Beware The Double Disruption

Have you ever been involved with the disruption of an established industry? If you’ve worked in a start-up, or have been a part of a new product release, you most likely have to some extent. New products and services are an endless chain of disruptions. However, what I’m talking about is the type of disruption that smashes an industry into pieces.

I’ve been lucky enough to have helped cause a major disruption more than once. Back in the 1990’s, LCDs were primitive. Computer projectors were huge cathode ray tube devices that required extensive installation and maintenance. They were big, expensive, and of limited practical use.

Portable computer-based presentations of the time involved the use of expensive color printers generating acetate transparencies, or the creation of 35mm film slides. Lead times to create the presentation ran from a few hours to a few weeks. There was no such thing as finishing up your PowerPoint an hour before the presentation.

Breaking the status quo

In Focus Systems (still around, but not really the same company) was one of the first companies to put an LCD display on top of an overhead projector, making computer projection portable, easy, inexpensive, and real-time.

I came into the company as their first product manager, not long after their first products hit the market. That was the start of the death of of the heavy CRT-based projection industry. We continued the disruptive pace by creating the first color LCD-on-top-of-an-overhead-projector, and then with the first portable self contained, color LCD projector. We had great products, and were absolutely leading a new industry and killing an old one.

Double disruption

At some point, competition thickened and the industry went into feature competition mode: bigger, brighter, more complex. The LCD projectors were headed down the path of the industry they had destroyed. It was time for a second round of disruption, which came in the form of an In Focus spin-off called Lightware. I moved on to Lightware about a year after its start.

Lightware went back to the roots and threw away many of the features, dialed back the performance a bit and produced the smallest, easiest to use, and most portable projector on the market. Much smaller, much easier to use, and half or less the price of competitive products available. That’s disruption. At Lightware, I helped tear up the industry that I had helped form, with In Focus, just a few years prior.

Today, I’m in another disruptive company; Screaming Circuits. We radically changed the way prototype and small volume electronic manufacturing is marketed, sold, and bought. We made those processes radically easier, faster, more reliable, and brought it online like a consumer product.

Who’s going to do it?

We started this twelve years ago, and competition has thickened and shaken out. When differentiation is minimal, and the industry is more or less stable, it’s time for disruption again. Whether you choose to be the disruptive influence, at this stage in your business, or not, you need to do something. It could be more or different advertising, aggressive PR in new markets, or just increasing the pace of regular innovation. What ever it is, it needs to happen.

This industry is ripe for double disruption, and I’m feeling the need to test my theories and kick that off. Usually, disruption comes from without – newcomers to an industry. I’m going to do see about disrupting from from within.

The disruption will happen, whether the old guard is in on it or not. You can attempt to protect your turf, or go on the offensive and take on / take down the establishment.