The Pattern of Disruption

by: | April 26, 2017

Last night I was at a Founder’s Dinner hosted by one of League’s investors. At the end of the night, a fellow founder approached me to chat about her business and how to think about players like Amazon – a company I’ve competed against, and won. She reminded me of the pattern of disruption I’ve witnessed a few times.

In fact, Gandhi said it best:

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

So, remember what your mother told you – don’t listen to the naysayers. It’s a rule I’ve followed all my life and is a critical element of building a successful startup. Naysayers are everywhere. And as you inch closer and closer to their turf they start to talk louder.

See what else Mike has to say:


We’ve seen it in every industry. Whether it was putting the ‘Yellow Pages’ on the internet; enabling files to be sent and stored electronically in the cloud; sending emails, texts, mobile data; or downloading and reading books electronically – I’ve seen this same pattern of disruption play out over and over again. It’s not me. It’s the market, and the rules that govern it – survival of the fittest.   

In the beginning, they totally ignore you

Michael, ebooks have only been a percent of one percent of U.S. sales in the last few years. You seem like a nice guy, but you’re wasting your time”  

This stage is all about bluster:

“Yeah. We tried that already. It didn’t take.”  

“What do you know about my industry?…It’s not that simple”

I’ve heard that before. And it usually comes from well-meaning, intelligent professionals who just happen to be looking at things through a single lens. Or they overlook an outlying part of the market that is new and growing. Or, perhaps, they just don’t want to change.

My reaction: you’d better watch out, I am coming for you. Disrupt! Disrupt! Disrupt!

Then they laugh at you

“Who is ever going to read one of those stupid-looking plastic screens? People love the smell of books.”  

“What does that tech guy know about our industry? Healthcare is complicated. Insurance? Even more so.”  

“They will never be able to play in the big leagues”

It kind of stings.

But this phase is all about tolerance. You need to be able to tolerate the ridicule, the doubting investors, your team losing momentum. You need to keep your head down and work. Work. Work. Work. Let your mission be your guide.


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Then they fight you

It starts small.

“Don’t use those guys, they’re so new to our business. Too risky…”

Sales forces get trained up on you, and they start responding in the market place.

“We are launching our own ebook thingy…it’s going to be amazing!”

CEOs get a dose of Silicon Valley. The TV Show.  

“After decades of profiting from selling benefits you don’t actually use, we’re building an app!”

If it were only that simple.  

“Check out our new taxi app! It’s even better than Uber’s!”

This isn’t about an app. This is about a mission that’s far bigger than any app.  Btw – nobody uses your app.

What’s interesting about this phase is it’s about pain. You feel it. And what you do when it happens is critical. I read this article that talks about the mentality of super champions and these lines stood out:

“Super champions [are] driven from within. Their primary concern [is] self-improvement. They [hold] themselves to high standards, but [judge] themselves against prior versions of themselves, not against others.”

You will incur pain, so respond accordingly.

But you can also inflict it.

At a certain point, the profit and loss statements of the incumbents start to speak loudly. The board reacts and a tipping point is reached. It doesn’t take a lot. A 10-15% swing in the the business with a trajectory that looks far worse can be enough to trigger change.

And then, the industry starts to press the reset button: Analysts downgrade; new CEOs; new Presidents; layoffs to fund digital transformations, investments in incubators; proclamations that investment in technology will save them all.

Then you win

It’s almost hard to believe that disruption happens. But it happens all the time. Over 50 per cent of the Fortune 500 were not here 50 years ago. Disruption does happen. Ask the car companies today. The taxi companies. The advertising industry. The newspaper industry…the list continues.

It starts small.

Introducing one product. Getting a customer. Winning a small deal, in a small market. Then you win a bigger deal and start growing in a bigger market. Then you’re winning exclusive partnerships, growing distribution, expanding products, growing share.

The momentum starts to build and you’re now winning the best talent, winning the best investors, and winning hearts and minds.

And once you have that, it’s hard to go back.

This all starts with naysayers, and finishes with you at the top of the mountain.




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