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Trying to create an industrial era firm in a network age is plain blind stupidity.
JP Rangaswami, BT

Spilling dirty secrets.

Luke Williams, author of Disrupt: Think the Unthinkable to Spark Transformation in Your Business, lays out a roadmap for developing disruptive hypotheses:

To meaningfully differentiate yourself from everyone else in the same space, you have to define the situation in the industry, segment, or category that you want to challenge. Here’s what a list of what you want to challenge might look like:

  • This is an area in which everyone seems to be stuck in the same predicament and nothing has changed in a very long time.
  • This is an area where profit performance is average—it really should be more successful than it is.
  • This is a category where growth is slow and everything seems the same.

Once you have a situation to focus on, describe it in one sentence: “How can we disrupt the competitive landscape in [insert your situation] by delivering an unexpected solution?”

I guess if you had to boil our mission statement at Anthemis Group down to one question,

How can we disrupt the competitive landscape in financial services by delivering an unexpected solution?”

would probably do the trick quite nicely.

Of course, our approach to answering this question is perhaps not to answer it directly but rather to seek out and support a constellation of passionate, brilliant, “what if?” thinking entrepreneurs who are asking this question with respect to specific sectors, products and geographies in financial services (banking, payments, risk management, identity, investing, etc.) and contribute our intellectual and financial capital towards amplifying their vision and improving their chances of success. For all you capital markets geeks out there, we think this approach generates (as close as you can get to) pure “alpha” in that our returns are pretty much divorced from general market movements as the impact on valuation of success (or failure) in building these new businesses far exceeds the second or third order impacts on valuation of prevailing overall public (or even) private market conditions. Clearly, our success is not guaranteed – not by any stretch of the imagination – but at least the input parameters, the choices we make, are the key drivers and within our control. (And not subject to the vagaries of a co-hosted blade pumped up with algos in New Jersey…cf my last post.)

This in our opinion is a much better set of reference terms. Even more so because it doesn’t rely on our unique genius, but rather structurally taps in to a deep and expanding pool of talented people, pursuing their own visions and goals, loosely-coupled through the ecosystem and networks we strive to nurture and grow. We don’t have to make all the decisions. We don’t have to have all the brilliant ideas. We don’t have to do all the heavy lifting. Which is certainly a relief to us and I suspect to our investors as well. If you want to take the ecosystem metaphor a bit further, I guess it would be fair to say that our position is akin to dirt in forest. Or swamp water in a wetland. ie Trying to provide a fertile and supporting substrate upon which the wonders of evolution and life can flourish and grow. Perhaps not a very sexy image, but ask any farmer and she’ll tell you there is nothing as wonderful as a field of deep, dark, steaming dirt.Soil.

And coming back to Luke’s three foundational criteria, I think it is clear to all that you can take pretty much any sector of financial services and it would emphatically tick each box. It’s an incredibly fertile environment for disruption. So you know, we’ve got that going for us. We just need to make sure we plant the right seeds.

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