then you understand so much more about your customers, and it enables you to add value to your business.
In the same way, a ‘disruptive entrepreneur’ leverages several functions of a business to continuously learn about the customers, whereas a conventional business would outsource it, or see that function as a compartment that does its role.
3. Focus on The Beginning and the End Together
Traditional businesses can afford to go one step at a time because they have a blueprint of what has worked in the past. But disruptive businesses have to be very strategic from the beginning, and you can’t be strategic thinking one step at a time.
To be strategic, you have to understand the consequences of your actions now, on the end result that you are going after. If you want to impact a million people, but build a business for 10 years in a way that is not scalable, no amount of investment, time and profits will help you scale 100x – you would have to scrap the old model, and start fresh again.
Scalability is not what you think about at the end of the journey – it must be the basis on which you decide if you must continue what you are doing. If your vision is to impact a larger section of people, then you have to discern between what opportunities are bringing you closer to your final outcome, and what opportunities are taking you away.
The reason my friend wanted to start immediately on the campaigns himself was because he wanted to learn about this new industry that we planned to create, wanted to structure a method to gather the most critical data about our potential customers, and was highly motivated because he foresaw that the outcome would finally be something that wasn’t yet there! And that, my friends, is ‘disruptive entrepreneurship.’
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)