Hyperloop: The Disruptive Innovation Project
The high-speed Hyperloop train is currently one of the most spectacular business ventures in the world. Here, Hyperloop’s CEO Dirk Ahlborn explains the conditions under which such innovation projects are successfully developed. Plus: Dirk Ahlborn in an interview with Joana-Marie Stolz, Head of Cultural Strategy at Serviceplan, on the business idea behind Hyperloop and the role that marketing plays in this innovative business model.
New businesses need to hold their own on the market and become disruptive innovators if they want to move away from the sidelines. Companies like Netflix and Uber are showing us how it’s done. An opinion piece by Hyperloop CEO Dirk Ahlborn looking at how spectacular and successful innovation projects evolve.
Innovation and disruption are two of the most frequently mentioned terms in the business world today. Every company wants to be innovative, and even disruptive. Our world is changing rapidly, right in front of our eyes. This is a cause of concern for a lot of companies who want to ensure they don’t just become silent spectators while the world’s Googles, Facebooks, Ubers and Airbnbs take over. But a disruptive transformation in the business world is nothing new. Of the companies that the American business magazine Fortune listed in 1995 as the Fortune Global 500, only 12 percent were still listed in 2016. And of course no one wants to belong to the other 88 percent. So what can we do?
Many travel to the United States, to Silicon Valley, where companies can set up so-called innovation hubs and try to fundamentally change the way they think. But, as is so often the case, after a short time they return to their familiar linear way of thinking. We all want to be innovative, but at what price? After all, innovations are always accompanied by disruptions. When our own business is fundamentally turned on its head by disruptive measures and approaches, or is even at risk of disappearing from the market – are we still prepared to be disruptive? And what happens if we fail?
One thing is certain: disruption requires unbridled passion. But as a company, how can you recognise whether you’re just improving on a product or strategy, or whether you’re really being disruptive? Disruption is a revolutionary effect that has been caused by new and innovative technology. But technology should never be a barrier to thinking. Even if the technology isn’t advanced enough for your idea to work, you have to simply accept it as a given and still carry on. The technology will catch up, often faster than you’d think.
Here’s an example: the first iPhone came onto the market at a time when constant, fast data transmission was still pie in the sky for an everyday product. But ultimately it was precisely this iPhone that set the ball rolling for better mobile networks. So what exactly is disruptive? At the end of the day, it is the technology that allows us to innovate in the first place. We can question everything these days. For example: what will the car of the future look like? As I no longer have an engine in the front, I don’t need a hood anymore either. So how will the shape of the car change if it only needs to hold passengers? If I can have a car at my disposal at any time, do I still need to own one?
And why should I favour a certain brand over another? When I order a taxi these days, I’m more interested in how quickly it will be available – and the business model behind it.
Look beyond tomorrow. Of course there are a lot more questions to be asked here. But it’s clear to see that it’s not about bringing as many electric cars onto the market as possible – or retrofitting existing models for that matter. Or having better battery power than another brand. These are all features that are currently still interesting, but will barely make a difference on the market in the long run.
So being disruptive means looking beyond just tomorrow. Short-term experiences don’t count. You need to have the guts to embrace innovative ideas and then also implement them in your own companies. We are often seeing disruptive ideas coming from smaller, lesser-known businesses. In my opinion, this difference is down to the start-up founder mentality.
Large corporations or industrial companies almost always have an executive board and an appointed managing director who are generally judged and paid on the basis of today’s and tomorrow’s operational results. But by the day after next they will have usually lost interest, especially when it means earning less in the here and now. The founder of a start-up or a medium-sized company, on the other hand, is pursuing a vision, a goal, that absolutely has to be achieved, even if they have to go the long way round to do so.
What does all that mean for the companies of today? If we want to promote disruption and innovation, we should be celebrating risk takers, measuring the CEOs of our companies against the future, for example in ten years’ time, and giving founders a chance to turn their visions into reality and establish themselves on the market. But when it comes to disruption, it’s not just about a product or a service.
We’re already questioning everything: how we work, how we approach innovations, how we communicate and how we manage companies and deal with employees. It might sound harsh, but only if we are continually prepared “to destroy” our own company will we be in a position to be disruptive. If we don’t do it ourselves, there’s always going to be someone out there who will.
This article was published (in German) in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung supplement “Auf die Zukunft – Das Magazin zum Innovationstag 2017” (To the Future – The Magazine on Innovation Day 2017) from 05.10.2017. © All rights reserved – Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung GmbH.
Photo: Hyperloop Transportation Technologies
CEO, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, Inc. (HTT)
Originally from Berlin and now based in the USA, Dirk Ahlborn is the founder and CEO of the internet platform JumpStarter, and the founder and CEO of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT). The company, established in 2013, is developing, producing and building the Hyperloop supertrain, in Dirk Ahlborn’s words “the fastest, safest and also most highly profitable and environmentally-friendly transportation system for passengers and freight”. HTT utilised JumpStarter’s crowdfunding and crowd collaboration platform JumpStartFund to leverage the necessary technology and recruit a team of more than 800 global experts to bring disruptive innovation to the traditional transportation industry. The Hyperloop first attracted public interest when entrepreneur Elon Musk published a whitepaper detailing a futuristic method of transport that could transport people from Los Angeles to San Francisco in just thirty minutes. Musk decided to opensource his concept, inviting entrepreneurs to improve on it and develop the technology. And California-based Ahlborn rose to the challenge. Find out more at http://hyperlooptransp.com and follow Dirk Ahlborn on Twitter: @justdirk
Dirk Ahlborn convinced the audience of his spectacular disruptive innovation project at Innovation Day 2017. After his keynote, there were definitely more Hyperloop fans than sceptics in the room.