To disrupt is not the goal

The term Disruptive Strategy was coined by Prof. Clayton Christensen in the 90s. It has become popular lately largely because business models have evolved and those brands that failed to evolve have found themselves disrupted out of business or at least have had to share their pie with newer, more agile brands.

When thinking of new business models or new products, the goal should not be to disrupt existing brands or business models though. Disruption is a side effect of fantastic new business models.

“On a cold winter evening in Paris, Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp couldn’t get a ride. That’s when the idea for Uber was born.” –

Uber is arguably a disruptive innovation. Prof. Christensen classified it as a sustaining innovation since it targeted people who were already using taxis and made the taxi hailing process more efficient. That said, Uber did disrupt the taxi industry. Before Uber, in Nairobi, one would need to approach a group of taxi drivers who used to park in specific areas around the city. You would have had to negotiate the price of your trip with Taxi #1. The prices were quite high. If you couldn’t walk to the taxis, you’d have to call a number, hope someone picks and wait anxiously for the taxi driver to arrive, not knowing whether he was truly making his way to you. With Uber, there’s no negotiation, one can get into the taxi with no cash, you can see where your taxi is and the prices for the trips are much lower.

Uber was born because the two founders had trouble finding taxis so they built a company that made it easier to find a taxi. To do that, they came up with a new business model. They did not start Uber with a goal of disrupting the taxi business. The incumbent taxi drivers were upset with Uber but that was because many customers embraced the convenience of Uber.

The goal of any new product or business model should be to offer value to a section of the population who are unserved or are being under served by existing solutions. If disruption happens, it is a sign that the product or business model has met your customers’ needs better than whatever existed before.