How to Be a Disruptor With Your Business

Katie McBeth  | 

If you aspire to be the next Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Jack Ma, or Mark Zuckerberg, chances are you want to be more than an exceptional business owner: you also want to be a disruptor.

What does that mean? What is a “disruptor” anyway?

Your idea far exceeds the status quo. You don’t just want to see your business model become a reality, you want it to become the new standard. You don’t just want your product idea to make it to market, you want to see it change the world. Unlike other people in your industry, you don’t want to settle for adjusting to changes, you want to be that change. In other words, you want to be so innovative, you will transform what the rest of the world accepts as normal. You are an entrepreneur, but you aren’t just building a business or a product; you are disrupting things.

If this is the case, then you are well on your way to becoming an industry disruptor, but how do people get there? Disrupting an industry is no easy task. For every successful case, there are far too many would-be disruptions that fall flat. Not everyone has the ability or resources to put their idea into action, and not every industry is prone to disruption.

However, there are some people that have really set a precedent for how disruptions happen, and you can always follow their lead. Let’s looks at the steps that it takes to become a disruptor and look to how others have set the stage for a successful disruption in their industry.

Prepare For the Challenges of Disruption

Why is it so hard for disruption to take place? For some, it could be the industry that they exist in, for others it could be a lack of resources to make the disruption happen on a large scale. Additionally, we live in a world that is advancing at an ever-increasing rate.

Technology has resulted in many disruptions in almost every industry, but it has also opened up millions of opportunities for others to create and innovate their own form of disruption. Essentially, every year we are faced with new models and paradigms that shift the way everyone has thought or behaved prior. Change is happening rapidly, and it’s almost impossible for the average consumer to keep up.

According to Kara Goldin, a contributor to Forbes Magazine and the CEO of Hint© in San Francisco, there are five hard truths to becoming a disruptor. She, herself, has been labeled a disruptor for her industry: for removing sweeteners from flavored water and bringing attention to the epidemic of sugar consumption in the beverage industry. But becoming a disruptor isn’t all fame and glory, as Goldin notes:

  1. Disrupting is only the start. You also have to prepare for following up that disruption. Your big idea has to become a lifelong project and passion. You don’t get to stop when your idea first becomes a reality.
  2. Being first isn’t winning. Innovation is good and exciting, but being the first to conceptualize an idea doesn’t mean you’ve won the game. Goldin states: “as soon as you disrupt an industry, there will be someone out there trying to figure out how to one-up you.” Never get comfortable once you’ve entered “the game” of disruption. “If you want your business to have longevity, and to compete, you have to continue thinking differently and questioning yourself, your own truths, and any preconceptions or biases you may have.” Continue to look for opportunities that others haven’t seen, and continue to think and act outside of the box.
  3. Everyone’s a critic. There will always be naysayers, and you can expect them throughout your company’s and career’s lifetime. They will try to crush you, but you have to stick to your gut and believe in your mission. “…never let anyone steer you away from what you know to be true.”
  4. Stop following directions. Unfortunately, there are no guidebooks to becoming a successful disruptor. There are suggestions, models, and ideas that you can emulate, but no exact “how-to” on what to expect. As Golden mentions, to really be a successful disruptor, you have to think of everything differently: from your industry to who you hire in your company. You have to “eschew the rules of your industry.”
  5. Success can be crowded. Additionally, people will try to take credit for your hard work. Luckily, if you’re a successful disruptor, you won’t need anyone to give you credit because you’ll know how hard you’ve worked to get to that point. As Goldin explains about her successes with Hint©: “I know I was onto something when no one would listen.”

Start Thinking Like a Disruptor

Disruption is more than just an action: it is also a mindset. As Goldin described, you have to be ready to follow through after you’ve created a disruption and continue to think within that mindset throughout your entire career. There is no finish line, and no winner’s trophy.

Along with Goldin, there are other disruptors that are willing to share some of their secrets. Elliot Weissbluth is a fiduciary and CEO of HighTower Advisors. He began his company as an outsider to the financial industry, with very little knowledge about how things work, but a drive to see his plan to the end. Now, he is an industry figurehead, and he shared some of his entrepreneurial success tips with Entrepreneur Magazine.

Assume the Character of a Disruptor

To really think like a disruptor, you have to come to terms with the reality of the lifestyle: you’re going to fail a lot, you’re going to cause a ripple effect in the industry, and you must always think big and think independently. Your industry’s problems cannot be solved with yesterday’s methods and ideas.

You also have to ensure that you are motivated and mission-driven. You have to be committed to solving the problem and following through. Simply trying to achieve fame and fortune will not work: you have to be passionate about your industry or idea. Sometimes being naive and entering the industry as a rookie (not an expert) can work well for disruptors. It is the passion that drives them to exploring every inch of possibilities and to find a solution to every problem.

Acquire the Knowledge of a Disruptor

You also have to be familiar with all the problems within your industry, or invest the time to study every aspect of it. Are the needs of your customers not being met? What has your market research shown about the gaps in your industry, and how competitors are missing out? Of course, the opportunities you find don’t have to be world-changing. Sometimes they’re small adjustments, but they can be big enough to make your company change the field forever.

Of course, you will also have to be willing to share your knowledge. If you want your industry to change, the idea has to be accessible to all. Communication skills are vital to business, in general, but are essential to helping disruption get off the ground. Plus, this can help get the word out about your company and your work to change the industry. In a way, sharing is more than caring: it’s also publicity.

Assemble a Disruptive Team

Early in the process, you have to start building a team that can help see your mission through to the end. You have to accept that you cannot complete this process on your own, and there are plenty of people in the industry that are willing to think like you do, learn about the industry, and put your plan into action.

Finding them can be difficult, as many of these people will most likely not be within your industry. If you want to think outside of the box, you have a get a team that can do that, too. If you hire people from within your industry, they’re already going to have an outdated mindset that could potentially hinder your growth.

Once you do find people that share your drive and your desire to learn everything there is about your industry, then hold on to them. Do not let them slip away, as they will be the driving force behind your company.

Make Sacrifices to Reach Your Goal

Just as with any great success story, there is going to be failure and sacrifices along the way. In the early years, you may be spending less time sleeping and more time planning out your next move. You may find yourself spending more money than you’re making, and struggling to pay off bills and loans while you get things settled. For some disruptors, they may even be working in their garage to help save money on rent.

However, this is just the nature of disruption. You will likely be exhausted, broke, and stressed for a while until the business stabilizes. And if you stick to it, people will see your passion and be inspired by your story.

Becoming a disruptor can be difficult, but also life changing. Not everyone will be able to see fame and fortune, and there will be many failures before you reach success. But if you have the character of a disruptor — the motivation and drive to see things through — then you could very well be the next big thing in your industry.

Be prepared to make waves, and be prepared to ride them out. If you’re lucky, your passion could soon become your career and your future could be a tumultuous and exhilarating ride.


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Katie McBeth is a researcher and writer out of Boise, ID, with experience in marketing for small businesses and management. Her favorite subject of study is millennials, and she has been featured on Fortune Magazine and the Quiet Revolution. She researches SEO strategies during the day, and freelances at night. You can follow her writing adventures on Instagram or Twitter: @ktmcbeth

This post was updated October 9, 2017. It was originally published October 10, 2017.