Building Bridges for businesses
I’m constantly fascinated by how to evolve consumer experiences such that they are more efficient, cost effective and enjoyable. This type of innovation usually entails disruptive innovation – changing a set of norms or behaviors.
Whether starting your own company or investing, catching a company who is a part of a consumer behavior shift can be very valuable. To do this successfully requires a combination of:
- Timing – being attentive to macro trends and behavior signals. Often consumers find ways to hack a behavior themselves given the need for change.
- The company themselves building bridges to connect current consumer behavior to the next disruptive step.
The more disruptive the technology or forward-thinking the concept, the more critical these bridges are as they often are not problems that consumers themselves have identified but opportunities that need to be demonstrated as an improved behavior.
Often one bridge is not enough and a series of bridges over many years gradually shift behavior in a way that the consumer, and the surrounding industry, can effectively process.
Each business I started entailed an iterative model of a crawl, walk, run approach to moving at a pace of innovation that was most applicable to the target consumer at that time.
This effectively bridged their journey to adopting new, often radical consumer behaviors, all while watching evolving behaviors and subtleties to plan how we add value for the consumers’ next step.
Renting Dresses to Closet in the Cloud
Rent the Runway started by renting dresses to consumers. When Jenn and I co-founded the company, we were responding to a consumer problem: it didn’t make sense to buy an item that you would only wear once or twice.
Fancy dresses were often the culprit as they were typically more expensive, worn fewer times, and posted to social media (making the difficulty repeating a look that much tricker). Meanwhile, enabling the surrounding ecosystem of fashion designers and retailers to gradually digest the idea of renting over the internet with one specific use case enabled us to make progress.
We tapped into the existing consumer behavior of borrowing dresses from friends and even returning already worn dresses to retailers after the guilt of a one hit wonder purchase.
Today, the majority of our business is subscription across a range of categories, offering a much more radical way for consumers to change their consumption patterns. Considering Amazon’s start with books also makes sense – a category that consumers were open minded to buying online given the content of the item and physical quality was predictably evolved into “the everything store.”
Innovating for the Fortune One Retailer
Starting Jetblack, Walmart’s text-based commerce platform, entailed training consumers on new behaviors that hadn’t been realized and required bigger bridges. The initial mandate of building conversational commerce for Walmart meant voice commerce to most people in the age of Alexa and Google Home, which at the time had recently emerged.
Yet, the broader technology, and hence the timing, was imperfect for a voice shopping experience because it wasn’t yet possible to improve its efficiencies. As a result, Alexa was rarely used for shopping and, instead, used for setting timers, playing music, and simple un-layered commands. That is still very much the case today. Text message served as the perfect intermediary bridge – a more forgiving and familiar platform to start the evolution of consumer behavior into this dramatically new space.
The bridges of stores to mobile devices made shopping from your phone very normal. Dig a layer deeper and many consumers were already texting friends for advice, people at stores to track down their item of choice, and category experts to get to their best fit product.
It was a forgiving platform that didn’t require immediate response the way that voice does, and yet enabled consumers to efficiently put in a request when it was convenient for them, with their ‘personal text shopper’ responding a few minutes later – typical text behavior.
Web3 is a huge step forward and, while some consumers have rapidly adjusted, there are many bridges to be built in the space. The initial in-road was our mobile devices blurring the line between physical and digital in the palm of our hands.
Mobile web, apps, social media, Facetime, and Zoom all began blurring the lines and were bridges for web3. The increased adoption and mainstream nature of gaming has served as another huge bridge for the metaverse, especially as it enables more supernatural elements. Digital art has built new bridges and fashion offers huge bridge building opportunities for Web3.
Fashion can usher in a broad range of consumers to web3 given the mass accessibility and interest in this category as well as the deep connection of social media that has already blurred the line between wearing something physically and digitally. Companies like DressX enable you to play around with the technology in AR/VR gaming type formats or to pay up for a more fitted / realistic social media version of an outfit.
You can transact on this platform with traditional currency, verses crypto, which eases the transition of the many technical elements that are currently blockers for some consumers’ Web3 interactions. With the ability to use these digital fashion assets on Zoom calls and Facetimes in a way that truly looks authentic, we are broadening the applicability of virtual work use cases and ushering more people into the metaverse.
Stay focused on the end goal – the problem you are trying to solve, or the area you are trying to innovate on. Take the disruptive leap forward and ground it in the reality of the broader ecosystem to bring the consumer along in the journey of innovation.
Continue to iterate by learning from your consumer as you watch them leverage the new concepts you introduce. Whether the end goal is a more efficient shopping experience, a less expensive option, or a better experience, constantly compare your offering to a customer’s best alternative – you must not only innovate, but you must be better than what exists.