Once in a while you will read something and it will completely change you. It will transform the way you think and help you be better in whatever you do.
For me, this book was The Innovator's Dilemma by the late Clayton Christensen. It’s a gold mine that every entrepreneur needs to read.
Whether you’re in a startup or mature business, The Innovator's Dilemma has the ability to help you answer all those pressing questions that can deter you from moving forward.
From solving my dilemma when Finder was a scrappy startup, to helping me find a solution to our current dilemma as a mature enterprise – the book has acted as a guiding principle.
My Innovator's Dilemma in 2006
Creating a market for a product that has never been developed before can be a challenging task.
No amount of market analysis can let you know if your product will survive. No amount of market analysis would have let me know if creditcardfinder.com.au (the first incubation of Finder) would survive the test of time.
So, I picked up Christensen’s book and read it. I was hoping for some sort of guiding principle and that’s exactly what I got.
The key learning I took from Christensen on my first time reading his book was to find people for products, not products for people.
“Disruptive technology should be framed as a marketing challenge, not a technological one,” he wrote.
Instead of trying to figure out who would use the product, I focused on developing the product.
My business partner Frank Restuccia and I created creditcardfinder.com.au specifically around comparing student credit cards. We started marketing to that audience and as the product gained traction, we increased our customer base.
Christensen’s message was simple. Build a product and then market it well. This will allow your disruptive product to succeed.
The beauty of this strategy is that it allows you to focus and master your craft. With our credit card comparison, we studied credit cards, their terms and conditions, all the intricacies and differences and laid them all out.
We began building our digital marketing strategy for credit cards on the internet and understood what people were searching for and what problems and questions we could help solve. This allowed us to analyse our strategies and replicate them across other product verticals.
My New Innovator's Dilemma
As an innovator, one of your biggest concerns is staying relevant as the world changes.
It’s this underlying fear of losing your place in the market. But, at the same time trying to stay relevant without separating from your core principles is a difficult task.
Being an entrepreneur by nature, I understood the power held by disruptive technology. I also knew that in order to not become just another comparison site, Finder would need to do something epic. We would need to disrupt the market again, just like we did in 2006 with Credit Card Finder.
For the past few years, this dilemma kept bothering me. Finder had grown and matured, becoming a leader in the comparison space. All around me, I could see disruption starting to erupt and I knew we had to come out with a bang. I just couldn’t figure out where to start.
That’s when I picked up Christensen’s bible, The Innovator’s Dilemma, for the second time.
This time I wasn’t reading the book to gain an insight into how to enter a market but instead how to disrupt a market and fulfil a consumer need, without losing the brand we had developed over the past 13 years.
“With few exceptions, the only instances in which mainstream firms have successfully established a timely position in a disruptive technology were those in which the firms’ managers set up an autonomous organization charged with building a new and independent business around the disruptive technology,” Christensen wrote.
The key learning the second time around from Christensen: a necessity for disruptive technology is the development of an agile team separate from your day-to-day operations.
Technology is about offering tools with new functionality and convenience.
It’s not just about creating a new gadget, but it's about revolutionising a system or process. Christensen advocated that technology disrupts culture and consumer behaviour by fulfilling a need consumers did not know existed.
This key learning from Christensen enabled me to think from a new perspective. I needed to find a gap in the market based on what we were doing and try to fill it.
This would require failing and trying again.
So, we started Finder Ventures, a separate division of Finder to incubate new ideas. This is what Christensen had advocated for in his book. Finder Ventures would be agile, with a separate team, and would test out new ideas until we found the right one.
When you develop a product or a piece of technology, it doesn’t mean it’s what the market needs. Testing your product on a small scale allows you to see what works and what doesn’t, what audience would benefit from your product, and how to improve it.
We realised that we needed to innovate Finder from a separate team, and build its evolution in an incubation environment. So we built an app.
The Finder App is the solution we were looking for for a long time. It answered my dilemma of finding a piece of disruptive technology that would disrupt the market. We have developed the app over the past year-and-a-half, testing it with a small group of people and using the feedback to better the product.
Finally the app is almost ready to launch and disrupt the market (join the waitlist here).
I always go back to Christensen’s book whenever a dilemma approaches and I’m trying to navigate our direction. His recent passing deeply saddened me but his theories are forever ingrained in our entrepreneurial spirits.
So I submit to you to go live and start disrupting.
It doesn’t exist unless it’s on the internet. Find out what your audience thinks and then make plans to pivot. This, as Christensen says, is how to overcome an innovator’s dilemma.
“In disruptive situations, action must be taken before careful plans are made. Because much less can be known about what markets need or how large they can become, plans must serve a very different purpose: They must be plans for learning rather than plans for implementation.”