We talk a lot about the big innovators of the world: the Apples, the Googles, and the Amazons. These companies have all been leaders in innovation, producing incredible technology and changing the way we communicate, shop, and work. However, they weren’t always huge and respected—they all started off small. What’s really impressive is when a small company challenges long-held traditions and assumptions with innovation, “disrupting” the status quo in industries traditionally dominated by big players and standard methods for production. These days, we’ve seen many major industries turned on their heads by startups with great ideas and execution. Here are 5 of these startups challenging the big guys in major industries—and succeeding.
- m.m. LaFleur
m.m. LaFleur is making it easier for women to get dressed for work in the morning—much easier. Instead of shopping for work clothing—which can be more complicated for women due to the number of choices, a “bento” box of clothing is sent with curated, high-quality pieces that are based off of each customer’s preferences. Anything that doesn’t work can be sent back, and the service isn’t subscription based. It’s just giving professional women one less thing to worry about by taking the frustration out of shopping for work clothes.
Finding a shoe that’s comfortable, stylish, and affordable is never an easy task. Allbirds’ mission is to change that, all while using natural, sustainable materials. Their tagline “the world’s most comfortable shoe” is based on the fabric of the shoe itself. They’re made of soft merino wool from New Zealand that is said to reduce odor and wick moisture while regulating temperature. One of Allbirds selling points is sustainability—something today’s shoppers make a priority. A 2015 Nielsen study revealed that almost 3 in 4 Millennials are willing to pay more to buy sustainable products. However, Allbirds shoes are priced comparably to other athletic shoes (sometimes less), making them an attractive option for young shoppers.
Everyone needs to think about dental hygiene, but no one really wants to. Enter quip, a new kind of toothbrush concept. Instead of relying on a bulky, expensive design that requires a charging stand and an outlet, quip’s streamlined electric toothbrush is small, portable, and ridiculously simple. The thing customers love the most, however, isn’t the brush itself—it’s the service. quip sends customers a new brush head and battery every three months for $5, putting proper oral hygiene on autopilot. They’re also focused on education, mimicking the popular hybrid approach of many universities by offering both online resources (blog posts and newsletters) with detailed printed educational materials they send with their products.
Frustrated by an industry dominated by men with few good options, Heidi Zak, cofounder of ThirdLove decided to disrupt bras. Instead of using the designs and materials traditionally used by bra manufacturers, she forged a new path with the goal of making truly comfortable bras that fit perfectly for real women. The expanding line of new products shows that women are responding to Zak’s approach and have been waiting for a solution for a long time. The company also has a social purpose: they want all women to be able to afford a comfortable bra. That means not only pricing their products competitively, but giving bras to women in need. Since 2013, they’ve donated over $2.5 million in bras to charity.
- Schmidt’s Naturals
Amid worry about the chemicals found in traditional deodorants, many consumers have decided to switch to more natural odor control. Unfortunately, many complained about the effectiveness of the products on the market, prompting Schmidt’s to work on a solution. Refusing to take “good for a natural deodorant” as acceptable, founder Jaime Schmidt tinkered with the recipe until it lived up to the standards of consumers used to synthetic antiperspirants. Schmidt’s Naturals is also eco-conscious, using natural ingredients and encouraging recycling with their “recycling club”.
Sustainability and Convenience
There’s definitely a theme among these companies—they’re all focusing on what most customers want in our current culture: sustainability, convenience, and quality. More and more people are strapped for time and would prefer to use technology to put some things on autopilot.
With a new generation of more eco-conscious, customers representing more global spending power, these brands have managed to hit on all the concerns many people have about some industries—which just goes to show that the right idea at the right time is what really leads to innovation. While 45% of social enterprises in the United States bring in just $250,000 or less in revenue each year, these five companies show that you can have the best of both worlds: a growing business and corporate responsibility.