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By Embracing Non-Conformity, Entrepreneurs Have the Power to Change Their Industries

From Netflix and Airbnb to Uber and Warby Parker, innovative brands have a long history of making their industries do a 180.

It’s hard to imagine a world where streaming your favorite TV shows, hailing a cab through an app, booking a room at someone’s home over a hotel and trying on different glasses through the mail at no cost are all impossible tasks. But even a decade ago, these services—and the brands behind them—didn’t exist.


Companies like Netflix, Uber, Airbnb and Warby Parker have all flipped their respective industries on their heads. But in order to get to the position in which they all reside now—at the forefront of a new industry—the entrepreneurs behind these brands had to break from the norm. For Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, that initially meant paying close attention to the direction of consumers’ engagement with the internet.

In an interview with Business Insider, Hastings said, “It’s not Netflix that making the changes. It’s the internet. We’re figuring out every year how to use the Internet to make a great consumer experience. Every year is an experiment.” Now that Netflix has opened the door for streaming services to succeed, the opportunities are endless for other brands to throw their hats in the ring. Hastings continued, “It’s a race, but there are going to be many winners. If you can build an iPhone app, you can start a TV channel. We are going to have to see how that plays out.”

Netflix is far from the only brand to prove that embracing non-conformity has the potential to lead to great success. Uber is another strong example—by matching drivers with riders through an app, the brand created an entirely new segment in the taxi industry. Travis Kalanick, Uber’s co-founder and CEO, says it managed to do this simply by solving a problem and addressing a widespread need.

“From the entrepreneur’s perspective it’s about solving problems. It’s about what are the interesting, complex, worthwhile, valuable problems to solve and we go after them,” Kalanick told CNBC. “You could have never predicted where we are now and I don’t know if I could predict where we are going.”

In addition to problem solving, changing an industry also requires tapping into consumer demand. Neil Blumenthal, the co-founder and co-CEO of Warby Parker, for example, recognized a disconnect between consumers and the eyewear industry. Consumers were looking for affordable and trendy eyeglasses that were convenient to buy. That’s where Warby Parker comes in. And as the brand continues to grow, it’s still figuring out what exactly it is that consumers are looking for.

“Ultimately we want to be where our customers are, and we’ve found that an in-person connection has been super valuable,” said Blumenthal. “Our belief has always been that the future of retail is a blend of online and offline—so while we’ll continue to expand our physical footprint, online remains a very important part of our customer experience.”

Going forward into the new year and beyond, it’s likely that the business community will see the rise of new entrepreneurs looking to create a new normal. That means that brands currently operating across all industries need to be focused on innovation and the future. In order to succeed, businesses—and the people behind them—need to be willing to embrace change.

Airbnb’s co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky told Vanity Fair, “If we don’t grow past what we originally invented, what led to your success leads to your death.”