Disruptive problems plaguing distruptive businesses


Local resident Harvey Radin has commented several times in the past on the disruption caused by Surf Air.  His recent article appeared in the Las Vegas Business Press.

September 10, 2018 – 4:24 pm

Disruption is thrilling, but there’s also a downside when innovative businesses become mired in disruptive problems. Dockless scooter and bike companies, for example, have to sort things out when people renting two-wheelers leave them scattered along sidewalks. You’re hearing about that as Lime Bike, Bird, Ofo and other companies roll into more cities.

“Although the devices align with local climate action goals and offer an affordable solution for the first and last mile of a daily commute, city officials have said they also create chronic nuisance issues,” according to Fox 5 San Diego.

Ironing out problems is a real pain for business firms. Fixing them can be time-consuming and costly. Companies may have to change procedures, tweak business models and spend time resolving issues with city government officials and activist groups. They may need to bring in legal counsel, lobbyists, marketing and public relations staff.

Human nature seems to play a role in some of the problems plaguing innovative businesses. In a story, last May, about “illegal short-term rentals,” CNBC, reported that Boston was “pushing back against properties being rented out as commercial operations.”

You hear about strangers staying a few days at a time making short-term rental properties seem like hotels. You hear about raucous parties.

Another innovative business model — a membership airline — has been in the news. According to an article in a Northern California newspaper, the Daily Post, the all-you-can-fly airline: “Surf Air began operating out of the San Carlos Airport in 2012, disrupting many residents who live along the planes’ flight path.”

The airline provides service at several airports in California and elsewhere, including San Carlos Airport, some 20 miles north of San Jose.

“Some residents” in one of the communities along the flight path said at a meeting in 2015: “They can no longer have conversations in their homes because of the planes.”

People in at least seven communities have been voicing complaints, according to articles in other news media.

The Daily Post also reported a possible reduction, recently, in the number of Surf Air planes over neighborhoods. The airline has denied “cutting back on flights … but residents say skies are less noisy.”

Whether people filing noise complaints, attending public hearings and holding a protest last year at the airport had an impact remains to be seen.

There’s nothing wrong with disruption. Shaking things up is OK as long as companies thoroughly evaluate how new business models might be perceived by people outside their customer base, and attempt to address problems before they spiral out of control.

Harvey Radin is a crisis communication expert who lives in Northern California. His articles about business, government and public opinion have appeared in a number of media, including Business Insider, Talking Biz News, American Banker, Times of San Diego and regional newspapers.