3 digital disruption lessons from the startup world

3 digital disruption lessons from the startup world

Startups are hot right now. Almost weekly we are dazzled by the billion dollar valuations and stock market launches. We are amazed at the creativity of entrepreneurs who have turned their simple idea into an overnight sensation. And we are envious of the ease with which new ideas take hold and flourish.

These businesses use their agility to spot market opportunity and pursue it, bringing technology to bear as necessary – to accelerate their speed to market, target their customers, or scale their offering. They act as a disruptive force – creating new markets where none previously existed, or disrupting an existing market or industry with an unexpected business model, solution, or form of value.

But in many ways, startups are not that different from traditional businesses. After all, we are all seeking something new. The question we must ask ourselves is, “what is our appetite for disruption?” For those with the hunger, there are three lessons from the startup world that you can begin applying in your business today.

Lesson 1: Test + Learn = Flearn

No doubt you will have heard of the term “fail fast”, or of startup entrepreneurs “embracing failure”. But as anyone who has ever failed will know, it comes with a great deal of emotional impact and pressure. The goal of the startup, however, is not to fail, but to learn. Mick Liubinskas from accelerator, muru-D calls it “flearning” – learning from the small failures that help direct you towards success.

This is a vital lesson from the startup world as it becomes a foundation for innovation in your business.

There are three steps to Flearning:
  1. Create an hypothesis – create a hypothesis that you want to test against. Say for example you believe that placing a recipient’s name in an email subject line will improve open rates for your weekly newsletter. This becomes the foundation for a test.
  2. Test your hypothesis – prove out (or disprove) your hypothesis in a live market. Startups don’t have the luxury of focus groups. They are looking for actions rather than intentions. By creating an A/B test for your weekly newsletter, you can test out your hypothesis – and you will quickly know the results based on real customers.
  3. Iterate – once you have results, you test again. The focus is on proving what works and what does not. For example, if you find success using the recipient’s name in the email subject line, you may now turn your attention to headline writing.
Lesson 2: Use a Lean Canvas to plan your next product

Now that you have some experience with Flearning, you can start thinking about taking this approach to a new level. Now, rather than looking at a marketing tactic that can be improved, let’s look at a product. And with Lesson 1 fresh in your mind, let’s see what happens when rather than writing a business plan you use a Lean Canvas. A lean canvas is a deceptively simple way of communicating a business plan in a single page.

Consisting of nine or so sections (there are variations that can be used for different products/industries), the Lean Canvas will force you to focus on the most important aspects of your new product. The makers claim you can produce a Lean Canvas in as little as 20 minutes, but in my experience it takes a little longer.

But filling out the Lean Canvas is not the end. It’s just another chance to Flearn. Now you need to apply your test + learn approach to each section in order to validate your Lean Canvas.

Lesson 3: Become a Growth Hacker

Once you have iterated your Lean Canvas and have validated it with a range of stakeholders, customers, suppliers, partners etc, it’s time to move beyond the safe, first level networks that have brought you this far. And this means growth hacking.

While you may have a more standard way of acquiring customers via various channels etc, growth hackers build marketing into the product. This means using your early users/fans to spread the message about your product but also encouraging them to advocate on your behalf.

3 digital disruption lessons from the startup world

Take a look at the way graphic design startup Canva does this. As soon as you save an image (like I did with the image above), you are able to share your picture with your networks via Facebook, Twitter, or email. And from the main screen, you are able to “give instant access” to your friends through an exclusive invitation. Not only are you building awareness within your networks of the graphic design tools you are using, you are also helping Canva acquire new customers – people who are just like you.

3 digital disruption lessons from the startup world

There are many tips and tricks for growth hacking – and you will need to test and learn your way to the techniques that work best for you and your business. But an undivided focus on your customers and how to gain more customers will lead you in the right direction.

Taking these approaches may disrupt your old patterns of doing business, but you will certainly learn more about your business, customers, and how to grow in this digital age. And perhaps, we have no choice but to disrupt our own businesses before someone does it for us.

More reading: 

Our digital future & what it means for businesses
Powerful innovation for agencies – do it, or die!
The new skills you need for the digital age


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