Julie Meyer, a leading investor and entrepreneur in digital, high-growth, early stage businesses, has argued in the Financial Times that “a local alternative to Silicon Valley’s disruption mantra is needed,” as start-up value rushes from Europe to Palo Alto.
Although every industry faces a digital disruption – a phenomenon that lies at the root of Palo Alto culture – Julie is convinced that “the unit economics are much stronger in start-ups that enable and extend the existing infrastructure than in those that disrupt the incumbents.” Julie believes that these traits are more likely to be found in Europe, where they “fundamentally want a sustainable ecosystem: for consumers and employees both to win.”
Julie explains that “if Europe tries to imitate Palo Alto it will always be second rate.” As such, she notes that the industry should reflect on the unique assets of its entrepreneurs, and the context in which they build their businesses.
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In an interview following his commended speech at UBS’s annual China conference in Shanghai this week, Harper Reed, a key player in Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012, says a fundamental lesson learned as the campaign’s chief technology officer was that people matter more than technology.
Harper is of the generation of business leaders at the forefront of digital “disruption”, a phrase well known to industries from banking to retail, under attack by new technological players looking to take a piece of the action. It’s an opportunity himself and Modest co-founder Dylan Richard are looking to exploit with their new product, a simple mobile platform for retailers set to be launched in coming weeks. However, Harper notes that “when you hear about disruptive technologies, we often focus on the technology part, but that’s the easiest part. The hardest part is actually getting the people together to do that disruption.”
He goes onto say that “we could not have done the Obama campaign stuff without the people. Every single time you look at a really disruptive technology, there’s always a team behind it that is actually facilitating it and making it happen. Whenever someone says, ‘Harper we want you to talk about technology’, my gut is not to talk about technology.”
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Clayton Christensen, the world’s foremost leader in disruptive innovation and best-selling author of “The Inventor’s Dilemma” (1997), took to the stage with investment banker Bill Hambrecht at the recent TechCrunch Disrupt SF conference to defend the concepts of disruption, and to address the ways the Valley predicted the future of financial services and technology.
“‘Disruption’ is, at its core, a really powerful idea,” Clay said. “Everyone hijacks the idea to do whatever they want now. It’s the same way people hijacked the word ‘paradigm’ to justify lame things they’re trying to sell to mankind. There wasn’t a way for Holiday Inn to go against the Four Seasons. They could emulate the Four Seasons by going upmarket,” he said. He believes, however, that companies like Airbnb have been able to disrupt that market by changing the way rooms are rented.
For a slideshow of images of the event, click here.
Check out the video below of Clay giving a keynote at Saïd Business School. He explains his theory of disruption, drawing on examples of innovations occurring in the steel industry and from leading companies such as Toyota, Sony, Walmart and Indian refrigerator manufacturer, Godrej.
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