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Updated Jun 21, 2024

Shake It Up: How to Identify Industries That Are Ready for Disruption

Some of the most successful startups in recent years have seen rapid growth by shaking up their respective industries.

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Written By: Sean PeekSenior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership
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Entrepreneurs understand better than anyone else that the path to success is rarely straightforward. Pattern breakers breed innovation, with some of the most successful startups emerging from unlikely places. Some of the tactics these startups are using go against the grain, disrupting existing markets.

Let’s delve deeper into the factors that determine the industries ripe for disruption.

What it means to disrupt an industry

Before we dive into which industries are being disrupted, let’s explain what we mean by disrupting. To cause disruption, a company must create innovations that change an industry at its core and add value to the market. 

A business may do this by developing a product or service that is more accessible or efficient than what is currently on the market or by creating something that reaches a new audience. The smartphone is an example of a revolutionary product that disrupted the phone industry, allowing phone users to access the internet outside the home, utilize applications and shop from handheld devices while on the go. Years from now, this industry could be disrupted again as technology continues to evolve and new ideas are born. 

How to identify industries that are ready to be disrupted

A business industry is made up of numerous organizations, brands, characteristics, customers and channels. Although it’s challenging for a single business to disrupt an entire field, it’s not impossible. All it takes is the right timing and execution.

Many entrepreneurs hope to discover industries to disrupt. But how do you recognize an industry that’s ready to be shaken up? If it were easy to decipher, every business owner would enter the market and catapult to the top. However, there are a few general signs that a sector is ready for disruption.

Market complacency

Complacency in the marketplace is one of the biggest signs that something needs to change. For existing businesses in any given industry, complacency should be viewed as a troubling indicator that disruption is approaching. You could argue that the cable industry had become complacent, and this mistake has cost cable providers dearly. They have consistently introduced price hikes without adding any real value to their service offerings. Meanwhile, streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu and HBO Max have taken a healthy share of the market.

Bottom LineBottom line
Once businesses begin coasting, as opposed to innovating, the market can become stagnant.

Customer frustration

Another hint of impending disruption is chronic customer frustration. As consumers become frustrated with products and services, they voice their opinions, tighten their wallets and look for alternatives. This is where savvy entrepreneurs recognize an issue and create an alternative solution.

One example of a company that recognized customer frustration and capitalized on it is MedPro Disposal. The medical waste industry was relatively top-heavy, meaning much of the market was controlled by a single player, Stericycle. However, over the years, the medical industry became frustrated with the hefty costs of Stericycle’s services.

That’s when MedPro Disposal’s founder, George Shanine, recognized an opportunity to create a cost-effective alternative. By offering cost savings of 30 to 40 percent, Shanine disrupted the industry and took away a sizable share from Stericycle. [Learn how to use customer feedback to gain a competitive advantage.]

Tension points

According to Luke Williams, author of Disrupt: Think the Unthinkable to Spark Transformation in Your Business (FT Press, 2010), the key to identifying markets that are ripe for disruption is to look for tension points instead of massive pain points. 

What’s the difference? Williams believes that tension points are much more subtle. They aren’t typically big enough to be considered major problems, which means most businesses aren’t paying attention to them. However, once a solution is developed, it’s obvious that fixing the underlying issue offers an excellent opportunity to penetrate and revolutionize the industry.

Did You Know?Did you know
According to Williams, there are four types of tension points: workarounds, values, inertia, and shoulds versus wants.

Consolidated power

An industry or market that is dominated by a few companies is the perfect space for disruption. Due to the imbalance of power within the industry, it may seem difficult to break through the power structure and disrupt it. However, startups often can work faster, adopt more efficient technologies into their processes, and develop innovative products or services more quickly than the businesses at the top. They can find space to move up in the industry and begin to shake things up, causing the dominating companies to either shift or crumble. 

>> Learn more: At What Point Are You No Longer a Startup?

Outdated technology

Because technology is constantly evolving, industries must stay on top of technological changes and implement the latest tools — or risk disruption. A lot of massive companies use complex systems, so it can be hard for them to transition to new tech quickly. This is what makes those businesses perfect targets for disruption: There’s a chance for others to give customers easier access to products and services that benefit them. For example, businesses that are ready to shake things up might implement mobile apps, self-service options and other innovations that use newer technology. 

Industries being disrupted

Now that you understand the telltale signs of markets that are ready for disruption, let’s take a practical, real-world look at some markets on the verge of or already being disrupted in 2024.

