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Outpacing your own disruption: don’t be the start-up that starts out hot but burns out


Disruption, a deep-rooted part of the start-up vernacular, has also extended to corporates and traditional industries. It even featured prominently on Malcolm Turnbull’s inaugural statement as Prime Minister.

This is what has made the likes of Uber and Airbnb deities of the start-up world and inspired many to go where others have not ventured in the past.

Often confused with innovation, it could also be detrimental to a start-up’s long-term success and existence. Keeping pace with disruptive innovation and staving off new competition is not easy. Not when the barriers to entry are as low as they are now.

With the average lifespan of companies having fallen from over 60 years in 1958 to 18 years in 2011 and decreasing rapidly, the ability to respond to market forces with disruptive innovation is critical not just to the bottom line, but mere survival.

I recently attended two events where disruption was the central focus. Commonwealth Bank’s 6th Annual Women in Focus Conference and Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneurial Winning Women lunch, where I was a speaker. The common challenges discussed at both events were “how do we consistently perform better” and “how do we keep pace”.

Here are my observations on outpacing the speed of change and building a sustainable business.

Managing for disruption

While corporates often struggle to keep up with the agility of start-ups, start-ups also struggle to maintain disruptive innovation beyond the first few years and against newer entrants offering better solutions.

The start-up path is littered with tales of failure of big-dreamers, which is unfortunate.

Managing for disruption requires agility, a strong backbone and the ability to rise up when knocked down. If you look at the likes of Elon Musk and Andy Lark, they have taken on industry behemoths and survived.

You have to be fearless facing off with the Goliaths of the industry.

Attitude and a strong conviction that you can win is everything. As the late Steve Jobs said, “The crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes…the ones who see things differently”.

Empowerment of people

A recent article in Forbes discusses how Uber and Airbnb’s true disruption did not stem from creating disruptive technologies but rather from empowering people.

Empowerment breeds success and the businesses that have the most impact on how we live today are the ones enabling it.

The minute you start looking at disruption in isolation and as a means to achieve the bottom-line, it stops becoming about the people and more platform-centric. Many start-ups have learnt this lesson too late.

Before I started iVvy, I had an awful experience trying to book an event space, a process that took six weeks, only to be later told it wasn’t available.

The desire to empower others facing similar challenges gave me the strength to pursue my dream and start iVvy to solve a fundamental problem in the industry with real time availability of venues and pricing online.

Affordability, accessibility and control

With Airbnb, people can afford to stay at a beautiful beachfront property for a fraction of the cost they would pay at a five star hotel.

Before Spotify and other music streaming services, you had to pay for music. Before Expedia and Wotif, travel experiences operated in silos via agents who charged fees.

People and ideas can disrupt industries because they make desired products and services more affordable and accessible. Consumers now have the option of opting-in to a lifestyle they can make their own.

Maintaining a sense of purpose

At E&Y’s Winning Women’s luncheon, we discussed ‘purpose’. How companies that have been founded on a sense of purpose can keep it front and centre while growing, and shifting your focus to efficient operations, scaling big, and increasing profit.

Nike is a great example of a brand that has embraced technology and innovation to create products with a sense of purpose and different lifestyle experiences.

From using 3D technologies to enabling American footballers perform better to Nike running clubs and partnerships with Apple, the brand has morphed around customers without losing their core identity. No other sportswear brand has evolved as much as Nike and built a stronger brand while doing so.

Many startups fail after the initial few years because they get caught up in the process of growing and often fail to keep inventing.

With new technology outpacing planning, processes and even people, it falls on the vision of the leader and agility of the organisation to take on newer disruptive forces head-on.

Change and change often. Digital disruptions are a way of life now. How we respond to and evolve with these changes will determine how long we stay relevant.

Lauren Hall is the CEO of iVvy, an online marketplace that lets you search and compare function space in real-time.

Lauren Hall_CEO_iVvy