Shahnaz Husain, Founder, Chairperson & Managing Director, Shahnaz Husain Group

Shahnaz Husain is the Founder, Chairperson and Managing Director of The Shahnaz Husain Group. She took the Indian herbal heritage across the globe and has received international acclaim for pioneering the Herbal beauty care movement and taking the Indian herbal heritage of Ayurveda worldwide. Her brand is the first Herbal care and cure clinic brand in India to now own over 400 franchises over the world. In 2006, she was awarded the prestigious Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award, by the Government of India for her contribution to the fields of trade and industry.


It is often believed that it is the emergence of new technology that drives disruption in the world. –However, recent studies have shown that it is not really the case. Instead, according to Harvard Business School professor Thales Teixeira, it isn’t technology but customers, who drive disruption. 

“How,” you wonder?

Well, they don’t drive it directly. Instead, it is the startups that focus on customers’ pain points that aren’t being addressed properly by the big companies. Then these startups leverage new-age technology as a tool to solve problems, hence, disrupting the business industry. However, the disruption doesn’t begin with the emergence of new technology. It begins when an ambitious entrepreneur sees an opportunity to augment the customer value chain. In many cases, the startups that are disrupting the big businesses don’t even have better technologies; they’re simply addressing the right links in the value chain. They’re looking at a solution that a big company is providing and they’re devising ways to do it more efficiently.

Customers are the real disruptors

Many retailers complain that they’re being disrupted by either a startup or a tech company. But if these things really are the root cause of the problem, the fix is quite simple. The bigger company can either acquire the startup, or enter into a price war, or acquire the technology that is supposedly disrupting the business. However, many businesses that have tried this fix have found out that it doesn’t work.

The reason it doesn’t work is that those aren’t the real causes of disruption. It is the ever-changing, ever-evolving customer mindset and behaviour that is driving disruption in the industry. Customers want their experience of buying a product or service to be as convenient and hassle-free as possible. They don’t care how that need is addressed. It is just a coincidence that technology is often the easiest way to make life convenient.

The 3 currencies of payment

Customers pay for the goods and services with not one but three currencies:

  1. They pay with their money
  2. They pay with their time; and
  3. They pay with their effort

Any customer who is trying to get a better deal is trying to reduce these three costs. Convenience, for instance, is an effort cost. There are several online fashion brands that let their customers try out the clothes in the convenience of their home before they decide to buy them. It started with one company; then another one adopted it, and so many online fashion brands are following this trend. It is why so many people these days prefer to shop online instead of visiting a retail store. The same reason can be attributed to the success of food delivery apps. They save effort and they save time, which makes them a great bargain.

Take online cab booking services, for example. They didn’t always have a high-tech app. In their earlier days, Uber required you to text message or call them to order a cab. Then a representative would receive your call and send a driver to your location. So it isn’t technology that made them big. It was the idea to provide an alternative to an unreliable and fragmented taxi industry. The inspiration behind the idea was people (customers) who were in need of an alternative.

How to build a business that doesn’t get disrupted but IS disruptive?

In a nutshell, keep your eyes and ears open. Don’t be satisfied thinking you’ve innovated a solution. You may have the customers today, but if you’re not careful, someone will come up with a better idea and disrupt your business.

Here’s the step by step breakdown of building a disruptive business:

  1. Study the customer value chain. Take a long hard look at the steps your target customer has to go through to buy a particular product or service in your domain.
  2. Find the activity in the chain that the customer dislikes doing the most. That is the weakest link in the customer value chain and it can serve as the base for your value proposition.
  3. Leverage all available resources (including technology, of course) to eliminate that activity from the value chain.

Don’t try to replicate someone else’s success formula. In that case, you’d simply be entering into a price war with an already established organization that has more resources than you. The odds will be stacked against you from the get-go and your chances of success would be slim. Instead, the prudent thing to do would be to find the activity that the customer is highly unsatisfied with and then tackle it better than your competitors.

Uber was able to disrupt the taxi industry by offering reliability, safety, and excellent customer service. Food aggregator apps like Swiggy and Zomato were able to disrupt the restaurant business by offering time saving and convenience. To build a business that is disruptive, focus on reducing any or all of the three costs that the customer has to pay i.e. money, time, and effort. That would be your way in. Many businesses, as they become successful, forget how it feels to be in the shoes of the customer. It is a fatal mistake. If you want your business to stay successful, you must always think from the point of view of a customer.

Simply satisfying a customer is not enough. You should always aim to delight the customer. Structure your business model in a way that when someone buys your product or service, they realize that they have experienced something unique and valuable. If you can do that, you will keep climbing the ladder of success.

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