Disruption is a business innovation strategy, applied liberally to tech startups whose innovations are shaking their markets up in an alarmingly effective way.
But disruptive business is not just a digital tech phenomenon. Nor is it that new. Entrepreneurs have been hatching disruptive business strategies for years, and in some of the unlikeliest places.
Virgin Galactic and cosmic disruption
Richard Branson advocates disruption as the business model of choice for all entrepreneurs. And although more philanthropic crusader than serial entrepreneur these days, his ambitions for Virgin Galactic are as audacious and potentially disruptive as ever.
He said: “While NASA have done, and continue to do, incredible things, governments are not experts at running businesses.
To go into commercial space travel as a private company could change the face of travel for generations to come.”
Not only will the venture send thousands of people into space at a fraction of what it costs governments to go to space, it will also put satellites into orbit more efficiently, bringing down the costs of telephone and internet access, and disrupting another industry for good in the process.
“I’m looking forward to being able to fly people, through point-to-point travel, around the world in a quicker, environmentally-friendly way. That is as disruptive as it gets,” says Branson.
Zappos’ shipping strategy
Surprisingly, neither creating a business community in Las Vegas, the least community-focused city on Earth, nor implementing Holocracy in the workplace rank as the most disruptive business ideas of Zappos chief Tony Hsieh. For him, he says, it was becoming the first e-commerce company to offer free shipping both ways in order to help alleviate customers’ concerns if the shoes they ordered didn’t fit.
Going Dutch: Shapeways shares power with the people
Disruption with democracy in mind underpinned the strategy behind Shapeways, currently a global leader in the 3D printing marketplace, headquartered in The Netherlands. In 2007 founders Marleen Vogelaar and Peter Weijmarshausen took the best of mass manufacturing and handmade to help people circumvent the major investments in upfront capital they needed to create the products they want rather than buy what was available on the shelf.
“While it is really disruptive, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, as we expect 3D printing to supplement traditional manufacturing and create new businesses, new jobs, and new wealth,” says Weijmarshausen.
Taking a bite of the British dentistry business
The UK’s private dentistry market, a model of service consistency, tradition and clinical excellence has also come in for a shakeup, or at least the way in which it is promoted. Five years ago, dentistry advertising in the UK comprised a modest quarter page in the Yellow Pages, a one page website, and if the clinician was feeling particularly edgy, a sign outside their dental practice.
The idea of dentists doing anything even remotely disruptive was unheard of. When Dr David Hickey bought his practice, Southport Road Dental, in 2010 it was with the aim of attracting the niche sector of nervous patients by advertising and promoting the concept of ‘pain-free dentistry’.