These days, it’s easy to argue that the expression “if you’re not growing, you’re shrinking” has never been more true. We all know and talk about local startups that are growing and thriving, attracting all of the funding, media attention, and talent. Many of these startups aren’t even that big. However, how much time do we give the 20-year-old software company that’s been averaging $28 million in revenue for the past five years? How often do we discuss the 30-year-old consulting services company averaging $200 million a year but gradually shrinking? These and many others are examples of a large percentage of companies in our locales. You may even lead or work for one of these companies.
If you do, this series of articles is for you. Because, if you do, I want to urge you to consider becoming what I call a “restartup”: a company that intentionally and proactively disrupts itself in order to regalvanize itself strategically and operationally. In this first installment in the series, I’d like you to consider six reasons that should compel you to “self-disrupt”. In the next article, I’ll give you a step-by-step process to guide you through the art of self-disruption and to becoming a legitimate restartup. Finally, in the third, I’ll cover a few case studies of restartups with which I’ve been directly involved.
1. Your world is changing faster than you realize; you must stay ahead of demand cycles
Consider these three companies (and one product) with which we’re all too familiar:
- Salesforce wasn’t even a startup in January of 1999; it’s now doing over $5B in revenue.
- Facebook wasn’t even a startup in January of 2004; it’s now doing nearly $18B in revenue.
- The Apple iPhone didn’t even exist in January of 2007; in the last quarter of 2015, the iPhone alone generated over $50B in revenue. Yes, you read that correctly: *just* the iPhone in *just* one quarter.
The theme here is clear: not only are product and consumer lifecycles moving faster than ever, they’re continuing to accelerate at an increasing rate. This phenomenon is eloquently discussed in Larry Downes’ and Paul Nunes’ Harvard Business Review piece entitled “Big-Bang Disruption“. As the authors describe, “the innovators who create products at ‘hackathons’ aren’t even trying to disrupt your business. You’re just the collateral damage.”
It is no longer plausible, nor safe, to sit back and enjoy revenues from cash-cow products for years and years with little or no risk of disruption; in 2016, that is a recipe for near financial ruin for any enterprise.
2. Business and startup best practices have come a long way in 10 years
We’ve learned a lot about creating and scaling technology startups since the ’90s. No longer is it a black art to develop a product, validate a business model, or on-board early adopter customers. With fantastic books such as The Lean Startup and effective tools such as Lean Canvas, the recipe for success is well-defined and best practices well-developed. I’m certainly not implying that success is inevitable; however, I am contending that today’s startup best practices have come a long way from when your company was first founded. Moreover, self-disruption is a means of leveraging modern business practices that fundamentally change the cadence of a company’s interaction with its market in such a way as to keep pace with it.
Today’s successful technology businesses must leverage agile techniques not only for their product development lifecycles but for their business strategy itself, constantly validating the market and adapting to it. Disrupting oneself and endorsing these modern techniques can bring that agility to established enterprises.
3. You have customers & revenue, so now is the right time
Unfortunately, most companies won’t consider self-disruption until things become bad: alternatives appear in the market, customers begin leaving, and revenue begins declining. Most will ride their wave of success for far too long.
Just as the best time to sell is when everyone else is buying, the best time to self-disrupt is when things appear to be going well. Why? Exactly because things are going well: you can afford to take a risk when things are going well because you have customers and revenue to cover for potential mishaps or miscalculations. If you wait until you’re in decline, self-disruption becomes a last-ditch attempt to save a sinking ship and, while I’d still recommend it, it’s certainly much more high-risk a venture.
4. Becoming a “#rentrepreneur” will bring back the excitement of the good old days
If you’re the original founder of your enterprise, you likely remember the incredible “good old days” of your business when it was a startup: the team was awesome, there were no politics, everyone did everything, and every day was an exciting adventure. You were more engaged than ever in those days; you weren’t simply “administering” and “organization”, you were truly “leading” a “tribe”.
Disrupting not just your business but yourself means turning your company into a restartup and yourself into a “rentrepreneur”, and, more importantly, bringing back those good old days.
5. You’ll be able to attract and retain fresh, top talent
It might be difficult to read (and write), but I believe it wholeheartedly: if you’re a rather stable business, your team probably isn’t world-class. The truth is that world-class talent is lured to the excitement, culture, and growth of thriving businesses. More importantly, world-class talent is attracted to the financial upside potential of startups.
If you don’t reposition your company, your brand, and your company culture to compete against those of a thriving startup, you’ll always lose to them on the talent front. And this is now a widely-accepted fact: companies win or lose on talent; wining in business is about winning the talent war. Becoming a restartup is a critical step in becoming a legitimate player in that war.
6. It’s likely not an option…it’s only a matter of time
Finally, and very frankly, in nearly every sector and industry in of the economy, self-disruption isn’t an option anymore: either you disrupt yourself or someone else will do it for you…eventually. And “eventually” is getting increasingly closer and an increasingly faster pace. Self-disruption needs to become part and parcel of your culture because it’s become a fundamental tenet of success in the modern economy.