This D-word is not what you are expecting. I am sure you were thinking that it was going to be disruption — and disruption is probably right up there with “unicorn” for business buzz word of the decade, but there is a critical step before you can disrupt an industry and create a billion dollar valuation or a “unicorn”—and that is, to disrupt an industry, you better know absolutely every detail of that industry. So my D-word is “dismantle,” because I believe that you have to take the industry at hand and totally dismantle every component of the business from the total supply chain to the entire sales and marketing cycle. This includes supporting industries and any companies that touch any aspect of the business including banks, regulatory agencies and any other component that the business touches. There are no short cuts, this takes time and effort before you can create a significant value proposition in, around, or in the middle of any existing business.
When our team got into the pet food business with Pet Promise, there was one detail that we uncovered that made the difference, and it was that rendered protein was the primary protein used in the pet food industry. These are dead animals, (usually the sickest animals) and road kill, even zoo animals where “rendered”—or put in a big kettle and boiled until the meat and fat separate and then the meat is dried and used for animal feed. This ingredient is called “meals'” and is the descriptor for beef, chicken, lamb, etc. Well, needless to say when we told people they where feeding their beloved companion animal road kill and sick zoo animals (yes it was definitely an exaggeration and probably wasn’t all bad for the animals but it was our value proposition and we drove it home) it didn’t take them long to make the switch. That is why our primary marketing tool was a young spirited street team that would travel all over the country hitting dog parks with samples and explaining how nasty their feed choices where. In fact, we even created the Denver based 501c3 Canine and Feline Institute to educate consumers about the low quality of rendered proteins their animals where eating.
And I wrote a book telling the story of the fantastic team we had and this is what we gave away at events in Whole Foods Markets and other natural food stores. We gave 80,000 copies away. Oh my!
I will never forget in the final negotiations to sell Natural Pet Nutrition to Nestle Purina, when they asked me what our plans where for the Institute and I remember cracking up because it really told me that we, a small group of non-industry folks, found an industry disrupting detail that no one else had exploited. When we entered the Natural Pet Food Market, we estimated the sales where in the $40 million range. When we left the brand, the natural pet food category was north of a billion dollars. In fact, one of the original natural pet foods that existed when we launched was “Spot’s Stew” and today our Natural Pet Nutrition team is taking it to the next level with the leadership of Myron Lyskanycz and Dave Carter.
Don’t want to bore you with examples, but one other is noteworthy. We built Code Blue Recycling which was very simply, coding end of life materials for closing the loop. It was as simple as using the UPC code on the product, which means that the glass is green, the label is paper, and the inks are soy. Since no one really designed recycling for closing the loop, we filed 14 patents around this very small discovery. Paul Wolff, in his brilliance, figured this disrupted technology out and how to exploit it in a legacy industry which is built on revenues from landfills. The magic here was that no one in the industry understood the magic of a UPC code at end of life versus the beginning of the supply chain and through the traditional aspects of the business like sourcing, manufacturing, marketing, and sales.
So always look at every detail of an industry. Be relentless and continue until there isn’t a detail, gap or omission that you don’t know about within that particular industry.
By the way, this can also be true in your personal life—with people, friends, relatives—just learn all the details and all the aspects of the situation before you make a decision or choose a course. So disruption will come but you need to dismantle the industry in its entirety or understand every last detail of any situation to really understand how you disrupt in business or solve in your personal life.