James Thomson Editor

James Thomson is the editor of BRW. Previously he was editor and publisher of SmartCompany and a senior editor at Business Spectator. He writes regularly on Australia's wealthiest entrepreneurs and has deep expertise in small business and the mid market.

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Editor’s letter: A disruptive force

Published 14 February 2013 00:08

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Being a disrupter isn’t a job for the faint hearted. Just ask Andrew Campbell, the co-founder of goCatch, which has designed a smartphone app that he hopes will shake up the taxi sector, one of the most tightly controlled industries in Australia.The idea behind the app is pretty simple. Instead of calling a taxi network and booking a cab, smartphone users use their app to order a vehicle. The app connects users directly to taxi drivers, bypassing the taxi networks and making the process smoother and faster for everyone.Or so Campbell thought.The app – and others like it – have unwittingly sparked age-old tensions in the taxi industry. As reporter Ben Hurley details, taxi networks are furious drivers are taking passengers through the apps and circumventing what they see as their exclusive rights over bookings.The networks are threatening drivers who use the apps with fines and other forms of discipline. One taxi network executive has even taken to trying to catch drivers out by booking cabs through the app – and then firing off angry letters to drivers who pick him up. These letters are now in the hands of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.goCatch is one of 10 start-ups to watch in our cover story on the newcomers who are disrupting their sectors.While not all have had the same incendiary effect as goCatch, they are determined to change the business models on which their industries have been built.Many of these start-ups are part of the wider trend of giving consumers more choice – whether that’s in the form of personal customisation in retail, or alternative payment methods in financial services or different taxi ordering systems.It’s a trend that the incumbents in these sectors cannot ignore – unless they want their lunch eaten. Right now, our start-ups to watch are worrying about the pains that come with fast growth. But one day, if everything goes right, they might have to deal with the biggest risk that is now facing Seek, Carsales and REA Group, the owner of realestate.com.au – complacency.As deputy editor Michael Bailey explains, these three organisations have gone from disrupters to market giants in the space of 10 years and have now built monopoly-like positions in their sectors.The internal challenge for these businesses is fighting complacency. The chief executive of REA Group, Greg Ellis, is drilling this message into his people while looking for ways to tweak his business model to better mine the new online rivers of gold.From the outside though, the big question is whether these monopolies can be seriously challenged. Simon Baker, a former chief executive of REA who helped turn the real estate sector on its head, says there is no point taking on the company in Australia – years of work and millions of dollars would give you little return. Baker knows the sector better than me, but I’m never prepared to write off people like him – the disrupters who keep reinventing business.

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