Damage of Scale: How Digital Disruption can break your Heart

Some time ago I found a new startup that shipped well designed glasses for really little money — including almost free “vision glasses”. I always hated to stand around in Optician Stores, discussing on design and fit endlessly, trying on pair after pair after pair and most of all: Paying 400 crazy bucks for a piece of plastic in my face.

Long story short I ordered these glasses online for literally 120 bucks. After seemless & free home-try-on shipped, some ugly charm-snitching of my vision stats from my local Optician was done and 1 week of waiting, I finally got my new glasses and I loved them. For 1/3 the price. I wondered: just how do they manage to offer something that good that cheap?

You can probably guess the moral of this story. And I guess it’s the 1000th one on the impact of digital disruption on existing markets:

Ra, ra, ra, no more business for local opticians, cheaper glasses, happy customers, all good. About local stores you could say: adapt (prices) or die. Which is valid in most cases.

Still disruption became very…human to me this time. Walking around with my fancy new, cheap glasses I realized: those little fucks kept slipping from my nose all the time. Without thinking about it I entered the optician (where I got the stats from & where used to buy my glasses before) after a long day of work. I checked out some pairs of sunglasses and asked the optician lady if she could fix the hold of my cuttend glasses in the meantime (for the non-half-blind: always a free no brainer service even between different otpician’s before).

Before taking my glasses she stopped, looked at me and said (truly nice and decent lady usually): “Alright, you get your vision stats here and go buy your glasses including vision adaption online — but I’m good enough to fix the hold for free now?” She still smiled, but her face has turned pitch red.

Point being: the startup that was selling the new glasses to me did a perfect job so far. And also: 400 bucks for glasses seems way too much if you could get them for 120. Still it is destroying this girls job, profession and love: selling glasses and finding the perfect pair for everyone — helping people to see better and look great. She had a traineeship for three years, she said, working hard ever since.

For me, working in tech for many years, the consequences of digital disruption are clear like water. I calculate them in any concept I build, in any strategy I outline. Actually: the higher the level of disruption and scale, the bigger the profit for my employer will be (and soon hopefully for myself) and the better of a job I did.

Still when disruption stood right in front of me, red face, angry, sad, still liking me, smiling at me and I remembered the 100 times we smiled at each other passing by in our quarter after work — it knocked me off my feed.

I got my glasses’ hold fixed, left 20 bucks on the table secretly, slipped out the door and felt really bad.

The lesson it taught me: I spent all my time, used all my power and thoughts over the past decade to create concepts, strategies and startups that shot for the maximum amount of disruption, conquering markets, creating new startups and promising maximum scale. Except for one startup I worked at that actually sold “real life experiences” like dancing lessons, tourist tours, etc. locally with minimum revenue share — giving real people real new (small) jobs. And I hated how it did not scale enough.

Maybe, instead, I, we, should focus more & use our powers more to build startups, strategies, concepts & platforms that help existing, local businesses to adept to and survive in & be successful in the digital transformation. Instead of building new companies or departments that cut out the middle men, conquer it all and scale to the max.

Staying in the example: to help that nice optician lady sell her glasses at better prices and stay in touch with her local customers via new, digital channels and support them with their styles and vision – like a digital assistant would.

Maybe — talking personally — also having way more patience with tech departments struggling to perform digital transitions in the companies I work(ed) in.

I am currently working on the topic of messaging and conversational commerce. I thought about integrating local businesses, giving them an authentic support and contact tool to their local customers many times before.

But it was always prio C to me, a low long tail effect with low ROI. It just didn’t scale enough. I think, maybe, this priority is about to change.