How to DISRUPT Any Industry: A Simple Matrix to Find Hidden Opportunities

Interview with lawyer, futurist and community activist Janet Alexandersson

Janet spends most of her time writing contracts and business strategies, but her biggest interest lies in first principles — how to find gaps that exist in a specific industry in order to capitalize on opportunities.

Her method could’ve saved the taxi industry from being overtaken by Uber and even anticipated the massive success of AirBnB.

Big claims, we know.

But, if you can find the white space that exists within an industry, you can see where there’s opportunity or where competition might be looming.

To start understanding her method, consider this question.

Q: How many problems around the world do you think all businesses are solving? Keep in mind they are solving problems we don’t even think are problems during our daily routine like grabbing a bagel, drinking water, brushing teeth, transportation, etc.

A: Only six problems. S-I-X!

A business is solving 1 (or more) of these six problems: Who, what, where, when, how or why.


These are called the ROOT problems, because every problem can fit into at least one of these archetypes.

1. Who

-Related to people. It can solve the problem of identifying someone with certain attributes and skills, or matching two people through a selection process.

-Recruitment, performance testing, who business is tinder and the olympic games (either a match or who is the best at something)

-The olympics (who is best) and Tinder (who matches with who) are two variations of who companies.

2. What

-Relates to facts. It is either solving the problem of a lack of info or info that needs to be interpreted in some way.

-Explains what happens now, what happened in the past or what could happened in the future.

-An example of a what business is Wikipedia.

3. Where

-Questions concerned with locations, venues, markets, or where to go to get what you need or want.

-A well known where company is Etsy.

4. When

-Deals with issues connected to the aspect of time, therefore clients and customers are curious to when something will take place.

-Businesses that revolve around scheduling or calendars, such as the classic TV Guide, where time is the principle problem.

5. Why

-Gives understanding of why something happens, such as researching behavior analysis, or telling the story of why someone should do something or why we should take a certain action.

-Not many businesses fit within this prototype.

6. How

-Provides instructions or practical information in some way. How to do something or how to make something function.

-Largely tech or software based.

-The largest how organization is the UN — originally created to solve the problem of how to prevent another World War.


For the six different problems, a business can provide up to four solutions. These four solutions aren’t a standard, they are simply an umbrella category that all solutions can fall under.


1. Information — this is an exchange of knowledge, not necessarily showing how to fix a problem, rather it could also just explain a problem. It can be written, audio, or other types of info provided on a topic.

2. Help — this solution provides assistance. The business takes care of the problem for the customer bc they either don’t want to or they can’t do it themselves. Services fall within this category.

3. Tools — someone is providing a tangible product. This is the most common solution. Think: consumer goods, food, etc.

4. Platforms — connect people and things together for a specific purpose. It is arguably the most interesting category. Platforms provide a venue (online or in person) for discussing things or selling things. It helps the customer accomplish a different purpose than most of the other solutions.

Therefore we have six problems with four solutions. All businesses exist within this matrix.

Let’s say that again … ALL businesses exist within the 6X4 matrix.

To use the matrix, choose a company or industry. Then choose a vertical that describes the problem of the industry.

Once you have the vertical, run through the four solutions to see if there are big players in each of those spaces. If there isn’t a player, then this is white space in the industry and an opportunity for disruption.

Example: the travel industry, prior to AirBnB

Industry = travel

Vertical = WHERE

Info = travel guides

Help (service) = hotels

Tools = tents, airstreams

Platform = ?

A platform prior to AirBnB didn’t exist, allowing it to fulfill that need within the travel market and completely disrupt the industry…quickly becoming the leader in lodging that it is today.

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