Disrupting in Order to Scale Out

Arsham Hatambeiki

SVP Product & Technology at Universal Electronics



When people think about disruption they usually think about disturbance set on by completely novel approaches, products, or concepts. However, I tend to think of disruption as a way to reduce the complexity of a product to the bare minimum so it can achieve a much higher scale. Around nine years ago, I had the option to switch everything we had to new technology or to disrupt our current product so that we could scale it. I decided disruption was the better option.

Actions taken

The alternative to disruption was to change the paradigm and totally switch everything to new technology. This new technology had the promise of evolving but had we made that switch it would have changed the underlying product profile which would have opened the market to everybody else. Essentially, we would be giving up the one thing that we had a stronghold on and all of a sudden anybody could have been a competitor. Thus the decision to disrupt. Coming from a corporate environment, one of the first things I found was that a lot of pieces were just there because of the culture and historical purposes. As a result, it was best if I could segregate myself in order to proceed with the process of disruption. I took similar problem statements that everybody else had, took out everything that comes with the legacy of an organization - offloaded all the chains and weights, and came up with the bare minimum. This stripped skeleton was what people truly cared about. I could then take this discernible system and scale it to a level that nobody else in the past had been able to. In order to do so, though, I needed to find allies who saw the value in the disruption. You can look to a single person or the board of the company, but you will need to find the support. Why? Because likely the disruption is something meaningful for the company and essentially undermines the core of the business and the core values of the company. Therefore, you have to have backing from your leaders which ultimately means financial backing from the company. As we started to build out that bare minimum, taking expertise from the traditional parts of the organization, the team started to completely reinvent the wheel. We didn't lose any of the legacy or knowledge of the domain - which was fantastic, and we still had access to the same channel - which is the best thing we could have asked for. More so, what started out as a side project has now turned into something that accounts for more than half of the company.

Lessons learned

  • The best way to go through the process of disruption is to completely segregate yourself. However, this may mean that in the interim your relationships will falter but you will quickly identify who are your allies.
  • I found myself arguing against hitting next quarter numbers versus hitting growth trajectory, but we were still growing and making progress even if the numbers weren't there.
  • If I could do it all over again, I would have shot to do something even bigger. Made a bigger change using larger incremental steps. This is because the disruption process ended up taking me 3-4 years to finish the phase and scale it out. Plus I think I could have merged two steps into one. Consequently, if you are spending that amount of time to build out one step than that one step better be worth the time and resources.

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Arsham Hatambeiki

SVP Product & Technology at Universal Electronics

Leadership DevelopmentOrganizational StrategyCulture Development

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