“Anything that won’t sell, I don’t want to invent. Its sale is proof of utility, and utility is success.”
– Thomas A. Edison
Disruptive innovations have a knack for penetrating or outright creating new markets where none previously existed. The inventions behind a disruptive innovation sell. They are the ultimate proof point of utility because they literally disrupt the status quo in some vertical or space often providing a consumer with a new experience or service they didn’t even realize they wanted. On the TopCoder Blog (Disclosure: TopCoder is my employer), we recently discussed why disruptive innovation typically doesn’t appear to be a threat to those currently on top of the hill until they realize their competitor is a few strides behind, standing right next to them, or worst yet, ascending a completely different – and more profitable – hill.
Disruptive innovations are typically not Eureka!-style inventions, though some of course are. Rather they are more likely a repurposing of an existing technology or a new service applied to an existing product that alters how consumers ultimately use the very product.
Below are three innovations that I’ve come across recently. And though these might not be as earth-shattering as say the advent of Apple’s A.I. interface Siri – watch this hack video for a glimpse of the forthcoming 3.0 – they are highly innovative and disruptive in their own right.
Can You Hear Me Now?… Good
How long will you go without checking a voicemail, especially when you know who it’s from? An hour, a day… longer? How about a text message? Those you probably check the moment the Pavlovian-like reflex kicks in! Voxer is a free iPhone and Android mobile app that is billed as turning your phone into a walkie-talkie – which is neat in its own right – but the real beauty of this mobile application is the way in which you can send voice “texts”, I realize that is an oxymoron, so call it short voice messages that the recipient can access just like he or she would open up a text message. It’s just simpler. No “Please Enter Your Password” needed to access your voicemail. And for those who counter that this is just a redux of visual voicemail, I’d argue the point that it’s far superior because no party is ever actually making a phone call, waiting through 5 absent rings then a “You’ve reached … Please leave a brief… after the tone.” message in order to leave a voicemail. It’s texting, with voice, not voicemail turned into text. Voxer has shifted the user experience and because of this, they have a runaway mobile app hit on their hands.
Print Is Dead?
Because of my appreciation for all things digital, I have an equal and respected fondness for innovative ways to produce non-digital “things” that hold personal value. You probably have heard of Instagram, the iPhone mobile app that helps you turn your mundane phone-taken photos into beautiful images through easy to apply effects. Instagram is another smash-hit in the world of mobile applications without question. But this quirky little services innovation – built on top of the success of Instagram – screams brilliance and disruption.
It should be mentioned that CanvasPop was around previous to Instagram, but here’s the point, I hadn’t heard of CanvasPop until they partnered with Instagram. How does it work? Take a photo on your iPhone, apply Instagram effects as you see fit, send the photo to CanvasPop and get back the image you captured and altered on an artsy stretched canvas frame. Voila! Instant, personal and affordable artwork created by you, delivered back to you. In a world where personalization and ease of use is paramount to user experience, CanvasPop delivers a one of a kind product to their customers on top of someone else’s mobile app success. I understand this isn’t the cure for Cancer, but it is an amazing example of repurposing existing technology to create a new market.
Cut Up Those Credit Cards
Dwolla has one goal in mind. Change the very way you pay for everything by eliminating the need for credit cards. While mobile payment options like Square and forthcoming Near Field Communication (NFC) mobile applications seek to make the way we use credit cards easier, Dwolla is seeking to tear the entire thing down. As stories of new banking fees emerge – consider what Bank of America recently went through with their introduction then retraction of new monthly debit card fees – Dwolla has created a legitimate alternative that is earning praise and gaining traction.
I encourage you to watch Dwolla’s short introduction video to understand their value proposition:
While many traditional players are jockeying for position to be king of the mobile payment hill, Dwolla has climbed an entirely different hill, one they created and then planted their flag firmly into. That is how you disrupt a traditional market.
Do you have a story of disruptive innovation you’d like to share? Please do so via the comments below.
Image Credit: Voxer.com, canvaspop.com
Clinton Bonner (@clintonbon) is a Marketing Manager at TopCoder – the world’s largest competitive community of software developers, algorithmists and digital creatives. Fun Job!!!