Business and Leadership Thought Capital

Smaller Disruptors

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When people think about disruptive leadership, a handful of well-known disruptive leaders who either have built or run large multi-national companies, mostly in the technology sector. Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and others come to mind

But there are also thousands of less well-known entrepreneurs and business people planning and building disruptive companies in just about every industry segment imaginable. Many of these companies will stay small intentionally or unintentionally.

For example, the real estate industry isn’t exactly the first sector one thinks of in the context of big, audacious disruptions. But in New York City the business of real estate comes closest to what the earth must have been like in its primordial stage—turbulent volcanoes spewing molten lava, monster beings wreaking havoc wherever they roam, and few signs of higher intelligence. New York real estate is never at ease, and even the most powerful at some point get disrupted and either disrupt themselves or die.

The real estate brokerage business is highly fragmented and most firms are relatively small. One of the best-known real estate brokerage firms currently being disrupted by an upstart company is the Corcoran Group, the real estate behemoth built by Shark Tank star Barbara Corcoran, now headed by Pamela Liebman. It is under attack by Compass, a well-funded real estate tech start-up that has been raiding Corcoran’s offices. Hundreds of senior managing directors and high-profile agents have left Corcoran to join Compass.

Corcoran also claims some of the defecting agents have hijacked its proprietary systems, including its listings databases. This follows hot on the heels of Compass having stolen trade secrets from and hacked the database of rental giant Citi Habitats.

Compass, founded by tech entrepreneur Ori Allon and Goldman Sachs alum Robert Reffkin, was still in start-up mode in 2016, but it already touted a valuation of $360 million, having attracted investment from business titans such as American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault and Joshua Kushner (Jared Kushner’s brother) of Thrive Capital.

To say the American health care industry is in a period of massive disruption, meanwhile, would be an understatement. But what is particularly interesting is that a lot of the disruption is coming from smaller start-ups, including many run by minorities and women.

Sheila Lirio Marcelo was born and raised in the Philippines, growing up in an entrepreneurial household. She graduated magna cum laude from Mt. Holyoke College with a degree in economics and earned MBA and JD degrees with honors, along with the Dean’s Award from Harvard University.

Marcelo first stumbled upon the challenges many mothers face after she had her first child, Ryan. As an immigrant and a student, she didn’t have a support system in the form of family nearby; later, her father suffered a heart attack while helping care for her second child, and she had difficulties finding help to care for him as well as her two young sons. Marcelo realized there was a need in the market to help families find care resources, but waited five years to launch a start-up, gaining operational and managerial experience in the intervening years., founded in 2006, addresses the unique care needs of each family through every stage of their lives—helping families select childcare, senior care, special needs care, tutoring, pet care, housekeeping, and more. The site includes prescreened profiles, monitored messaging, access to background checks, recorded references, and educational information on the interviewing process.

From 2006 through August 2012, raised more than $110 million in venture capital from investors including LinkedIn’s Reid Hoffman. Marcelo is one of the few female technology entrepreneurs to raise more than $35 million in venture capital funding. The company went public January 24, 2014, and today has more than 26.4 million members in twenty countries.

I’ve had the good fortune of meeting and working with several men and women who have at one point or another have had to disrupt themselves, their business, a competitor or even an industry. While their companies are small and not as well-known as those mentioned above, they have been very successful in their own right:

  • Al weathered two major financial corrections (1987 and 2001) and the crisis of 2008 in addition to several life-altering events as he built what is today a well-respected and highly profitable wealth management business.
  • After a very successful career in banking, Rob left the world of large financial institutions. His new business is committed to disrupting and correcting the inherent problems in the current system of fixed-income trading. He has a great team, key strategic partnerships, and the funding necessary to achieve his goals.
  • My friend Dov has been a successful entrepreneur for decades and has now built a company committed to transforming the way post-hospital therapy is delivered.

Their stories, along with those of members of my Vistage group and my private clients—as well as a few business folks who didn’t become clients of mine—appear throughout the rest of the book to highlight various key points. I hope you are as inspired by them as I am and learn a few things along the way.

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