Be smart. Develop smart technology. If machines can solve problems faster than humans, let them. Also, employ smart people and value them and their unique skillsets.
In an age where industries evolve at lightning speed, there exists a special breed of C-suite executives who are not just navigating the changes, but driving them. These are the pioneers who think outside the box, championing novel strategies that shatter the status quo and set new industry standards. Their approach fosters innovation, spurs growth, and leads to disruptive change that redefines their sectors. In this interview series, we are talking to disruptive C-suite executives to share their experiences, insights, and the secrets behind the innovative approaches they are taking to disrupt their industries. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Jason Wyatt, CEO and Co-Founder of Marketplacer.
Jason Wyatt is the Co-Founder and CEO of Marketplacer, a world-leading global technology Software as a Service (SaaS) company that builds successful and scalable online marketplaces.
After working with some of the world’s biggest corporations including KPMG, Reuters and General Motors, and co-founding the original online marketplace, BikeExchange, with his childhood friend, Sam Salter, he could see infinite opportunities in the rapidly expanding Unified Commerce environment. A Chartered Accountant by trade, and an inventor by choice, Jason co-founded Marketplacer in 2016 with the lofty goal of becoming the most famous, and trusted, connected commerce technology on the planet.
Five years in, the company has expanded into the US and global market and helped over 90 businesses to execute their own successful marketplace strategies, connecting over 20,000 businesses worldwide including corporations like Myer, Woolworths and Chemist Warehouse. And they’ve only just begun.
According to Jason, “To lead a high-performing and supremely talented team of over 100 people and shake up the e-commerce industry is the role of a lifetime. I am excited to see what other ways we can shape the way we live, work and shop simply by creating frictionless and paradigm-busting technology. At Marketplacer, we want to bring growth to every business.”
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion about disruption, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I was set on what some might consider to be the perfect career path. First off I was at KPMG and then Morgan Stanley. Corporate life was relatively easy. I’d have four weeks’ holiday a year and contributions to a pension plan. It would have been a safe life. But at that time working in a bank in London, I’d watch all the bankers get excited about making basis points on a trade and I remember thinking that my life can’t be just defined by basis points. I wanted it to be defined by doing some good for the world, and in my case, it was changing the way people shop and buy things.
In 2007 I met up with my childhood mate Sam Salter. He was from a big cycling family, and we came up with an idea to create a marketplace for bikes. Soon enough, I quit my safe job in London to go home to Australia and develop the idea. We learnt how to create a marketplace as we went — running and operating the site while developing the tech to go along with it. We were drinking our own champagne, so to speak, solving practical problems along the way. Soon enough BikeExchange became an international success story with millions of buyers and sellers transacting across the platform every year. We realised the technology infrastructure we’d created could be applied to other industries and in 2016, we released Marketplacer, offering businesses a SaaS solution to create their own online marketplaces.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our mission is to bring growth to every business on planet. With Marketplacer the smallest seller can now reach millions of people. This means someone who makes giftboxes from their front room can stock their products with some of the largest retailers in the world. Previously, this would have taken five months in procurement and RFP, but not anymore.
To put this into perspective, I was at the gym the other day and a man introduced himself to me. He explained that his wife had started a small business which, through the Marketplacer platform, Woolworths had bought into. This opportunity meant they could afford to send their kids to private school. It’s pretty cool to think that Marketplacer is changing people’s lives like that, helping small businesses to plug into the largest audiences in the world.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Clear vision and consistency — it takes a while for business leaders to net out, you don’t have purpose the same day you have success. Our vision statement has changed three times since we started. The smarter we got, the more we understood the problem we were solving: We were creating a community, and our fundamental purpose was growth. At first, we tried to solve a full range of problems — managing services, events, building microsites — but we found our business was stronger when we kept our vision straightforward. Deeply solving a single problem is better than half solving many.
Resilience — having a backbone and not sweating the small stuff has been a key driver of our success. In the early days, last minute an investor pulled out leaving us with a significant financial hole to fill in a matter of weeks. Everything became entirely about survival at that point, and our team needed deep mental strength to get through. In hindsight, it was probably the best thing that ever happened as it showed us that with determination and resilience it is possible to get through difficult times. Execution — we can sign clients, high five, drink the champagne, but if the platform doesn’t work effectively then you’re cooked. All it takes is one failed mistake with one big client, and it’s game over. Whatever you sell has got to deliver. A strategy built on overselling only creates chaos — it might feel good for a quarter but it’s horrible for a year.
Leadership often entails making difficult decisions or hard choices between two apparently good paths. Can you share a story with us about a hard decision or choice you had to make as a leader? I’m curious to understand how these challenges have shaped your leadership.
We used to have two products in the market — full stack and connected — where we would run the entire business. But we knew our path to scale was just doing the connected piece really well. To do that we had to turn off one of our main products which at time accounted for around 20% of our revenue. It was a difficult decision, but it underlines our approach to doing less — but better.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Let’s begin with a basic definition so that all of us are on the same page. In the context of a business, what exactly is “Disruption”?
Disruption is the unexpected change out of which there is opportunity.
Question: How do you perceive the role of ‘disruption’ within your industry, and how have you personally embraced it? Is it a necessity, a strategy, or something else entirely in your view?
If we go back to where we started — BikeExchange — we started that business because it was hard to find, buy and sell bikes on a global basis. How did we solve that problem? We brought it together to make it the easiest and the fastest path to buy and sell your bike, and then scaled this internationally.
