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Direct from Advertising Week: lessons from the disruptors

For the disruptive brands of our generation, tech is part and parcel of their core product offerings. But how have they made their mark? What makes them different? How have they gone from start-up to global company? We went to Advertising Week’s ‘Business is Tech’ talk to find out, hosted by Bloomberg TV’s anchor Caroline Hyde, alongside Citymapper’s Omid Ashtari, Uber’s Jo Bertram, Spotify’s Jonathan Forster, Nutmeg’s Nick Hungerford and Mashable’s Stacy Martinet.

  1. How the big guns are ‘disrupting themselves’

Stacy from Mashable started us off on how by-products of the internet era – mobile data and social media, for example – have influenced how the company functions. Media, she says, was probably the first of most industries to be disrupted by new tech, as it’s closest to consumers in terms of providing information quickly. But because of the rise of social media, it’s now a case of turning around news stories at an unbelievable pace. So how did Mashable adapt? She said it was a mixture of growing up on the web and having that built into the company’s DNA, and also making an effort to constantly evolve and put social media at their heart of their daily working lives. Her mantra is using ‘the best of humans and the best of machines’ to come up with smart ways of bringing tech into media.

Spotify’s VP for EMEA sales Jonathan Forster welcomes the changes that tech have forced Spotify to make. When it launched, the iPhone and iPad didn’t exist in Europe. But now that we’re living in a mobile-first world, he believes it’s not just about adding mobile elements to their offering, but making them central to what Spotify does. He’s looking forward to some ‘self-disruption’ with the rise of connected devices all around the home.

For Uber, mobile tech has been key to allowing them to change the face of an industry – to disrupt how we travel in cities around the world. The efficiency of the system means reduced costs for customers – so affordable are the journeys that some of us are shunning car ownership altogether – but also better earnings for drivers as they’re so often busy.

So what unites these successful businesses? A willingness to adapt, an understanding of the potential benefits and learnings that tech can offer and excitement about what future developments could do for their business.

  1. How they went from start-ups to superstars

Omid Ashtani, general manager of Citymapper, doesn’t talk in terms of disruption. As far as he’s concerned, Citymapper doesn’t do anything new – it just does what it does really well. So even though, at its core, the app empowers users to get from A to B in the most efficient way possible based on aggregating all the options, it does it in such a straightforward, intuitive, reliable way that the app has gone global. The two core principles from Citymapper’s perspective? Focus, which means making the user experience as simple and beautiful as possible, and care, which means understanding the cities they’re servicing and listening to their customers.

Equally, Nutmeg’s founder and CEO Nick Hungerford wasn’t talking so much about disruption, but rather about the importance of having an intrinsic belief that what you and your company are offering is superior to your competitors. He stated that, in the financial industry where trust has historically been low, tech provides a transparent platform on which Nutmeg can make it possible for anyone to have an investment portfolio – not just the super rich. For Nick, possibly more than any of the other panelists due to the nature of his company, word of mouth has been paramount to his success.

The same is true of Uber, said Jo. Their ‘give £10 get £10’ referral scheme only works because they believe so fiercely in the quality of their product that they know, once they get someone in the car and give them the Uber experience, they will want to repeat that experience. Word of mouth and personal referrals have been hugely important to the app’s success. For small businesses, this boils down to guaranteeing that your customers have a brilliant experience with you, encouraging them to share their experience on social media and, where appropriate rewarding them for their loyalty.

  1. How they handle challenges

For Nick, the market that Nutmeg inhabits can be challenging because it’s traditionally thought of as boring and complex. In his words, his industry has ‘taken something simple, made it very complicated and then charged people to translate it back’. This, he says, is why he considers it his mission to create something beautiful and easy to use – something that takes the dire situation of public finances that we’re facing in the future and deals with it in a comforting, progressive way.

For Citymapper and Uber alike, their biggest challenge is being global brands operating in a local space and trying to marry these two very different aspects of their business models. How do they handle that? According to Jo from Uber, it’s about ensuring that they demonstrate the differences in their services from our location to the next, but also about championing local stories about drivers, riders, congestion and emissions.

In terms of emerging tech, wearables are what everyone’s talking about. From Omid’s point of view, wearables will become a reality. For Citymapper, that’s fine – transport’s a ‘killer app for that’ – but for everyone, thinking ahead is the healthiest thing you can do when facing new realities. The most important thing, he says, is dedicating yourself a product vision and focusing on that. Don’t get distracted by what other people are doing or trying to fit new tech into a product offering that doesn’t suit it. Just focus on your own product strategy and execute it. Simple as that.

Feature image credit: Getty

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