Don’t be a selfless startup

How WeWork and MoviePass created great value for everyone except themselves

One of the enduring truths of big companies is that they aren’t innovative. They are “innovative” in the marketing sense, but fail to ever execute on new ideas, particularly when those ideas cannibalize existing products and revenues.

So it often takes a real competitor to force these incumbent, legacy businesses to evolve in any meaningful way. Usually that change leads to disruption, in the classic way that Clayton Christensen describes in The Innovator’s Dilemma. An upstart company creates a new technology or business model that is better for an under-served segment of a market, and as that company improves, it competes directly with the incumbent and eventually wins over its market with a vastly superior product.

Unfortunately, real life isn’t so easy, as WeWork and MoviePass have shown us over the past few years.

In both cases, there were incumbents. In movie theaters, you had AMC and the like, who built a business model around ticket sales (shared with movie studios) and food/beverage concessions that targeted occasional customers at a high price point. Meanwhile, in commercial real estate, you had large landowners and family holders who demanded extremely long rent terms at high prices, often with personal financial guarantees from the CEO of the tenant firm.

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