Every day we hear of a new business disrupting the market, claiming to be the Uber for jet skis, dog walking, massages — the list goes on. But how many of these disruptors succeed in effectively challenging the status quo?
Disruption is a trendy term right now. What does it mean? To disrupt an industry means to create a market where none existed before or turn an existing one on its head. If customers start adopting a market entrant’s new offerings en masse, an industry has been disrupted.
AirBnb disrupted the hospitality industry by offering travellers an affordable alternative to hotels and serviced apartments. Australian startups like Airtasker make it easy to outsource everyday tasks to people in the community – instead of having to pay professionals the same services.
Disruption can also fail spectacularly — take the consumer electronics startup Jawbone as an example. Despite raising more than $1 billion in funding, the startup failed to retain market share and eventually collapsed in 2017.
Identifying opportunities for disruption
Small businesses are agile and lean, which puts them in a prime position to innovate and displace the established system.
To identify opportunities for disruption, you can:
- Look for consumers who are currently priced out of current offerings: this is your target market.
- Look to develop a business model that allows you to serve customers at a far cheaper rate to existing competition.
- Consider whether there is an unmet need in the market that you can help solve.
Learning from a disruptor
Sam Bashiry is no stranger to disruption. He started his company Broadband Solutions in 2005 with just $1,000 and a second-hand router. Back then, the internet was still in its early days — but Bashiry saw an untapped opportunity to provide fast internet services for hotel guests.
“At the time the internet was a new thing but I could see its potential,” Bashiry says. “I started supplying fast internet connections to hotels at a time when broadband was rarely known.”
“We now supply about 85% of hotels across Australia and are expanding our presence in the Southeast Asian market.”
Broadband Solutions has grown to 30 staff with an annual turnover of $25 million — but its cashflow wasn’t always so robust. Starting out with just $1,000 in his pocket, Bashiry had to find a reliable source of capital to grow his business in the early days.
His struggle is not unique: the 2019 American Express Access to Capital SME Survey gathered information from 1,000 small to medium business owners earlier this year.
About 10% of respondents had tried to get a loan from a bank. Only 52% of those businesses said they got what they requested. The other half either weren’t approved (34%) or they didn’t get approved for the amount they wanted (14%).
Luckily, Bashiry was able to secure the funds he needed thanks to his American Express Platinum Business Card.
“I have used American Express right from day one. The support and flexibility I receive when it comes to cashflow is very important and that’s where American Express has been wonderful.”
“I also can’t complain with all of the points-based* first-class trips I earn from the card,” he adds.
But life wasn’t always smooth sailing with first-class trips for Bashiry. Like any small business owner, he took considerable risks starting Broadband Solutions.
“One of the biggest risks was burnout. After six months I realised I couldn’t cope being the technical, sales, marketing and accounting departments all by myself,” he admits.
“I was caught up in Melbourne traffic one day and it was pouring down with rain. The weather was miserable, life wasn’t great and I thought, ‘I can’t do this anymore by myself, I need help’.”
Bashiry found help by reaching out to his professional community.
“I called an old work colleague, Brad Hughes. Brad lived in a different state and we had never met face-to-face but I knew he was great at the technical side of things. I said to him, ‘Listen, I’ve started a business. I’ll give you 50% based on one condition: you pack your bags and come to Melbourne by the end of the week’. And so he did — and the rest is history.”
Tackling challenges together
Broadband Solutions tackles challenges as a team, and its 30 staff work together to run an agile operation.
“As a lean team we cut down levels of unnecessary management, which means we can collectively deal with challenges faster, as they arise,” Bashiry says.
Establishing a local presence in overseas markets has also helped the business with its expansion.
“As we increase our presence offshore, we set up local offices with strong management to support our staff and customers on a daily basis. This has helped us deal with challenges in these markets both from a cultural and timing perspective.”
So, what’s next for Broadband Solutions? Not content to sit back and relax, Bashiry is preparing to disrupt, to avoid being disrupted himself.
“We’re looking to disrupt our business model again with cloud-based software products that will help us remain competitive in an evolving NBN market,” he says.
* For more information about earning and redeeming Membership Rewards points, visit http://www.americanexpress.com.au/membershiprewards.
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