What does it mean to be a disruptor?

In the first of a six-part series in partnership with Salesforce, we talk to six executives from six disruptive brands about the disruptive mindset.

Identifying gaps the incumbent fails to see and transforming the market with a game changing concept are key to becoming a disruptive brand with the ability to stay ahead of the chasing pack.

That is the opinion of six executives from six of the 100 Disruptive Brands, a list of companies blazing a trail in their respective sectors unveiled by Marketing Week in partnership with Salesforce earlier this year.

“Being disruptive crucially means setting the agenda other people try to copy,” says James Kirkham, chief strategy officer of football content creator Copa90.

“Disruption isn’t just doing things in a different way that doesn’t resonate or go any further or becomes a one off, because that’s more of a gimmick. Being disruptive is about changing the game.”

For Stephen Rapoport, founder of coffee subscription service Pact, being disruptive means looking at an industry and forging a new way that gives you an advantage over the current players.

“For Pact disruption means taking a look at existing coffee brands and existing retail and consumer needs, and seeing if we can meet those needs better than they’re being met by incumbents in the market.”

Co-founder and CEO of credit check company ClearScore, Justin Basini, agrees that a disruptive brand has to be able to identify a new opportunity the established brands fail to see.

“A disruptive brand goes in and sees a new proposition in the market that can either deliver distinctive value or do something that’s already being done, but do it so much better to create disruption in that market and value for the user.”

To find new solutions disruptive brands need to look at the market from a fresh perspective argues Kirsty Emery, co-founder of online knitwear company Unmade. “The way we do that here at Unmade is by having a team full of lots of people from different backgrounds.”

Andy Hobsbawm, co-founder and CMO of software company Evrything sees opportunities for disruptors to identify the needs of an ever changing market and then meet those needs more effectively and with better focus.

“There are un-met market needs that incumbents can’t address because they’ve grown so broad in their approach to the market that they’re missing those fundamental pockets of need.”

At Push Doctor real disruption means changing behaviour long-term, which founder and CEO Eren Ozagir hopes to do through its network of on-demand doctors.

“A disruptive idea really is the thing that changes peoples’ habits and that can be really powerful. You see people taking Uber rides, that’s a total habitual change, but at Push Doctor we’re doing that next level of disruption, it’s how do we save people’s lives.”

Uber and Airbnb were also cited by Salesforce marketing leader (UK & Ireland), Emma Chalwin, as disruptors who have taken risks to change the game long-term.

“To be a disruptor in today’s evolving world you really need to not be afraid to take a risk. Some of the best innovators and disruptors in the world have had that passion, tenacity and vision, and have never deviated away from the true core of their business.

“Brands such as Airbnb and Uber are perfect examples of where someone has come in, disrupted and completely turned that industry on its head.”

Hide Comments4 Show Comments
  • Chris Robinson 28 Sep 2016 at 8:58 am

    These do not go close to defining a real disruption. Brands that find niche markets are hardly disrupting anything. What is being disrupted? Changing brand loyalties is not a disruption. Disruption has to have cataclysmic effects, not these vanilla examples. Okay Uber, yes. Only Eren Ozagir got close.. disruption means changing behaviour long-term. I read this crap all the time in market research but all the new so-called disruptive innovations are just tech that moved online from the offline. We ought to skewer anybody using this word – its right up there with “paradigm shift” on the bullshit monitor

  • Jonathan Cahill 28 Sep 2016 at 11:08 am

    None of these people seem to have a clue that it was Clayton Christensen who invented the term or what he actually meant by it. They have perverted it. He specifically wrote that Uber is not a disruptor.

    It is a typical example of bagging a term which sounds sexy but has no relevance to the field they apply it to. Vacuous. Usually they are talking about innovation and challenging the status quo. Why not just say that, rather than hijacking irrelevant terms?

    • Andy 9 Oct 2016 at 12:44 pm

      For the record, I was actually v specific that Christensen coined the term, and quoted his definition in my response. This snippet doesn’t show that. Cheers.

  • Chris J Arnold 6 Oct 2016 at 12:53 am

    Push Doctor is about the 5th entrant to the ;call a doctor direct’ market. The original company to create the model was Dr Morton’s which was set up by doctors. Then came Babylon and a few others. They all have the same model. But is it disruption or a new service model? As the NHS and GP surgeries finds it hard to meed demand private services fill the gaps. So where is the disruptive modelling here? The problem is all new companies call themselves disruptors. “We are the Uber of….” But 90% aren’t. As Jon points out, according to Clayton Christensen’s definition, a Disruption has to have cataclysmic effect.

  • Post a comment

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email customerservices@marketingweek.com

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here