What does it mean to be “disruptive” in 2020 and beyond?

At the end of this year, we will officially enter a new decade. Just saying “2020” brings an air of excitement to any conversation, and maybe a little bit of existential dread.

20 years ago, more specifically the New Year’s celebrations of 1999, the same excitement was tingling across the world. It was an excitement and fear of the unknown, also known as Y2K.

Why was that night so monumental? Well if you remember, the internet was a new and exciting innovation changing the way we thought and the way in which we navigated our world. Some would even call it a “disruption” of our established way of life (wink, wink).

Prior to the internet, major examples of disruptive innovation included automobiles, televisions and even electricity, because they completely altered the way people lived, and they did away with previously established technologies that are all but extinct today. Have you seen a horse-drawn carriage, wardrobe-sized radio, or candlelit home lately? If you live in a very rural community, maybe. And if you’re reading this, I’m even more impressed.

Anyways, people were nervous about what would happen when electrical digits made the switch from 1999 to 2000. They stocked up on supplies and hid inside HAZMAT suits in their basements awaiting the moment their lives would change forever.

Well, spoiler alert, nothing happened. Across the world, people crawled out of their homes expecting aliens to land, planes to fall from the sky and the answer to the age old question, “Who let the dogs out?” Instead, technology made the switch with ease and in the following 20 years, the virtual frontier has continued to expand, thanks to the internet.

A lot has changed since 1999, but the internet posed one finite truth: disruptive innovation is the ever changing forefront to the world of technology.

Our culture is fascinated with underdogs and overnight successes— companies, products, or services that seem to come out of nowhere and completely change their respective industries. Uber, Airbnb, and formerly WeWork come to mind.

What does this have to do with you, the SMB owner? Well, businesses and startups that are able to roll with the punches that disruptive technology can bring will only continue to grow and succeed. Unlike big businesses, smaller organizations have the bandwidth and flexibility to try and adopt new technologies that larger companies may have a harder time implementing. It’s much easier to train 25 employees on a new project management tool than over 500.

So what is disruptive innovation? And what does it mean for the future of technology, and the businesses that use it?

What is disruptive innovation theory

Disruptive innovation theory was popularized by Clayton Christensen in the late 1990s. It refers to a technology that heavily impacts the way a market or industry functions.

Disruptive innovation vs. disruptive technology

It’s important to note the difference between disruptive innovation and disruptive technology. The key difference being that innovation focuses more on understanding how the use of technology has changed an industry rather than on the technology itself.

An example of this difference would be comparing how Amazon disrupted the ecommerce industry vs. Amazon itself.

What does “disruption” of a space really mean?
Disruptive innovation is all about predicting the needs of the industry and more specifically the consumer.

Disruptive innovation can have harrowing effects on an industry and more specifically on businesses within said industry. “Disruptive” technologies were created and incorporated into businesses to allow them to remain competitive and keep up with the status quo. But as these things go, they’re hard to prepare for. Companies that don’t stay in the loop are soon left in the dust.

“Disruption is a necessary process to keep a market alive in the long term and to continuously develop it further.” – Clay, Christensen.

Unlike small businesses, industry giants concentrate on incremental innovation. That is, upgrading existing products to attract higher paying customers. Eventually, they will overcomplicate their product by adding fancy features no one wants to pay for. And it is at this point that large companies forget and ignore customers who just want a simple low-cost alternative.

Disruptors flourish because they develop a basic offering for those who want a simple substitute. The disruptor improves its product and moves upmarket. Soon the disruptor takes over the market.

This is the space where startups can thrive.

Even with limited resources, startups can disrupt the techstream by inventing new ways to get something done, unlike larger and more established companies that focus on incrementally improving what they do best.

Established companies also often lack the flexibility to adapt quickly to new threats. They adopt a disruptive technology once it has already been proven to work. For example Facebook creating Libra only after cryptocurrency had been established as a viable consumer attraction, only to have the project ultimately fail.

Progress is a narrative we all ascribe to, maybe to our own detriment. As each new iPhone (or whatever new tech) is released, we slowly forget that true innovation doesn’t mean removing a headphone jack or adding another camera. It’s about changing the way we communicate, it’s about being able to carry the world’s information in your backpack or in your pocket, it’s about taking on entire schools of thought and established norms to show that they’re not worth keeping.

