As you know, I often use this space to highlight developments by technology companies ranging from Google to Kohort, and I recently announced our “Hackathon” with General Assembly. Why? Because I believe that these types of tech companies have a knack for developing and launching new products that wind up revolutionizing how we market, manage and conduct business.
Look at Apple, Groupon or Foursquare. All have launched game-changing products—not by being first to market, but by rethinking the market’s needs. They didn’t just ask, “How can we make a better product?” They asked, “How can we better serve a need?” Interestingly, the need they addressed was often not being explicitly requested by the consumer.
In his book The Innovator's Solution, Harvard Business School Professor Clayton M. Christensen describes this as addressing “non-consumption.” By offering a product to a specific part of the market that’s not currently buying, you’re not competing with an established incumbent but, rather, creating a new market. And, often, you’re introducing economics that make it difficult for entrenched competitors in other parts of the market to compete.
Ironically, many of the disruptive technologies addressing these new markets still lack features or qualities you might expect. I remember finding it odd that my first iPhone couldn’t do simple commands like copy and paste, how Groupon still required me to print a paper coupon or that Foursquare allowed me to check in even when I wasn’t inside the store. But, as Christensen points out, we are forgiving of such issues because “something is better than nothing.” That’s what these companies are competing against: “nothing.” Now, of course there were music players, coupon sites and GPS tracking before these companies built their offering, but they put them together in an entirely new way that drew out previously non-consuming buyers.
Another new startup, Veri, is looking to disrupt education. I remember when I first saw their founder, Lee Hoffman, present their service at Techstars Demo Day in April. I immediately thought that they were developing a new way to learn that was fun, social and addictive. I think it really does address a non-consumption need for education.
But I’d like to hear where you think we can improve, or just your overall thoughts on disruptive technologies. Please share your thoughts below.