The 6 essential rules of being a business disruptor

CIOL Bureau
New Update
HubSpot Managing Director APAC Shahid Nizami

Thomas George was hosted by software developer and marketer HubSpot for their event Grow Singapore 2019. This is an abridged form of the keynote given by HubSpot Managing Director—APAC Shahid Nizami.


I want to tell you about a small story about a business trip. I was speaking at an event in Bangkok. I left on Monday evening. Sunday evening, sitting down with my son, (He's almost seven years old) I pull out a Blu-ray player. My son goes: What is that? I said this is like a device which I had about seven years ago where, if I wanted to watch a movie at any time, I would put some round thing inside. I would hit the play button. My son gave me this blank look and says, “Oh Netflix!”

Think about it. Seven years ago, Blu-ray was the coolest technology. All of us were trying to get the best players. Now it’s difficult to get them in stores. There's so much disruption happening. I got to work the next day. On Monday morning, the folks from Odyssey deliver the laundry to me. Amazing experience! You use the Google App or just the web to book.

In the afternoon, I pulled up my phone, booked a Grab taxi. It was a pretty seamless experience. I was taking a no frills airline, so no entertainment. So I downloaded a movie on the phone called Badla. It's an Indian movie starring Amitabh Bachchan. It was a really nice murder mystery. Then I landed in Bangkok. There again I had to just pull out my phone and use the same Grab app, which works in Thailand as well.


I got to my Airbnb and ordered food using the Foodpanda app. I had my favourite Thai green curry chicken and mango sticky rice and a good night's sleep. If you think about it, I've been doing business travel for the last 15 odd years. The whole experience has totally changed in the last few years.

Earlier I had to ensure that I delivered the laundry to the laundry folks, got it picked up on time. When I was going to the airport I got down a little few minutes early so that I could flag down a taxi or just stand in the queue. When I reach the airport, I'm fairly social so I want to sit with someone, a co-passenger who's going to be chatty. I was hoping that my co-passengers isn’t a grumpy one. When I reached the hotel, I wanted to ensure that I got good food, but then there were only limited choices in the interim dining menu.

All this has changed. The New Age companies are taking over from the incumbents and providing great experience. It’s not just me—I’m sure all of you feel it too. All these examples are primarily B2C. How about B2B? Is there disruption happening there? I let you decide. But just continuing with my business trip to Bangkok, the next day I get up, I go to a JustCo and decide to work there for a few hours. I put my laptop, I build the slides for the day using Camera, amazing app there. I'm on Slack with some of my colleagues, trying to get some data points for the slides. It's all good. Then I have to jump on a very important meeting with my colleagues in the marketing team, so I use Zoom.


I head to the event where I was speaking and wrap up the talk. If you've been to Bangkok you know the traffic can be so unpredictable. So I was really struggling to get to the airport in time to catch my flight. Somehow I managed to get it just in time. I rushed to the plane and when I was sitting down, I realized: Oh my god! I made one big mistake. I forgot something. I have a pact with my son, where every time I'm going on a business trip, I need to buy a gift for him. He calls it the “Get out of jail free card”!

So, I forgot to get his gift. I'm in the plane, the doors are closed and I quickly took out my phone and using the Amazon Prime app, which has the same day delivery here in Singapore, I order. I reach Singapore. I was getting into the elevator in my house and the Amazon delivery guy was right there. Good timing! I just picked up the gift and I gave it to my son. I'm still holding up to be a super dad because I always keep my promises. I have to hide the fact. But it worked out pretty well. He still feels he got the gift from Bangkok!

Disruption was used in that context in 1995 by Harvard business professor Clay Christensen. It’s highly overused and under understood. On disruption, we typically think of the browser and Google, Intel, Apple and iPhone and maybe Tesla in a few years. But if you look at these companies’ DNA, they’re primarily deeply technical expertise companies. Together they have more than 50,000 patents registered.


