OK, I’m not actually from the future. But, I’m here to help you with yours.
5 min read
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My Rocketbook co-founder Joe Lemay and I appear in videos wearing orange space suits and say we make reusable notebooks "from the future." Let me get this out of the way right now: We're not actually from the future. But, I do know how you're going to start a disruptive company of your own — by looking in the past.
I don't need to tell you that starting any company is hard work. If you're reading this then you have probably read a dozen articles about that. But in reality, most companies enter an industry with some modest improvement to an existing product, which happens to be an expensive grind, and quite frankly, boring. Disrupting an industry costs less, erects a barrier to entry and is way more fun. So, how will you do it? Enter the startup time machine and read on!
Tip 1: Break the rules.
Throw away the directions. Ignore the "experts." Don't ask permission.
Think of some of the big disruptive companies of our era. Both Uber and Airbnb are locked in a never-ending battle against city ordinances, unions and regulations. And I'm still not sure how DraftKings is legal, but it actually is. More recently, angry mobs have been literally setting stacks of Bird scooters on fire. Before these companies succeeded, most experts would have given them one hundred reasons why their success was impossible.
Rocketbook was laughed off of Shark Tank because a reusable notebook was "so stupid." Another venture capitalist told us to pivot to a SaaS company if we "want to survive." And a notebook company executive thought we "had a place in gift shops as a novelty item." How did we respond? We barged into a major retailer wearing space suits to shoot our first commercial (and then we were asked to leave and never come back).
Today, that same retailer is one of our top sellers. We've also managed to become the No. 1 selling notebook on Amazon and have sold over 1.5 million Rocketbooks. So, if you ask me, when it comes to disruption, there are no experts and nobody actually knows what they're talking about.
Don't get me wrong, you need to start with a useful idea. But, when you think you have it, don't hold back. Take the core concept and turn up the crazy dial to the highest volume. When the neighbors call the cops — you're onto something.
Tip 2: Move faster and break everything.
You've probably heard the old Silicon Valley chestnut "move fast and break things." That's good advice for established companies methodically running iterations on an existing product. Move faster and break everything is better advice for launching a new company.
You know how in every action movie, the hero gets away by smashing his car through intersections, alleys and farmers markets? Same idea. The car is the product. You are the hero. And your safety is in no way guaranteed.
Speed is paramount when launching something truly disruptive. Not because of competition — there is none — but because you're probably going to hit walls. So, you'll need enough speed to crash right through them. By the time someone is saying, "Geez that business model sounds a bit risky," you have a thousand customers texting their friends about the hottest new thing.
The ultimate example of speed for Rocketbook was crowdfunding, where we've raised over $ 6 million across a handful of campaigns. There, you're not even launching a product per se; you're funding a concept with a great video and hoping your customers' excitement in your idea transcends the product details — or in some cases, even the existence of an actual product.
Tip 3: Break the rules.
Wait a second, isn't that Tip 1? Well, they told me readers like lists of three or 10, so I used one of them twice. See that's my point! "Rules of thumb" get in your way. So let's get back to breaking the rules …
The first Rocketbook notebook we ever launched erases by putting it in the microwave. Can you imagine how many fires we set trying to figure that one out? (Answer: six.) However, the Rocketbook Wave continues to crush it on Amazon. Why? Because it's awesome and everyone says it's crazy.
I'm not from the future, but I've seen your future. You'll take that idea bouncing around in your head and intentionally turn up the crazy dial. You'll ignore "expert" opinions and guidelines. You'll drive extremely fast, take incredible chances, and smash through walls. You will succeed in the future where nobody in your past thought it was possible. And when you get there? Look for a couple nerds in orange space suits.