Disruption is a taboo word to many businesses and industries. But when used in the context of entrepreneurship, I don’t see it as something to fear, instead I see it as an opportunity.
I would go further to say that if there are no changes in the ecosystem and disruption in business models, the opportunities for entrepreneurs are limited.
The road to success is never completely smooth; obstacles and setbacks are common and expected. Instead of seeing these disruptions as the end of our journey, we can choose to learn the lessons they are trying to teach us.
I’m no stranger to disruption. In fact, I’ve faced it a few times. I’ve gone from being a pioneer and market leader to tethering on the brink of bankruptcy because market conditions didn’t align. I’ve even disrupted myself and killed top-performing products because I felt they didn’t have good long-term prospects. Once you see disruption as an opportunity, everything changes. Developing that mindset takes practice but it can be done.
Be accountable and identify gaps
In 2001, I was running an internet service provider PoP (Point-of-Presence) business and had run into losses as free ISPs entered the business. Following that experience, I saw the potential for data centres to expand our offerings but I hadn’t taken into account how prohibitive the bandwidth costs would be.
This made it impossible to compete with similar offerings from the US and the UK. However, I embraced the setback and set my mind to learning everything I could about the bandwidth market.
The insight I gained was invaluable five years later when the Internet revolution went into full swing in India. I noticed that it was now a much more favourable environment for data centres and falling bandwidth costs was a factor in my observation.
I believed strongly that demand would rise for data centre services and chose to go bigger than I did before to anticipate future needs. Today, CtrlS is Asia’s largest-rated four data centre, and we serve some of the largest customers around the world, including 60 from the Fortune 100 list.
The biggest advantage that an entrepreneur can have is the ability to adapt. Market conditions will change all the time. Sometimes an initial idea doesn’t pan out as well as you expected due to internal or external factors.
Entrepreneurs shouldn’t be afraid of pivoting to another business model to adapt to that disruption and may even discover new niches in the process.
However, do your research to ensure that the shift makes sense and has considered all factors, otherwise you risk losing focus.
We launched Cloud4C before public cloud became a widely accepted reality. We had to work hard to convince CIOs in India but we persisted because I firmly believed that the public cloud revolution was due anytime.
Those were difficult few years but our persistence led us to a global expansion of a scale we had not imagined. Today, Cloud4C operates in over 25 countries and is a partner to all the major hyperscalers, especially in the emerging economies.
Focus on problem-solving to improve sustainability
I don’t believe in starting businesses to ride on trends. Building a viable product is all about solving a business need now and in the future. Entrepreneurs absolutely need to consider what the future might look like and how their business will fit in, which will also make it resilient to disruption.
That level of insight is honed through many hours of research, valuable conversations and personal experience. Research reports only tell you what has been, not what will be.
I’ve always prioritised solving a business need, then working towards making the business viable. It seems like an obvious stance to take but many entrepreneurs make the mistake of focusing too much on the bottom line at the expense of building a good product.
If your product or service adds value, it will naturally be profitable. For Cloud4C, I only had one or two relationship managers per continent – clients were coming to us because they were interested in how our product could help them.
Build a team that shares your vision
Every entrepreneur knows this – having a good team that is aligned with your vision can make or break your business. But a team of believers is not the same as a team of yes-men. The former may challenge and question you but they will do their best work for you because they believe in what you’re trying to achieve.
On the other hand, the latter will only tell you what you want to hear. Without challenge, there can be no growth but you must also be walking in the same direction.
Before I launched Cloud4C, I wanted disaster recovery (DR) to be one of our offerings. The marketing team at the time objected because they didn’t think anyone would want disaster recovery in the cloud. I ended up hiring new marketing people who debated my stance with me, saw the merits and were willing to back me with a workable plan.
Years later, disaster recovery is one of our most-asked-about services and the global DR-as-a-Service market is anticipated to hit US$21.2 billion by 2025.
We now live in a moment where some of the major disruptions of the era have all happened within a very short time. Attitudes and approaches to our existing way of life are changing drastically. Digitalisation is nearly synonymous with business survival.
It’s a truly exciting time to be an entrepreneur and such an opportunity only arises once a lifetime. I urge all entrepreneurs to arm themselves with insight, have faith in their vision and jump in. If you fall, you can always get up again – and do it better.