In this series “Partner Vision,” the RevelX partners introduce themselves. They share the road that led them to RevelX and the role they play at our firm. In each episode, one of our partners will give their vision on a hot topic in their professional field.

In the fourth article in this series, we give the microphone to Matthijs Rosman. He was an associate partner for almost 10 years at the consultancy firm of Boer & Croon before joining RevelX as partner in 2015. We want to know Matthijs’ take on market disruptions.

How did your professional life before RevelX prepare you for your work now?

“I am the son of a maritime shipping entrepreneur. At home, business always came first. A ringing phone was always prioritized because it might be a customer calling.

“When I was 15, I co-founded an outdoor sports company in the Ardennes with some friends. It was a very cool and adventurous time. It was during this period that I learned I like to teach people new things and be a guide. Outdoor sports, however, rapidly became mainstream, and I soon lost interest.

“After graduating with a degree in International Business Administration – and a subsequent MBA, I was hired in the late ‘90s by the mobile phone operator Libertel in Maastricht. During this busy start-up period, we created a new telecom network from scratch.

“In short, entrepreneurship and professional curiosity have been the main theme in my career so far. These principles characterize my work at RevelX too.”

How do you define “disruption”?

“There are many debates about the true meaning of this word. I think that we should look at ‘disruption’ in practical terms. If new players (or developments) fundamentally change the rules of the market, I think you can speak of disruption. Either a whole new market is created, or there is a market in which the more traditional players are suddenly confronted with new players doing things differently. In contrast to frequent beliefs, these players do not always have to be startups.

“For me, the essence of the right response to disruption is to serve the market in some way better than you are currently doing. To achieve this, you don’t have to have the most advanced technology or the best prices as long as you are better than your competitor at understanding what the customer wants and needs.

“Take CoolBlue, which combines a broad range of products, a reasonable price and the right conditions. This online store in consumer electronics advertises with the tagline: ‘We deliver that washing machine at your apartment on the 3rd floor, and we don’t leave ‘til it works.’ By the way, the competition offers the same service, but CoolBlue is shrewd enough to communicate it!”

When talking about disruption, the same old examples are mentioned every time: Uber, Airbnb, Google...

“Yes, and you should certainly add Alibaba and to that list! But, there are many lesser-known businesses that have disrupted their market.

“Take, for example, the bike manufacturer Canyon. By using innovation in distribution and product proposition, they can offer 30% lower prices for bikes of comparable quality.

“Another inspiring example is Lemonade which shakes up the insurance industry by applying artificial intelligence in their processes. Through their app, you will be insured within 90 seconds, and your claim will be paid out within 3 minutes. Submitting a claim is done by sending a selfie. No paperwork, no hassle…”

Why are so many companies being disrupted?

“Many large companies think ‘we have existed for 100 years (or more), so we will also remain in business for the next 100 years.’ In addition, the impact of the outside world is underestimated.

“Another factor is the way businesses innovate. Some keep innovating in the same way. They focus purely on product or technology innovation, but there are so many other ways to manifest your business innovatively. For example, you can innovate in the way you better serve your customer, in the customer journey, or in the distribution of your products and services.”

Let’s sketch this scenario: a company is doing well, but the CEO is afraid that future market disruptions will negatively affect his market. What would you recommend to him?

“You must be open to the outside world in different ways. For example, look at the start-up scene. There are plenty of startup accelerators that give you insights to where the world is going. Moreover, every company should have a start-up kitchen − a playground where experiments take place.”

What kind of company culture is the best match for innovation?

“I recommend finding people who are trying to understand the customer as best as possible all of the time. They must have an innate curiosity and have an intrinsic drive to do things differently, better and smarter. It is not only about deep expertise, but also about the skill to connect worlds or disciplines. This is what we call ‘T-shaped’ (innovatively adaptive) people.

“Innovation can come from any part of the organization, from a call center employee to an engineer. Adobe is a company that understands this principle. Through their Kickbox program, everyone in the organization can request a box that includes a credit card in the amount of 10 thousand dollars, a Starbucks gift card, and a scripted innovation process.

“Adobe has decentralized the innovation process and introduced the affordable loss principle: It does not mind losing 10 thousand dollars if it means they learn something from it.”

What should CEOs do when no attempt at innovating works out?

“It happens that companies do know that they have to innovate, but lack the skills, experience or confidence to organize their innovation efforts internally. We’ve developed an Innovation Monitor to give insight on where to start your innovation process.”