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The Secret Of Disruptive Innovations

When the online eyewear retailer Warby Parker began selling boutique-quality glasses at a $95 price point they weren’t just trying to undercut the bigger players in the industry. Of course they did that and more, growing the company by 500% in just a year and mostly by word of mouth.

The average customer who needs glasses buys a pair every 2.1 years. Warby Parker set out to make glasses something that customers would buy in multiples as a fashion statements, much like women buy shoes and bags. They wanted customers to view them as accessories they could change to match occasions or moods. And while price combined with quality enables the company to tell a different story than other retailers, what changes everything is the story the customer now tells himself about how many pairs of glasses he can own and how often he should buy new ones. Many of Warby Parker’s customers buy six or seven pairs of glasses at a time and not just when their prescription expires.

Airbnb made people long to experience a destination like a local without the $8 price tag for nuts from the mini-bar. Apple changed how we feel about buying a whole album including the songs we didn’t care about. Amazon’s Kindle made us think of airport bookstores as reference libraries where we browse but don’t buy.

The secret of disruptive innovations and business models isn’t that they disrupt ‘the industry’, it’s that they disrupt people. They change how people feel about something enough to change how they behave. It’s entirely possible to look into the future and think about how your customer might be changed tomorrow as a result of what you do today. While ‘the industry’ works on the assumption that the larvae of today will just be bigger caterpillars tomorrow, the disruptor imagines butterflies.

Image by Len Matthews.

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