We all recognise that hard work pays off, both financially and physically. And it couldn’t be more relevant than in the early days of establishing a disruptive company. From that spark of an idea at the kitchen table, all the way through to providing a successful, ground-breaking service, the disruptor’s journey is a rollercoaster ride of successes and failures. 

In the second set of interviews with some of Marketing Week's 100 Disruptive Brands, six founders share their experience of that rollercoaster, and their essential tips for surviving the first few months and years. You can check out the first video in this 'What Does it Mean to be a Disruptive Brand?' article. 

How does a disruptor make its mark?

Here are five key pieces of advice you can take away from their stories.

1. Adaptability is crucial  

As anyone who has experienced establishing a successful business from scratch can tell you, the resources required are significant, regardless of scale. While the disruptor will have a strong idea of where the company should be heading and what barriers it needs to overcome, there will inevitably be unpredictable factors that arise along the way, requiring the business to be agile and adaptable. 

Stephen Rapoport, founder of online coffee retailer Pact, explains how in the early days he would jump on his bike and hand-deliver coffee to his first 1,000 customers. In the process, he gained invaluable new insights into his customers, and capitalised on the chance to refine his proposition for future buyers.

Setting milestones, especially when it comes to securing investment, is an important factor in progression and development. However, being able to demonstrate that the company has the ability to adapt to unforeseen events will instil confidence in customers, employees and investors. 

I met our first 1,000 customers face to face. It enabled me to tweak and hone our proposition, our website and our product lines to make sure they were exactly what our customers wanted” – Stephen Rapoport, founder of Pact. 

2. Keep your proposition simple

A simple proposition is vital to standing out in a complex market. Companies that bite off more than they can chew often fail in their early stages. By staying focused on one product or need, a disruptive company is more likely to accomplish what it set out to do and to exploit the gap they initially identified.  

But having that one great idea is only the start. If you want to win customers quickly, you also need to be able to communicate your idea in the simplest terms – and that can be a tough challenge.  

Justin Basini, co-founder and CEO of ClearScore, a free online credit check provider, explains that a successful strategy is “to really try and hone [the proposition] down to one sentence that you can communicate to the consumer”. 

A lot of disruptive brands when they’re going into complicated markets, go into the market with over-complicated propositions” – Justin Basini, Co-founder and CEO of ClearScore. 

3. See the world through customers’ eyes 

Superstar disruptors like Uber and Airbnb all originated from an idea for making something better. Disruptive companies disrupt because they understand people’s frustrations and come up with a better way – whether that’s by identifying a gap in the market or finding a way to provide customers with a better experience. If the idea addresses a genuine need, customers will flock to it. 

It pays to look at important decisions from your customers’ point of view. Indeed, Rapoport cites “deeply caring about real, empathetic, two-way relationships with customers” as a critical factor in growth. 

When I launched Pact I was alone in my kitchen with no money and just an idea” – Stephen Rapoport, Founder of Pact. 

4. Surround yourself with diverse talent

Some of the best business ideas are the brainchild of a single individual. But it’s almost impossible to get that idea off the ground without help. 

Be surrounded by the best and most diverse minds available at the time. This will provide the best foundations for brainstorming ideas and developing a strategy that can take a company through its infancy. 

Kirsty Emery, co-founder of Unmade, the online made-to-order knitwear brand, explains that an unusual mix of talents and backgrounds can provide an invaluable source of ideas and a driver for progress. 

Hal and Ben [co-founders of Unmade] are both from engineering backgrounds and I’m from a fashion and knitwear background – which is quite an unusual combination. It’s given us all these different perspectives on the problem, which has really, really been helpful.” – Kirsty Emery, co-founder of Unmade. 

5. Empathy and integrity drive customers’ trust

One last piece of founders’ advice that shines through: disruptive brands must practise what they preach. Expecting customers to buy into a new idea requires a significant degree of trust on their part. If you build your company with genuine passion for what you do and genuine empathy for your customers, you’ll not only gain their trust, but also create a solid foundation of integrity on which to grow the business. 

Your disruptive business could be next

Disruptive brands are changing the global business landscape – and the field is wide open. If Marketing Week’s 100 Disruptive Brands tells us anything, it’s that with the right idea, team, proposition and determination, anyone could be the next Uber or Airbnb. Will your business be on the list next year?

Get more startup tips

For more tips and advice to help you start, grow and establish your disruptive business, download a copy of the Small Business, Big Impact e-book.