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Disrupting Disruption: Lessons For Innovation

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By Rafael Ilishayev

Entrepreneurs today like to throw around the term "disruption" as unreservedly as they like to call themselves "entrepreneurs." But in an atmosphere where serendipity can make you and 140 characters can break you, a little funding doesn't make you an entrepreneur per se, and a decent idea doesn't necessarily mean you've disrupted an industry.

In 2013, my co-founder and I started goPuff, an on-demand delivery service application. Despite the impression our company has made in the on-demand industry since then, we are reminded every day of how fragile success truly is. While we just recently secured our Series B round of funding, our team maintains the philosophy that disruption, at its inception, is not about reinventing the wheel -- it's about making it work better.

The innovation, the glitz, and the internet-shattering ideas will follow, but only if you've uncovered a real problem and offered a real solution first. Here are some tips for disrupting your own business:

Understand the cultural climate.

Get this: cereal sales have continued to decline since you enjoyed it while watching Saturday morning cartoons when you were six years old. Why? Because all you have to accomplish between waking up and going to sleep leaves no time left over to sit down for a bowl of Frosted Flakes, much less the patience to clean the bowl and put it away. Our fast-paced, time-sensitive work culture has forced cereal companies to adopt grab-and-go formats such as cereal bars and pre-packaged single-serving cereal bowls, meaning that how we consume today has evolved as much as our habits have.

Try creating a catalyst (read: product or service) that will impact and improve the consumer's life as it is affected by shifting cultural norms. At my company, we've cultivated loyalty by presenting our customers with the opportunity to be loyal -- we strive to give them what they want, when they want it, every single time. If you focus on an experience that customers can count on to work with and for their lifestyle, you'll create more than just a service for them.

Understand the competition.

Prior to launching our company, we believed delivery as usual was not cutting it. The only thing that separates on-demand delivery services from what they were, and what they are today, is the product the user orders. This is why you should try to disrupt your business model: After all, we know that while a product may be innovative, a service is disruptive.

The solution is to not only look at what your competition isn't doing, but also at what they are doing. Then, work against it. We try to root our idea of loyalty in our consistency: We guarantee customers that their convenience store items will arrive by a certain amount of time for a small flat fee. Your business model should discourage users from looking to competitors for comparable service. If you get it right the first time, you'll have that customer's business every time.

Understand the customer.

In a world ruled by technology, everyone is a customer. What unites us all, especially Millennials and Gen-Zers, is that because we are so inundated by choice, we are skeptical consumers. We want to try what's new and trendy, but usually by recommendation, and only if it's sustainable and efficient on a long-term basis.

Listen to your users: You've created a new experience. Now, how can you make it better? We've built a business model that helps suss out customer demand. For example, when our customers ask us to bring our service to their city, expand product variety, lower prices, and make delivery times faster, we listen. This provides us not only operational leverage, but also interpersonal leverage. For your business, you could also try running exclusive contests and promotions for your customers and creating unique partnerships with their favorite brands and companies. When you control the entire customer experience from A to Z, you are constantly evolving from within.

There's a difference between disrupting your industry and disrupting yourself. If you're starting a business for the fancy title, stick to the former. But if you want to make real change, touch lives and really shake things up, lead your revolution through the latter.

Rafael Ilishayev is the co-founder of GoPuff.

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