Looking to disrupt a market?

2015 is shaping up to be a big year in Montana for Startup Weekend. With the Billings event already under our belt and three more scheduled this year (Great Falls, Bozeman, Butte), lots of people are looking for startup ideas.

One place that gets a lot of interest is “stodgy” established markets that are lucrative but neglected from a modernization and/or innovation perspective.

It’s easy to point out markets whose former leaders felt things were good enough. Those markets now have to compete with Craigslist, Uber, Airbnb, SpaceX, Apple iTunes, Spotify, Netflix, Amazon, Expedia, Kickstarter, Zillow and so on.

Ironically, some of these companies have awakened their markets to the point where they are now being disrupted by startups and in some cases, by the original leader in the market.

Things are as they should be in these markets. We earn the privilege to stay in our market every day. When we don’t, we often expose opportunity we’ve ignored, provoking someone to disrupt a market.

Resting on laurels

It’s easy to look at existing markets for disruption candidate because so many existing businesses invite competition simply by virtue of how they treat their clientele.

For example:

  • Do you work with businesses that take you for granted?
  • Treat you poorly?
  • Treat you with disdain?
  • Treat you like they’re doing you a favor?

dWhen a business leaves you feeling like one or more of those, it’s difficult not to consider what it would take to disrupt them out of the picture.

Want to disrupt a market? Disrupt yourself

Look back at that list. Does your business you make your customers feel that way? If they do, one way to fix it is to disrupt yourself. So where do you start?

Four ways that startups disrupt an existing business (or market) are through speed, improved customer service, decoupling and unbundling. Two of these are forgone conclusions that you simply cannot avoid, speed and improved customer service, while the other two are rapidly becoming assumed competitive angles.

Speed – No one’s resistant to the market’s need for more speed at the same or better level of quality. Conventional wisdom says that it can’t be done – “Pick any two: cheap, fast or good“, but conventional wisdom rarely considers what the startup list at the top of the page not only tried, but accomplished.

Improved customer service – To be sure, there are companies out there that do well both in revenue while treating their clientele poorly, but their days are numbered. One by one, they will be picked off – and I’m happy to help their competition do it.

Unbundling – Unbundling involves separating the sale of an item from the delivery of that item. Expedia is an unbundler. They took services offered by travel service providers and unbundled them from the provider who delivers them, made it easy to buy and search for what travelers needed, sold them and collected their cut. Expedia got substantial market share because they made it easy to find and compare flights without having to deal with each provider’ web site and/or phone tree. Unbundling has somewhat limited scope because it only happens at consumption / purchase time, which is why decoupling businesses started popping up.

Decoupling – A decoupler pulls apart the evaluate-select-purchase process that used to be performed at one established business. Decouplers focus on radical improvement of a single part of the process. For example, retailers face competition from decouplers who might mail samples to someone’s home, allowing them to skip a trip to the mall to decide what they want. Once the mall trip is eliminated, another step in the evaluate, select, purchase process might be removed elsewhere. Any point along the evaluate, select, deliver, purchase process is a candidate for decoupling. While the social aspects of that trip to the mall can’t yet be delivered to your mobile device, there are plenty of other ways to address shoppers’ social needs.

Try Startup Weekend Therapy

Stuck on how to disrupt yourself? Take part in a Startup Weekend. I’d be shocked if a weekend in that environment didn’t provide you with ideas and mindset adjustments to bring back to your business.

Want more? Here are a few links to startup idea resources.

http://ideamarket.com/founders.html

http://www.paulgraham.com/ambitious.html

http://paulgraham.com/startupideas.html

http://www.inc.com/rahul-varshneya/4-places-to-look-for-your-next-startup-idea.html

http://old.ycombinator.com/ideas.html (this list is aging, but they might seed a useful idea)

http://www.ideaswatch.com/

Reinvigorate your business on a budget

While I suspect you’ve already done your strategic business planning for 2015, you might still be wondering what else you could do to “turn the knob” on all or part of your business.

It’s a natural thought process at this time of year. In the words of Saturday Night Live… you think your business needs more cowbell.

Here’s a checklist of baby steps you can take that will help you reinvigorate your business without spending a ton of money.

Marketing

The best way to not spend a ton of money on marketing is to track the response you get. You can do this with tools ranging from a yellow pad and a pen, to a spreadsheet, to sophisticated software. The key isn’t the tool you’ve chosen as much as it is that you actually track response and make future marketing decisions based on what those responses tell you.

For example, if you advertise on the radio, on cable TV, in a newspaper, email, web advertising and via direct mail, you need to be able to tell which of those are making the phone ring AND making sales happen. It may not be one of them, it might be all of them or a subset of them.

You need to know which media work for you and which don’t. It doesn’t matter if one works for someone else if it doesn’t work for you.

Likewise, sales copy that works on the radio may not work on one or more of those other media.

You need to know which campaigns work on which media.

Ultimately, you need to know what works so you can stop spending money on what doesn’t.

Accounting

Do whatever it takes to make this as easy as possible. Without a clear view into your numbers, you might be making decisions that are taking your business in the wrong direction.

If this means getting help, find a way – even if you have to use temporary help or an online service. If it means changing the tools you use, do it.

Even though accounting is not particularly sexy or fun, it’s the only scoreboard you have.

Sales

Close the sales prevention department.

The “sales prevention department” includes all of those things that make prospects shrug their shoulders and walk away.

Among other things, it’s the sign that they can’t read, the phone that wasn’t answered, the salesperson who didn’t attend to them, the cashier who barely looked up from the register except to look at their phone, the website they can’t use to do business with you, the process that made buying not worth the trouble, and the inane, repetitious paperwork that wore them out before they could give you their money.

Customer service

If your customers bought something in the last 90 days, have you followed up with them simply to check that their purchase did what they wanted? What if it didn’t? What did they do? Was your staff of any help?

Follow up.

Back office and Infrastructure

What costs your business time and money every day? If you asked each staff member what would help them do their work more effectively and efficiently, what would they say?

Ask them. You might learn something.

Cover your assets

If you can’t find instructions that would help someone restore your data if computers were stolen or burned up, your business is at risk. What are you going to do about it?

Do you care if your business outlives you? If you do, ask yourself this: “What would happen to my business over the next month or so if I died in a terrible accident today?

Communications

Can you reach all of your customers with a message personalized to them?

Can you reach all of your customers without placing an ad on TV, radio and in the newspaper?

In both situations above, can you do so by the end of the day today? How about the end of next week?

Website

I could discuss this topic in great detail and suggest lots of changes, but remember, we’re talking about reinvigorating your business website on the cheap.

Does your site have your phone number on it? Does it have a map on it? Does it have your physical address on it, where appropriate? Little, easy to forget things make all the difference.