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April 17, 2021

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Strive to Evolve, Innovate, Improve — and Find Disruption

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Disruption, specifically in business, is the radical change to an existing industry or market due to technological innovation. However, the big secret about disruption is this: In reality, disruption doesn’t happen radically. It happens incrementally.

When we think about disruptive technologies or inventions, we want to believe that Thomas Edison woke up one day with the idea of the light bulb and then—bam!—two weeks later, he built a functioning light bulb. But that’s not actually how it worked.

Over the course of several years, Edison and his team of associates tirelessly worked to develop an efficient source of electric light. They spent countless hours working on at least 3,000 different theories across 6,000 different types of filaments. It was only by learning from those continued incremental improvements, along with endless persistence, that yielded the first functioning light bulb in 1879.

If you research search engines, social networks, or electric cars, you’ll find the same thing. Iterative processes combined with a relentless focus lead to disruptive innovations.

It’s that simple. It happens to be true in business as well. Want to build a great business? Simply wake up every day relentlessly focused on improving your business.

You might be asking, “Why doesn’t every business do this?” Imagine getting up every day and focusing, relentlessly, on the areas of your personal life that you know could be improved, improving those areas, and then focusing on the next area that could use improvement, over and over again. Every single day.

Great businesses start each day by seeking to improve some part of their business that’s not so great, not running optimally, not growing or not progressing. Then, with endless persistence, they focus on improving those areas. Every business doesn’t do this because continual improvement is exhausting work.

ZoomInfo is a great business. We grow top line revenue 40+% a year. We do that efficiently, and as a result, profitably, and we provide our customers with an innovative, technology-first solution. That efficient, innovation-first model has equipped us to meaningfully impact the communities we work in, the employees we rely on, the shareholders who believe in us—all while re-inventing the future of sales and marketing.

But we didn’t get here overnight.

Over the last 14 years, we’ve spent countless days, nights, and weekends contemplating innovative ways to help business-to-business sellers and marketers find, engage, and close business with their next best customers. Early on, these solutions were as simple as manually compiling and delivering highly accurate contact information about professionals at certain companies. Years later, here’s how ZoomInfo has innovated and developed: An evidence-based machine learning algorithm powers the ingestion of millions of unique data sources and publishes the most accurate insights on more than 15 million companies and 130 million professionals. Now that’s improvement!

On top of those unique assets, our engineering teams have developed workflow software that re-imagines the way companies sell and market their products and services. The software leverages the insights our machine learning engines identify to automatically send out emails and queue up calls to exactly the right buyers, at exactly the right accounts, at exactly the right time. Today, more than 400,000 sales and marketing professionals use our platforms to accelerate their companies’ growth.

I’m biased, but I think what we’ve built is significantly disruptive—and those 400,000 professionals likely would agree. But it wasn’t disruptive in 2007, and it wasn’t all that disruptive in 2008 or 2009 or even 2010. It took years of iterating on that manual data collection model. It took years of iterating the user experience, on our own go-to-market model, on customer support and customer service. It took years of tweaking a little bit here and a little bit there and a little more here and a little more there to find disruption.

Disruption doesn’t stop either. Sure, Edison found disruption with an incandescent light bulb, but that led to disruption with the compact fluorescent light bulb, which has led to disruption with LED bulbs. It could have stopped with just incandescent bulbs. But someone woke up every day relentlessly focused on making a better light bulb. Do that every day for long enough, and you’ll find disruption.

Despite what we’ve accomplished so far, I wake up every day focused on things we don’t do well enough, and on places in the business that are not best-in-class. These are different things today than they were six months ago or six months before that. If they remain beyond that, then I’ll know we’re not evolving, and we won’t find disruption.

As I was writing this, a ZoomInfo sales manager sent me a message that included this line: “Have you had a chance to reflect on all the accomplishments you’ve had in 2020? Because so much of you presents as ‘forward march.’”

Yup, that kind of sums it up: Despite the multitude of ways the global pandemic disrupted our lives in 2020, it’s been a good year for the business. Let’s march on.

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