Innovation and disruption in the digital age

Innovation is the key to disrupting an industry in the digital age, according to Melbourne Law School alumnus and online retailer Kogan executive director David Shafer.

David Shafer

Kogan executive director David Shafer (back) believes the internet has brought forward challenges unseen since the Industrial Revolution

Speaking at September's Alumni Seminar this morning, Mr Shafer listed companies such as Uber, Facebook and Airbnb as having shaken up their respective industries by being nimble enough to adapt to new opportunities.

He said it was important for businesses to not focus specifically on disruption, as it would be a natural consequence of innovation.

"There is an undue focus on disrupting in the Australian start-up industry," he said.

"If you set out to disrupt in business, you will never do it."

Five years ago, Kogan, Australia's largest online retailer, employed 10 people and had a turnover of less than $10 million.

It now employs close to 200 people and its revenue has increased twentyfold, with sales expanding from manufactured goods to food and travel.

Mr Shafer said Kogan becoming the leader in online retail was in part because of the company's ability to adapt to changes and challenges in the industry.

"We have a saying at Kogan - there is always a better way," he said.

"Being nimble allows us to take advantage of new opportunities where other opportunities are plateauing," he said.

"We are the quickest. We will respond to the challenges in the market the quickest."

The former Arnold Bloch Leibler lawyer laid out three lessons he had learned which guides him in making business decisions: understanding opportunities, exploiting opportunities, and standing for something.

"It's so easy to just get lost in the noise of retail," Mr Shafer said.

"You really need to understand what you stand for, for both the sake of the consumer and your staff."

Mr Shafer said the evolution of online retailing did not spell the end of traditional bricks and mortar stores but it had changed the game.

He likened doing business in an online environment to trench warfare, with awareness of regulators, competitors and consumers essential to keeping ahead in a rapidly changing industry.

By Andy Walsh