Now compare them to previous examples. These companies put together have about thousand odd patents. They’re not really deep technology disruptors. But they do something different to disrupt the market. So for about four months, our senior executives including our CEO and Co-founder Brian Halligan got in touch with a few of these companies. We spoke to their founders, long time senior executives and investors. We used most of their products to try to understand what makes them stand apart. One thing we realized was that they are not necessarily “technology disruptors”, but we call them “experience disruptors”.

We realized that they didn't use lingo like: We use blockchain or Artificial Intelligence or Machine Learning. No jargon. They told us one simple thing and that's pretty much the theme:—

A new species of disruptor: How you sell is why you’ll win!

The six essential rules are…

1. Be obsessed about the experience market.


2. Build a frictionless business model.

3. Deliver a highly personalized experience.

4. Sell through your customers.


5. Be business model busters.

6. Obsess how to iterate the product for ease of use.

Incumbents are obsessed about a product market fit. Experience disruptors are obsessed about an experience market. One such example is Circles.Life, which has no stores in Singapore. You can sign up for their contract online anytime of the day in under five minutes. They only have a single plan with add ons. They have an intuitive app and you can do everything without talking to a single human being. It’s a beautiful experience. When people lose their mobile, they panic and don’t know what to do. In Circles.Life, you can just log in and order a new SIM seamlessly, no need for an OTP because you lost your phone already! They don't even own any of the infrastructure like towers and all.

Atlassian: Incumbents’ business model is friction filled. Experience disruptors’ business model is fairly frictionless. A great example of that is this is Atlassian, an Australia based company. They created some amazing B2B software like Jira, Confluence and Trello. Their marketing team is more like a B2C marketing team than a B2B one. It is less obsessed about generating leads, more about generating active users. It is less obsessed about selling to the CIO, but more about getting the CIO to buy from them. They do multi-million dollar deals and they have no commission based sales force. To reduce further friction, they do zero discounting. It's just automated if it needs to be. They want to keep that that trust and goodwill amongst the customers


Netflix: Incumbents’ interaction with their customers is anonymous. Experience disruptors deliver a highly personalized experience for their customers and prospects. There is no one better than the big daddy of personalization, Netflix. Netflix has moves from personas to a segment of one. All of us are different segments of one and all of us have fingerprint in the Netflix database today. The more Netflix you watch, the deeper that impression becomes. Another company doing a really good job of personalization is Spotify. They've moved from personas to use cases, which is primarily this amazing intuitive playlist. So the world is going from handcrafted personas to data driven personalization.

Fashion Valet: Incumbents sell to their customers. Experience disruptors don't just sell to their customers, they sell through them. There's a Malaysian company Fashion Valet. It’s an online clothing store. They have a few physical stores in Malaysia, but they cater to the Southeast Asian market. They came out with a hashtag on Instagram, #fvootd or Fashion Valet outfit of the day. They get their consumers to take a picture of a Fashion Valet clothing they're wearing and put it on Instagram with that hashtag. They've got more than 53,000 posts on the retailer's account with that hashtag, most of them generated by average consumers. They have about 600,000 followers or users on Instagram.

Haylee Mattress: Incumbents are obsessed about just following the business model. Experience disruptors are business model busters. A beautiful example of that is from a company here in Singapore called Haylee Mattress. You can order a mattress online and get it delivered on the same day. They have 100 night sleep trial. You can use the mattress how you want. On the hundredth day if you feel it's just not working out, you can return it for free, no questions asked. Returned mattresses are not resold. They are cleaned up, refurbished and given to charity. These companies focus on adding value to their customers and not extracting value on their customers.

Canva: The last one is important too. Incumbents make their solutions more easy to use for a period of time. Experience disruptors obsess about how they can keep on iterating on their product and solution to make it easier to use. One such company is Canva. One of the co-founders used to teach students on InDesign and Photoshop. She realized that it wasn’t very easy for people to learn these and even more difficult for it to be used by average folks. That was the idea behind Canva. It’s a three-tier solution: Robust, free and accessible.

At times routines hold you back and stop you from trying out new things. It's very important for us to break through these routines. If we do that, we can try out new things and be an experience disruptor!