Industries being disrupted by AI

Convenience reigns supreme as consumers forgo in-store visits in favor of clicking “buy” online. As more processes rely on automation to fulfill consumer expectations, it makes sense that artificial intelligence (AI) would become essential to industries with large online consumer bases. Whether you are shopping for groceries or prescription drugs, online retailers are disrupting traditional models with the use of AI. [Read related: The Business of Automation and AI-Powered Retail Predictions]


Pharmacies and larger pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) are seeing a disruption with the increased ability to purchase prescriptions through mail order or online using sites such as Amazon. Physically going to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription can be inconvenient. With that tension point in mind, Amazon Pharmacy has begun to disrupt the industry by allowing customers to purchase their prescriptions online and get them delivered to their homes. The pricing is transparent, and the company offers a simple process for refilling medications, all from a customer’s desktop or mobile device.

The adoption of AI in pharmacy services also brings challenges, particularly regarding potential human biases in AI-driven decisions. For example, AI algorithms used in medication recommendations and personalized healthcare may inadvertently reflect biases present in the training data. Pharmacies must address these concerns to ensure the ethical and fair use of AI while balancing consumer expectations.

Fulfillment and delivery

The fulfillment process includes maintaining inventory, assembling customer orders and shipping them. This requires companies to invest in inventory management software and delivery technology. Delivery services such as the U.S. Postal Service, UPS, FedEx and DHL have seen a shift in the industry due to Amazon Prime’s faster shipping and more efficient delivery tracking software. This development was sparked partly by a factor that few could have predicted: the coronavirus pandemic.

As COVID-19 shook up the world and the way people shopped, most consumers took to using Amazon and other online stores, and many still prefer to do so. Some companies are now offering two-day, next-day or same-day deliveries, while others are taking advantage of a subscription business model to lower shipping costs. 

The use of robotics and AI in delivery and fulfillment processes is also becoming increasingly common. Companies are employing robots in their warehouses to automate tasks such as picking and packing orders, leading to faster and more efficient operations. Additionally, AI is being used to optimize delivery routes, thereby reducing delivery times and costs. Ongoing supply chain issues will only hasten the need for these industry improvements.


The way we shop for everyday essentials has undergone a significant shift, originally spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic. Customers are increasingly embracing the convenience of virtual shopping experiences, with online grocery delivery and in-store pickup at the forefront. These methods offer a faster and more streamlined experience compared with shopping at a traditional brick-and-mortar store because they eliminate the need to navigate crowded aisles and wait in long checkout lines. [Read related article: What Does a Great Customer Experience Look Like Now?]

This trend extends beyond basic groceries. Digitized stores, pioneered by concepts like Amazon’s Dash Carts, are gaining traction. These innovative carts utilize built-in software to seamlessly identify items as they’re added, allowing for an easy checkout process. This technology represents the next evolution of self-checkout and might significantly reduce the need for cashiers in the future.

FYIDid you know
The industries that are likely to see disruptions in the near future are the ones that can use new technology to make purchasing easier for consumers.

How to disrupt an industry

For an entrepreneur, disrupting an existing industry is a very challenging proposition. It requires a clear understanding of what you’re looking for, including market complacency. Industries that have stopped innovating are almost always due for a shake-up.

The second thing to examine is customer frustration. When customers are no longer satisfied with an industry’s existing product and service offerings, there’s ample opportunity for another business to cause a disruption. Finally, look for tension points. As mentioned, these are much smaller and more discreet than pain points, but the solutions to these issues can fuel significant change.

Once you identify an industry that is experiencing one or more of these characteristics, you can begin to think about disruption. And as you can see from the examples above, plenty of industries are facing significant shake-ups.

Anna Johansson contributed to this article. 

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Written By: Sean PeekSenior Analyst & Expert on Business Ownership
Sean Peek co-founded and self-funded a small business that's grown to include more than a dozen dedicated team members. Over the years, he's become adept at navigating the intricacies of bootstrapping a new business, overseeing day-to-day operations, utilizing process automation to increase efficiencies and cut costs, and leading a small workforce. This journey has afforded him a profound understanding of the B2B landscape and the critical challenges business owners face as they start and grow their enterprises today. In addition to running his own business, Peek shares his firsthand experiences and vast knowledge to support fellow entrepreneurs, offering guidance on everything from business software to marketing strategies to HR management. In fact, his expertise has been featured in Entrepreneur, Inc. and Forbes and with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
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