August 24, 2018

The Downside of Disruption: Is Your Startup Destined to become a Fad?

Is it better to burn out than fade away? Not in the business world. One of the last things business owners want is for their company to become an ill-fated fad. Yet, for disruptive startups, there’s a potential the company or product may become just another flash in the pan.

While exciting, innovative, and potentially lucrative, the world of disruption is not always sunshine and unicorns. Disruptive companies tend to start out as real showstoppers-;they arrive on the scene with a revolutionary new idea and quickly take out the competition by changing the ways things have always been done. But once that initial energy is burned up, it can be difficult for disruptors to maintain their hold in the market-;especially when the competition has been in business for decades.

So, how do disruptive startups avoid becoming just another fad? Let’s take a look at a few once-promising disruptors to see went wrong:

Blue Apron

This startup shook up a few industries in its wake-;restaurants, grocery stores, and even delivery services were impacted-;offering an exciting new solution for customers who are short on time but still want to enjoy a home-cooked meal.

At the pinnacle of Blue Apron’s success, around 2015, it was valued at $2 billion. Today, however, the company is struggling. The sharply declining customer base and falling revenue are causing some serious concerns for this startup.


Snap Inc (formerly known as Snapchat) was built on the concept of ephemeral photos, but these days the company itself is also at risk of also disappearing.

What emerged as just another social media platform, quickly grew when it launched Stories-;a capability no other social platform was featuring at the time. Stories gave users quick glimpses into their friends’ everyday life only to have the video disappear into the recesses of the Internet after 24 hours. Unfortunately, this game-changing capability was easily mimicked by Instagram and Facebook.

Then, the company changed its name from Snapchat to Snap Inc and launched Spectacles by Snapchat. Why Snap thought it was a good idea to tread where Google had already failed is anyone’s guess but Spectacles hardly reached the pinnacle of success that Snap expected.

These days, Snap’s revenue and user base are on the decline. It may only be a matter of time before this company also disappears completely.


Similar to Snapchat, Twitter is also facing endurance issues. What was once a promising new social platform (that at one point in time was giving Facebook a run for its money) is now losing its customer base and stock prices are continuing to plummet. It feels as if Twitter might also be singing a swan song.


This ride-sharing app has enjoyed years of success but it’s no longer the only big kid on the playground. The taxi industry has been fighting back, creating their own app with similar functionality. And then there’s the political controversy and scandals that basically ushered former Uber users into the arms of direct competitor, Lyft.

The startup that turned the taxi industry on its head may also be at risk of burning out.

What went wrong

There are two main takeaways we can learn from the disruptors above:

1. They were easily copied

What was once a great idea no one ever thought of before, might be really easy for stronger companies to mimic and capitalize on. Facebook swiped Snapchat’s stories. Lyft took Uber’s premise and ran. Blue Apron is now competing with the likes of Hello Fresh, Freshly, Sun Basket, Plated, etc., etc.

This isn’t to say that if your idea is easily mimicked that you don’t stand a chance. You do. You just need to make sure your company or idea has that special ingredient attached to it that no other similar product can compete with. It could be amazing customer service, a partnership with high-powered brands, or simply avoiding controversial decisions that will land your business in hot water (looking at you, Uber).

2. Remaining stagnant is a death wish

Once your main idea is off and running, you need to start exploring other ways to remain relevant to your customer base (or find ways to acquire and retain new customers). Snapchat tried this with Spectacles and Twitter tried it by acquiring Vine, but these two attempts hardly count as innovating.

If you truly want to compete, don’t stop with your first big idea. Keep it moving--and keep your innovations in line with your company’s mission and vision.

Final word

When it comes to business, it’s never better to burn out than fade away. Yet the sad reality is that many disruptive startups struggle to remain relevant after the initial disruption. So, if you want to make sure your company is more than a passing trend, you need to find ways to continually outdo your competition and find new and interesting ways to surprise and delight customers. If you can do this, your company will continue to burn brightly for years to come.

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