How Disruptive Companies Break The Mould

In the last 10 years, start-ups have shaken up tired, static industries. Here's how a handful of British businesses injected new life into their market.

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In the last 10 years, start-ups have shaken up tired, static industries. Here's how a handful of British businesses injected new life into their market.


How Disruptive Companies Break The Mould

In the last 10 years, start-ups have shaken up tired, static industries. Here's how a handful of British businesses injected new life into their market.

Share this article

You could argue that’s crazy to start a company when you have no prior experience in that sector - but that was the case when I started Yü Energy in 2014. Before that I’d been working in an entirely different sector altogether, running Redrose Care Ltd, which I sold to partly fund my new venture.

The idea behind Yü Energy was sparked by the frustration that arose from dealing with Redrose’s energy suppliers. I knew I was taking a huge risk, but also felt confident that I could offer something better to what the ‘Big Six’ energy suppliers were providing.

It was clear to me that the only thing keeping the monopoly of the big energy suppliers going was the assumption that customers wouldn’t switch, either because it seemed too complicated or too much hassle. So I wanted to make it easier for them to do so.

Fast forward two years and the company is thriving; we now supply gas and electric to over 1,700 business customers, with more coming on board every day. Our turnover has grown to £3.9 million and we have a team of around 50 staff based at our headquarters in Nottinghamshire.

energy pillons

The energy market, dominated by a few big players, was ripe for a shake-up

Our success shows that businesses were ready for a change; the industry was ready for a change. And we aren’t the only ones disrupting the market  - take Airbnb, Netflix, or Uber, for example - companies that are deliberately disturbing the status quo to make something better.

We were keen to hear how other entrepreneurs had shaken up their industries, so we invited a few to take part in our Meet the Distrupters Q&A.

They came from a diverse range of sectors - including finance, energy, automotive and not-for-profit, and no two were the same; from small, young startups to million-pound investments and from just a few employees to the hundreds.

Ultimately, we wanted to see if there were any similarities between ‘disruptive’ companies, and we were not disappointed with the results.

The risks and rewards of innovation

In all cases, the entrepreneur had taken a risk to bring their ‘disruptive’ idea to the market , and often not without resistance.

Simon Lidington, CEO of video content management company Big Sofa, told us: “Several years ago when Big Sofa started, there were some that thought we were crazy to turn away from research and consultancy and invest heavily in our technology. It’s all paid off now though and our team is considered pioneers in the area of video research.”

The three-year-old company has grown to 15 members of staff, achieving a turnover of £1.5 million in 2015. For others, the resistance came from competitors, as Alastair Campbell, founder of car search engine, Carsnip, experienced.

He said: “We built Carsnip to make buying and selling cars simpler for everyone, helping buyers find the right cars for them through Google-like search functions and connecting them on to sellers faster and cheaper than ever.

"There was resistance from our big competitors, because they’ve got the most to lose from our success. Our customers have been behind us from the start, urging us to fix the industry, and that level of support is how we know, absolutely, that we’re on to something here.”

car lot

The way cars are bought and sold has changed dramatically in recent years

None of the entrepreneurs we spoke to were put off by their critics, and now they’re reaping the rewards by providing something new to their markets.

Taking a proactive and reactive approach to change

Change occurs fast and often in most industries, so it’s important to keep ‘ahead of the game’. Yoni Assia, co-founder of eToro, the world’s largest social trading network, says disruptive companies should be adaptable in order to keep on innovating:

“Try not to be afraid of drastic change, remember that change is good and will almost be for the better. Lots of entrepreneurs are afraid of change, resisting it or processing it to death.”

Yoni’s sentiment was echoed by several of the other firms we spoke to, including Landbay, which  offers peer-to-peer lending on UK buy-to-let mortgages.

Communications manager Clare Joy said: “By constantly being alert to new innovations in the market, always keeping a fast pace and being on the ball we can continue to innovate the industry for years to come...There’s something new every day and you’ve always got to be on your toes.”

Many of the companies also favoured the ‘listen and learn’ approach - placing a high value on staff and client feedback.

Giving customers a more personable service

This is something that Yü Energy has really strived to achieve and feel this is what sets us apart from the ‘Big Six’. Not only do we have a UK call centre with a three ring pick up policy, we also give all of our customers their own dedicated account manager.

Ed Molyneux, CEO of accounting software firm, Free Agent, says good customer service has also enabled his firm to grow: “Our personality sets us apart too - being approachable, personable and helpful is all part of being a disrupter company in our industry.

"We help people to feel smart, not stupid, about their business accounts, which isn’t something accounting software providers have done historically - and that’s really resonated with a lot of people who run their own business.”

Ed Molyneux fighter pilot

Ed Molyneux's experience as a pilot fuelled his business leadership

Attracting the best and the brightest

Disruptive companies are proving time and time again that they don’t have to be based in London to attract the best talent.

Jeanette Gill, head of communications at Agent Marketing, a full-service marketing agency which introduced a six-hour working day inspired by a Scandinavian model that aims to make workplaces, healthier, happier and more productive, told us:

“The ‘disrupter’ label has proved to a lot of people that talent and progressive ideas aren’t exclusive to London - we’re based in Liverpool’s emerging Baltic Triangle and it’s great to be leading a boom in the creative industries in the North West.”

Having a great, talented team was something that was mentioned by all the entrepreneurs we spoke to.

Alastair Campbell, founder of Carsnip, added: “Thanks to recent investment, we already have access to all the talented people we need, even at this early stage and they’re helping us to develop quickly as the business takes off. And because we’re based in Nottingham, we’re in the ‘real world’, away from inflated London rates.”

Making the most of the ‘disrupter’ label

All of the people we spoke to seemed proud of their company’s ‘disrupter’ label - even using it to their advantage. Many said it had helped them to differentiate themselves from their competitors, raise awareness of their brand, attract new customers to the business and win awards.

One said it had even helped them to secure $1m through tech angel investment in a short space or time. Henry Bennett, co-founder of property technology company YourWelcome, agreed: “I’d say it’s helped us to get noticed as we’ve grown in a really short space of time.”

Clare Joy, communications manager at Landbay, said: “As companies like ours grow they start to shake off the startup label, but that doesn’t mean they have to lose their disruptive mentality. Add to that the fact that success breeds competition, which we definitely see as a good thing, and it’s clear that no firm can ‘rest on its laurels.”

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How Disruptive Companies Break The Mould

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