To change behaviour is hard. To see overnight change you need a massive disruption like we saw with the pandemic. In that case, the disruption was big enough to change human behaviour, fuelling the shift to online shopping for many. But short of an event like that, some of the most disruptive ideas simply address existing problems and solve them in an easier way. You’ve got to start with an issue and resolve it in a better way than anybody else can.
What lessons have you learned from challenging conventional wisdom, and how have those lessons shaped your leadership style?
I’ve learned that it’s much easier to plug into an existing behaviour or mindset. The classic example is Uber. Uber was solving the problem of making it easy to order taxis and in doing so, has challenged the status quo massively. Often it is about taking the opportunity to strike while the iron is hot, solving a common problem and then watching the world benefit from your resolution. I’ve also learnt to be smart and be flexible. Flexible to work with, flexible with our technology and smart with how you use it. A true disruptor needs to problem solve.
Disruptive ideas often meet resistance. Could you describe a time when you faced significant pushback for a disruptive idea? How did you navigate the opposition, and what advice would you give to others in a similar situation?
Disruptive ideas are nearly always met with some form of resistance. It’s about change, and many of us fear change, right? It’s the nature of the beast. For example, many retailers didn’t want to create a marketplace because they believed (mistakenly) they needed to own the inventory to grow and compete. They (mistakenly) believed hey had to handle all the quality assurance and shipping — as well as cultivating a good customer service experience along the way. They were afraid of all those things. But at the same time, the inverse happens. They’re afraid of what might happen if somebody else sent the product, it was shipped from a different location, or the product wasn’t it wasn’t physically manufactured by them. In terms of advice that I’d give, there are three main points to remember:
- It is possible to overcome this level of resistance by simply “killing with kindness” — and don’t take offence or overreact if they initially say, “no” to your idea. I learnt this the hard way. At the start of my career, I would have taken offence if somebody didn’t like my idea or that they wouldn’t say “yes” to buying a product or using that product. But if you’re looking to influence an industry through disruption, you’ve got to have a different, ‘no offence’ mindset.
- Be consistent. The first time somebody hears a disruptive idea they will likely resist it. The second time they hear it, they’re more used to the idea and will probably lean in a little bit more. The third time they hear it, they hopefully will say, “tell me more.” The fourth time they hear it, they will say, “Tell me more and how does it help me?” And hopefully the fifth time they hear it they say, “I like this idea. How about you help me?”
- Lots of people have a disruptive idea but most of the time they don’t realise that they must make it easy for customers to say “yes.” In many cases these ideas fail because they are too hard to implement or too hard to use. It’s got to be easy to use. It’s got to be fast to implement. It’s got to be smart by design. You’ve got to make it easy for people to say yes.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Innovative Approaches We Are Using To Disrupt Our Industry”?
The five key pillars of our business are:
- Be Fast. The reality is that in this environment you’ve got to be fast to solve a problem.
- Make it Easy. Make it easy to get capital, make it easy for customers to sign a contract, and make it easy for the product to go live. Just make it easy!
- Be Flexible — but with guardrails.
- Be smart. Develop smart technology. If machines can solve problems faster than humans, let them. Also, employ smart people and value them and their unique skillsets.
- Execute. If you don’t achieve what you’ve said you’ll achieve for customers, its game over. You need to deliver on your promise.
Looking back at your career, in what ways has being disruptive defined or redefined your path? What surprises have you encountered along the way?
There are a few things that come to mind: Firstly, my career has been defined by having an inquisitive and curious mind around disruption. Being part of arguably the most disruptive generation ever — living through constant technological change with the rise of the internet, mobile phones etc — gives you a mindset that helps you follow through on the ideas you have.
When I was younger, I was obsessed with houses. And around 1995, the biggest real estate site, realestate.com came out. There, in a single website, you could see all the houses in one spot. Everything for sale. You didn’t have to go to five different sites or locations, you didn’t have to go to their shop windows anymore. You could book an appointment to go and see that house, photos and information, all without visiting it. I thought to myself, “just how easy is this? This is the future of house shopping. It’s effectively a marketplace for houses.” I think those earlier instances of making use of marketplaces and seeing how easy they made things put me in a mindset of: This is something I want to do.
Question: Beyond professional accomplishments, how has embracing disruption affected you on a personal level?
I could still be in London working in banking for one. I enjoyed the cosmopolitan life and when I packed up to start BikeExchange, I was offered an excellent job with fantastic prospects to encourage me to stay. But I didn’t want to be that person so I took a risk on my idea and hopped on a plane.
In your role as a C-suite leader, driving innovation and embracing disruption, what thoughts or concerns keep you awake at night? How do these reflections guide your decisions and leadership?
What keeps me up at night is the notion that even if you’ve got an incredible idea; the right product fit; the right market fit, external market forces can weigh you down and you might not get there in time. You might run out of time to be able to execute it.
Something I’ve learned along the way is that disruption can be addictive and if I’m going to do it, I must have three things in place: Firstly, is it a problem? Is it a problem big enough to solve? And can it scale? Second, is there a market fit? Is there a product that you’re capable of creating to make it fit? Third, do you have the ability to execute?
Another thing that guides my decisions is that you should never lose the desire to hustle; instead of “we can do it tomorrow,” say, “let’s do it today. Let’s make it happen.”
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
When I travel all around the world I see class division, I see crime rates and substance abuse going up. I see homelessness. I think that solving these issues in a consistent fashion throughout the world will improve lives and make people happier. I don’t have the idea that will solve this but it’s an issue we need to solve together.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can follow me on LinkedIn here.
Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!
About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.