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Let me ask you a question: How long have you been in business? Ten years? Five years? Two years? And in that time how many times have you disrupted your product, process or industry?

Disruption is part of the business game. Entire empires can be crippled in the blink of an eye. Just look at the postal service. Once an untouchable giant it was brought to its knees by email.

And get this: email is free.

So, never think that you sit on top of an untouchable perch. Even if you have a product competitors can’t touch, it’s just a matter of time before someone comes along and disrupts the industry and changes everything.

The secret is to be that disruption, and not the victim of it. So how do you do that? Let’s look at five ways.

Number 1 – Destroy your product

Everybody’s always talking about what’s going to be the next category killer, the product that overturns an entire industry.

Take the music industry, for example. The Internet has wreaked havoc on this industry, which is driving the execs nuts. No doubt they lose countless nights of sleep worrying about how to combat piracy on the Internet.

You don’t want that to be your life. Instead of worrying about who or what kind of product is going to kill your product, kill it yourself.

Here’s how to kill your product by creating a better product:

  • Create a skunk works – This is a team of experts whose task is to figure out a way to make a better product than the current one. Unlike other groups who usually have red-tape to deal with, a skunk works is behind doors and given a lot of freedom.
  • Think revolt – Gradual improvements on your product over time will never create a revolutionary product, and gradual improvements are what you’ll get if you ask people who love your product what they want. Ask people who hate your product, on the other hand, and you just might get a revolutionary product.
  • Stay tied to profit – At the end of the day those who emerge from the skunk works don’t want to deliver a product that makes the competitor say “wow.” Instead, the competitor’s customer should say, “Wow.” So keep this group in touch with marketing, design and accounting so they can understand the ideal customer inside and out.
  • Create an exit criterion Malaysia Airlines creates “laboratories” designed to create ideas to meet a business goal like “increase revenue.” These laboratories only meet for a specified time. This exit strategy improves the company’s productivity since laboratory doesn’t need to be maintained year around.

Number 2 – Make your product solve meaningful problems

Neil Patel. Photo via Adam Philipp.

No matter what market you are in, there is something about that industry your customer hates. Take the router business, for example.

If you have problems installing your router you are forced to talk to someone in another country. Not only is there a severe communication problem, but they are often rude or quick to get off the phone since they are often graded by the number of calls they can handle an hour.

This is the kind of problem you could solve and make a ton of cash. So, here’s what you need to ask:

  • What is it about my market that absolutely drives customer’s nuts? Look on forums and message boards. Scan Reddit and search Google. Look at a handful of competitors’ Facebook accounts and see what people are complaining about.
  • What is a competitor doing poorly? Do they only respond to complaints when you threaten to sue them? Do they overcharge? Do they use poor-quality materials? Find those things that your competitor does poorly, and improve them.

The secret is to view your market like the customer does. What they see and what you see is two entirely different things.

Number 3 – Make your product insanely simple

Before Instagram, taking quality photographs was complicated and expensive. It was usually seasoned professionals with high-priced equipment over long periods of time that could create award-winning photographs.

Instagram changed all that—and made a killing when Facebook bought them.  Here are some ways on how to make products simple.

  • Observe people – Some of the most lucrative inventions have been created by people who simply watched another person perform a complex task, and simply say, “There has to be a better way.” Tax returns are a great example.
  • Make creativity easierHipstamatic founders wanted to simplify the creative process of making beautiful photographs. Their app allows you to change your lens, flash or film to get your desired look without the high cost of having all that equipment.
  • Break a product down – Take apart a complex product and figure out how it works. Reverse engineering products can lead to insights about how the product was made—and how to make it simpler. That process might even lead to a new an entirely new product.

Number 4 – Make your product smart

Water sprinkler photo via Michael Mol

Here’s a good example of a dumb product: long ago lawn irrigation systems would water your lawn according to the settings you programmed into them. However, if it rained for three straight days, it would still water your lawn unless you turned it off.

That’s pretty dumb.

Eventually someone figured out how to make the sprinklers smart by programming them to water the lawn according to how wet the soil was. That meant owners were no longer needed after the initial water levels were set. The sprinklers watered the lawn when the soil reached a certain level of dryness.

Cars are becoming smarter, too—and soon enough we will have the car that drives it’s self. How could you make your product smart? Here are some more examples to get you thinking:

  • Coffee makers that make coffee at the specified time you set.
  • E-readers like the Nook or Kindle allow you to carry hundreds of books.
  • A plug-in that automatically identifies and deletes spam.

Number 5 – Give your product away

Photo via Ken Hawkins

Like in the post office example given above, an industry was turned on its head when a similar product was given away for free.

But is giving away your product a smart move? Can you be as successful like DropBox or Spotify who’ve both built successful businesses on freemiums?

Well, you need to ask yourself a number of questions in order to determine if this business model is right for you:

1. What’s the size of the market? The freemium business model is not right if you are eyeing a very small market. If you can capture a huge market, then freemium may work for you.

2. How many users can you convert? The reason why you need to capture a huge market is that the upsell to a paid model is usually low. So if there are only 10,000 people in your market, you probably can’t expect to convert enough users to make a profit.

3. Can you keep the costs low? Digital and software products make the cost of adding new users low since the duplication of your product is automatic. Think about an iPhone app. There is no additional cost for users to download the product or upgrade to the paid model. It’s automatic.

4. Will you listen to all your customers? You can’t expect to give away your product and not listen to your customers—especially those who are using it free. These people will help you sell the product…so treat them like gold.

5. Does your product increase in value the more it is used? For example, Angry Birds rewards increased playing by unlocking additional levels, which actually incentives the upgrade to paid models. And DropBox rewards people who invite others to use the app with additional storage space.

6. How easy is it to go from free to paid? With Angry Birds you just have to download a new app to get the latest paid game. With Spotify you click one radio button and enter your credit card number. With DropBox it’s the same thing. The barriers to adoption must be low if you want people to migrate from free to paid.

Finally, you must create a remarkable product. Giving away a shoddy product will convince people that your paid version is equally shoddy. Get your product into world-class shape before you give it away.


Everything I just shared about disruption may seem overwhelming and time consuming. Don’t let it do that because if you invest the time in creating a disruptive product…you are also investing in creating lucrative opportunities.

Keep in mind that this process isn’t a fool-proof formula, and experimenting to create that killer product will take years…if not longer. But don’t give up. The true winners are those who stay in the game long enough.

What other ways can you create a killer product?

Neil Patel is the co-founder of KISSmetrics, an analytics provider that helps companies make better business decisions. More from Neil Patel on GeekWireSeven signs that you might just be an entrepreneur Eleven things every entrepreneur should know about innovation… 17 things I wish I’d known when starting my first business

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