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What's Your Disruption?
How to find your disruption and make your best pitch
I’ve written about disruptive storytelling in the past but it’s a topic I keep coming back to. Every startup is a story about disruption but you can’t just say you’re disruptive because everyone says that.
You don’t want to be the startup with a disruptive business model or surprising traction trying to pitch like you’ve made a scientific breakthrough. Don’t be the startup with truly disruptive tech that is afraid to go big in your pitch.
To tell a good story that gets you funded, you have to know what type of disruption you are. There are many types and your startup may be disruptive in more than one way. But most disruptions are some combination of new vs existing tech, and/or new vs existing user behavior.
Take Uber. When they launched in 2010 they used existing tech (mobile phones, GPS) to enable new behavior (ride sharing). Speaking of GPS, that’s an example of a breakthrough new technology that also created new behaviors, including Uber.
Not all breakthroughs need to create new behaviors. New therapeutic technologies, including drugs, can enhance existing disease treatment. Finally, most software products, including B2B SaaS, use existing tech to improve some existing behavior. It doesn’t sound that disruptive but it can be.
The goal is not to be in the top right. It’s to know what type of disruption you’re claiming to be so you can tell the best story when you pitch.
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Now you’ve figured out what type of disruption you are, you can focus on telling the story that fits the best.
Having a revolutionary new technology that will change the world is great. But you need to overcome two types of skepticism: that the tech works and that the new behavior will happen. It’s not easy and it’s not obvious. Just acknowledging skepticism puts you ahead of most startups in this category.
It’s a little easier when your breakthrough is improving an existing behavior, like a new therapeutic. Show what happens before and after your solution. Visuals help.
If you’re piggybacking on other tech trends (looking at you generative AI startups), you want to focus on describing the new behavior you enable. Be descriptive like you’re describing the scene in a movie. Visuals and animations work well. Sure, others could be doing the same thing. Your job is to paint the most compelling picture of the future.
Lastly, if you don’t have breakthrough tech or you aren’t inventing a new type of user behavior, you’re claiming to be better, faster, cheaper. That describes most new products, including Canva, which I used to design the visuals. Resist the temptation to claim you have disruptive tech and focus on your traction. What ‘secret’ do you have about the world that your product metrics reveal? That’s a breakthrough in another way.
Keep in mind that no disruption, yours or your competitor’s, stays static. There is a gravitational pull of any new technology or new behavior that means it becomes adopted and eventually becomes conventional.
Over its 30-year history, GPS has gone from breakthrough technology enabling new behaviors to being part of the technology background. It’s still arguably disruptive as new applications are built. But over time the disruption is in how companies incrementally improve how it’s used.
Keep this in mind for your own type of disruption. Everything changes over time.
No one said disruption was easy.