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Young People and Innovative Business Disruption

30th August 2019

Business disruption is a theory that was defined and analysed in 1995 by American scholar, Clayton M. Christensen. He believed that business innovation has the ability to create a new-market and value network. The new-market is bulging with startup businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs wanting to introduce a new brand to consumers. However, in order for their business to be defined as disruptive, they must somewhat displace established, market-leading firms, alliances and products, therefore disrupting the existing market.

This is something that budding entrepreneurs and business owners are seeking to do – targeting the younger generation as a whole. Not only will they aim to draw in the young consumer, but many business owners are starting to hire a workforce with the average employee being in their early to mid twenties.

With an increasing number of entrepreneurs disrupting the business industry, we’ll examine why the practice is more popular with younger business owners as opposed to those with decades of experience and an already well-established, successful company.

What does disrupting business really look like?

According to Christensen, successful companies will already be fully aware of innovations. However, smaller, less experienced business owners won’t yet be profitable enough to pursue and sustain new innovations when they arise (like larger, more established businesses will be).

Christensen defines a disruptive innovation as a product or service which has been specifically designed for a brand new set of customers. Therefore, he believes that disruptive innovations will actually have a negative impact on already successful businesses with loyal, long-term customers.

Christensen maintains that there are two different types of business disruption – low-end and new market. Low-end disruption aims to target consumers who don’t have the same expectations as consumers who are used to products and services at the high-end of the market. New market disruption targets customers who are seeking to be provided with products and services that were previously unserved by existing incumbents.

Jill Lepore, an American historian and Professor of American History at Harvard University, discovered that a collection of companies who identified by the theory were in fact victims of disruption, although this allowed them to retain dominance and remain at the forefront of their industries. Despite this, Lepore still questions whether the theory has been misapplied or oversold. Claiming that perhaps it could also be relevant to education and other public institutions as well as business.

How young people are developing successful businesses

In addition to business disruption, or perhaps as a catalyst for it, risks have to be taken in order to catapult a business into the industry spotlight. A prime example of this being two millennial entrepreneurs whose brands burst onto the scene after a series of life-changing decisions – Steven Bartlett and Sharmadean Reid MBE.

Steven Bartlett

A 24-year-old entrepreneur and CEO of Europe’s fastest-growing marketing agency, Bartlett started his first business shortly after dropping out of university at the age of 18. Wallpark was a student platform where Bartlett cleverly utilised social media to target university students, as opposed to more conventional marketing strategies. Wallpark rose out of some of the UK’s largest online social communities, allowing the business to open the eyes of other brands to the importance and power that social media has in the mission to target younger audiences. This is where Bartlett’s new business venture commenced.

He contacted some of the most talented influencers across social media, resulting in the convergence of vast, popular online communities with some of the largest followings on the internet. It was here where Bartlett sought to use disruption to avoid using traditional marketing methods as a way to attract young consumers to his brand.

This allowed Bartlett to channel his efforts into starting and developing one of the UK’s most innovative social media marketing agency – Social Chain. Within two years of its conception, the demand for Social Chain’s services dramatically increased, making it the most sought-after marketing agency of its kind.

Social Chain rapidly expanded; with four new hubs in different locations opening around the UK, they soon recruited upwards of one hundred employees, with an average age of 21. To ensure that the Social Chain workforce continued to feel content and positive, Bartlett took steps to have ball pits and slides installed in offices, along with the chance to play with puppies when employees feel stressed. With its unconventional office rules and unusually young workforce, Social Chain soon became one of the biggest brands worldwide, quickly becoming a focal point of the press.

Bartlett’s passion for inspiring the younger generation, together with his unique ability to connect and relate to them, was paramount to his success. Placing himself at the forefront of the industry, Bartlett began to acquire a number of awards and recognitions, including: the Entrepreneur Rising Star Award at the Black British Business Awards 2018, he was voted Rising Star by peers at Econsultancy and was placed within the Top 10 Most Inspirational Independent Agency Leaders by The Drum.

Sharmadean Reid MBE

While studying at Central St Martins, University of the Arts London in 2006, Reid started and developed WAH, a fanzine that she used to promote the presence and talents of females in creative industries. Being an early blog pioneer, Reid took steps to gather together like-minded women to speak at events, further emphasising her business concept. As a result, she rapidly amassed a worldwide following which led to her increasing in popularity throughout 2008, a reputation she still maintains today.

After she graduated, Reid soon started a career as a brand consultant and stylist specialising in giant youth brands such as ASOS and Nike. It was within this role that she became considerably more determined to push WAH to its full business potential. She continued to drive the brand through informal meetings, which eventually led her to open a salon and creative space in Dalston, East London by the end of 2009.

This provided a physical space for online fans to connect with one another. Through innovative thinking and a unique business establishment, WAH Nails changed the face of the beauty and nail industry, being a revolutionary concept.

Reid continued to work within the industry, remaining at the forefront of her brand. By 2015, her qualities and services to the beauty industry were finally recognised, leading to her being awarded an MBE. Shortly afterwards, WAH appeared at London Fashion Week, getting involved with brands such as Diesel, Marc Jacobs and Nike. This, together with a successful week-long pop-up salon in Selfridges, London, further increased the brand’s popularity.

As a result of its success, WAH launched a product line that was distributed by health and beauty retailer and pharmaceutical giant Boots UK. Within the first year, Boots had sold £1.2 million worth of WAH nail products.

Due to her business success as a result of her contemporary and unique set-up of the business, Reid was named on a list of “15 people who will define the future of arts in Britain”. She even featured as part of the “New Generation” in Vogue. Alongside these achievements, she was also awarded Female Entrepreneur Speaker of the Year 2017 at the Kruger Cowne Speaker Awards.

The excitement of taking risks

Both Bartlett and Reid took risks to establish their successful brands. With Bartlett dropping out of university to start a small business, he risked it all in the name of success, with little thought given to what could have happened had his business failed. In fact, the Times dubbed him “the millennial dropout who controls social media”.

Reid, on the other hand, successfully graduated from university. However, instead of seeking out a stable job (something many graduates aim for), she decided to take a risk and start up her own brand. At such an early stage in business establishment, the concept could have easily failed, leaving Reid jobless.

Despite knowing the risks, both Bartlett and Reid had the courage to start and maintain their brands’ success, both of which are still going from strength to strength.

Being true to yourself

Both Reid and Bartlett could have conformed to society, attending university, graduating and acquiring a stable job with decent career prospects. Instead, they went on to pursue a career that would make them truly happy, staying true to themselves and their brand.

Their genuine determination, ambition and dedication led them both to receive numerous awards, with Reid eventually receiving an MBE for her services to the industry. The experiences of these two young entrepreneurs have led many to realise that patience, together with an element of risk-taking, can subsequently lead to success, whether you’re disrupting the business industry or not.

Kruger Cowne takes pride in representing a number of Entrepreneurship, Advertising, Marketing and PR speakers, including Steven Bartlett and Sharmadean Reid MBE. With an extensive list of influential speakers to choose from, you can attract and inspire new audiences and aspiring entrepreneurs. To find the right voice for your event or brand, get in touch with us today – our knowledgeable, friendly team will always be happy to help.

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