Twitter, Uber, Airbnb, Surf Air, 99Designs: How Outsiders Disrupt and Innovate in Established Industries

Learn why and how industry newcomers end up creating the “next great thing.”

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How to Disrupt an Industry and Win Big

So, what is the key to success for outsiders who manage to go big and win big?

Many of the best disruptive enterprises started by: questioning the status quo, cutting costs, eliminating hassles, bypassing middle-men, and removing fees to start. But being naïve, clueless or wildly – and perhaps inappropriately – ambitious also helps.

For example, when my company SitePoint became the first major web design book publisher in 2002 to sell millions of dollars worth of books a year direct-to-consumer (rather than relying on distributors and retailers), the company was executing a business model that was a 180-degree spin from traditional publishing houses like O’Reilly, Wiley and Pearson, which relied on retail stores for the majority of their sales and revenue.

Disruption has its perks. According to the Harvard Business Review, disruptive companies earn 20x more money than their stay-the-course peers.

Those peers moan and groan – and may even hire high-paid Washington lobbyists to try and keep competitors at bay. Some continue to fight relentlessly, while others finally just whip out their wallets.

For example, witness Getty Images’ acquisition of iStockphoto in 2006 after seeing how successful a crowdsourced professional photography company, that sells images from millions of independent photographers via a self-service platform, could be.

In a similar vein, Match.com acquired POF free-dating competitor OkCupid in 2011.

However, many disruptors aren’t selling out.

And who knows – we may soon find that they are the ones buying.

The Disruptors of Tomorrow

Where will you find the disruptors of tomorrow?

Everywhere – literally. Step outside, cast a glance skyward and you just might catch sight of a plane operated by newcomer SurfAir.com, an all-you-can-fly airline serving popular California cities (for starters) including Palo Alto and Los Angeles.

Founded by Wade Eyerly, 33, who previously worked as a National Security Agency (NSA) consultant, Department of Defense intelligence officer and political campaign worker, the airline provides members with unlimited short-haul flights on a private plane without the hassles associated with traditional airlines such as security, check-in counters, crying babies or toddlers who kick your seat.

Eyerly is undoubtedly shooting high. Yet SurfAir is a disruptive idea that just may – to the chagrin of the major airlines – take off. Will yours? There’s only one way to find out.

Connect with Matt on Twitter.


Matt Mickiewicz started his first company while still in high school and has leveraged his early success into three profitable businesses which have have published 50+ web design books in 20 languages, paid designers over $30 million for their graphic design work through 99designs, and helped entrepreneurs sell over $60 million in websites and domain names on Flippa.

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