Investing in a disruptive technology is a gamble. Many products that are considered disruptive can take years to be adopted into the mainstream, or may not be adopted at all. To succeed, an investor has to focus on how companies will adapt to disruptive technology, instead of focusing on the development of the technology itself.

Examples of disruptive technology

As mentioned, the Internet is a pivotal example of disruptive technology. When it was first released to the public, businesses that thought it would be a dying fad soon got left behind as it exceeded all expectations and grew to be a force of nature in nearly all industries.

The internet led to entirely new economic systems and business models, even creating the entire realm of IT professions that didn’t exist prior. Personal computer sales skyrocketed, became pocket-sized, and built themselves around internet connectivity. It has now opened up a new door to artificial intelligence (AI), predicted to be the next breakthrough in disruptive technology.

Artificial Intelligence

When we think of artificial intelligence, some people immediately think of our robot overlords. But artificial intelligence is so much more than that. It’s a prompt that suggests your next line in an email or a program that adjusts the lighting right as you take a picture. It’s an ever growing and ever learning technology that is shaping our future as we speak.

Due to its sophisticated automation, AI is disrupting people’s day-to-day lives as digital transformation takes place on every organizational and industry level. Startups that continue to invest and adapt to AI are working to meet the growing needs of consumers that want to be able to do less with more.

For businesses unsure about their future with AI, one thing they have on their side is the inundation of new technologies from the recent past. With this, businesses know that they can wait until they’re ready to pursue with AI because of how fast and ever changing the technology industry is. For many organizations, this means that it’s safe to assume that being late to market doesn’t necessarily spell their doom.

Short-term results have also drawn attention, with many industries and businesses adopting innovations quickly and analyzing their impact within shorter timeframes. This culture has led many to simply ignore AI while they work on the adaption of other technologies.

With that being said, there is still a deep desire in business today to free up time and energy for our best talent with the application of AI.


A classic example of disruptive innovation is, once again, none other than Amazon.com. In-store chains like Barnes & Noble in the US and Chapters in Canada lost out quickly to this corporate conglomerate when it hit the web. It completely restructured the bookselling industry because it could display its inventory without physical stores. It enables users to shop online and have their products mailed home rather than needing to go in-person to purchase.

Is Uber disruptive technology?

At first glance, Uber is thought to be disruptive for the way it overhauled the taxi industry. It found the space where taxi services failed consumers by creating a convenient mobile app that allows users to order and pay for their ride without a cash transaction, or needing to physically hail a ride.

In Layman’s terms, Uber is a disruptive innovation in this sense. But, according to Christensen’s definition, Uber doesn’t quite fit into the box of disruptive technology. According to his theory, a disruptive business builds ground in a low-end market that had been ignored by established companies that have turned their focus on profitable customers. In addition, the disruptor definition explains that it must also establish a completely new market, turning non-customers into customers.

Uber’s case isn’t applicable to either of those assumptions; it targets people who already use taxi services, therefore it doesn’t create an entirely new market. A truly disruptive business starts with a low-quality product, then ultimately expands upon the mainstream market by improving quality, and Uber does not fit this definition either.

How Veem works into the disruptive revolution

The payment space is constantly evolving. And Veem is helping to further disrupt this industry with innovative technologies that make payments invisible yet traceable, seamless yet packed with necessary information, and affordable yet faster and more secure.

Using its relationship-based payments model, Veem is connecting payees to payers, businesses to their business partners, and service providers to their clients, without all the middlemen.

Disruptive innovation finds solutions to problems. Veem works takes this mantra to heart, which is why we created a platform that allows users to be able to track their money end-to-end. No more guessing where your money is or how long it will take to arrive.

See how Veem can make your business payments simple. LEARN MORE

Veem is also driving the evolution of third-generation networks. Everyday, we’re making it easier to keep track of your small business finances with numerous integrations like Xero, Netsuite, Zapier, and Quickbooks. No more roadblocks or hidden fees.

With Veem’s brand new fixed exchange rates, knowing how much money you’ll be exchanging has never been easier. As a startup itself, Veem understands what small businesses and startups need to feel heard and make their day-to-day easier.

That’s what disruption is really about. Making people’s lives better with technology. From 2020 and beyond, and from the beginning of time. That’s one thing that doesn’t change.



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