Faced with a wall of established competitors, it can be daunting for new entrepreneurs to make a dent. Luckily, they have some high-profile examples to learn from.
Some of America’s biggest disruptors offered their advice to aspiring entrepreneurs Wednesday at iCONIC in Washington, D.C., presented by Inc.com and CNBC.
1. Find your niche, then ‘keep it weird’
Method co-founder Eric Ryan said disruption begins with just one good idea.
He said his thesis for building a successful business came together when he was looking at a large aisle in the store and realized the spread had no variety.
“Find a tired category that really is a sea of sameness and then figure out what is the cultural shift that the category is missing,” Ryan advised. “In between this space is the business opportunity.”
Recognizing that gap in the market is only the first step. The next step is to “keep it weird,” Ryan said.
“For us to compete against all of these major companies, we have to be different,” he said. “And really embrace the idea of diversity, thinking differently and approaching our work in a way that hopefully at first would be seen as weird but ultimately becomes normal.
“And let’s face it, weird people change the world, weird people are different.”
2. Differentiate yourself and be creative
Honest Tea co-founder and CEO Seth Goldman agrees with Ryan. He said aspiring entrepreneurs should “make sure [they] have an incredibly clear point of difference” when building a company.
That difference can come from establishing and emphasizing authenticity.
“When you come to something authentically, you have the right to own the space,” Goldman said. “At the time there were much larger beverage businesses out there, … they were coming from a place where they’d been selling a sweet, nonorganic drink, and so [creating a low-sugar, low-calorie drink] was regarded as an opportunistic move versus an authentic move.”
Goldman says Honest Tea came from a place of belief and its consumers really connected with that.
“Authenticity can’t be faked,” he said.
Another way green businesses can differentiate themselves is through marketing. They often lack the budget to launch intensive advertising campaigns, but Goldman says this can be used to their advantage.
“My point of view is that more money just means more expensive mistakes,” Goldman said. “We still operate in a very lean way. … It’s about creativity and thinking about other ways to solve problems besides money.”
3. Get emotional
Rent the Runway’s Jennifer Fleiss says when an entrepreneur is starting out, it’s all about good branding and connecting with the user base; it’s about owning the end-to-end experience and becoming a go-to for customers.
“Brands that people really love have an emotional connection,” Fleiss said. “When I think of Rent the Runway, women are wearing dresses to the most special events in their lives, whether its their rehearsal dinner, their wedding, their best friend’s birthday or their prom.”
“We needed to make women feel like Cinderella or a celebrity.”
Fleiss says it’s moments like these — when her customers are forming memories, taking pictures and getting compliments — that open up an opportunity for them to solidify their connection with the brand and share their experiences with the brand via word-of-mouth.
This makes creating an impressive end-to-end experience extremely crucial for brands, something that Fleiss says is simultaneously empowering and a big responsibility.
“Because we touch these special, special events in people’s lives, we have this opportunity to be this brand that people love,” Fleiss said. “We needed to make women feel like Cinderella or a celebrity.”