How online-first players succeeded

How online-first players succeeded
SparkOptimus TeamJoris Hulst
Written by
Joris Hulst
The SparkOptimus Blog Team
March 2, 2022
Content of this insight

No industry is safe from disruption. This is because disruptors have consistently found a way – using technology – to serve customers better, faster and cheaper. Over the last ten years industries have fallen one by one: first travel and media, and then retail electronics, fashion, food, and so on; initially in B2C, and then B2B too. This inevitable progression is why companies should focus not on what their immediate competitors are doing in their own industries, but on what happened in other, more disrupted industries to learn how disruption patterns play out. This allows them to look ahead of the game and craft a response. This is a fly-through the journey and the lessons learned from early disruptors, the online-first players.


Successful early disruptors had two things in common:

  • They delivered online customer experiences that were far superior to the offline alternatives e.g. at a time when traditional travel agents were offering long in-shop queues and limited information, delivered 24/7 booking, free cancellation and transparent guest reviews
  • They broke down barriers to uptake e.g. at a time when customers were still wary around online payments, offered payment after delivery

The combination was overwhelming and customers switched en masse to the new online channels, triggering exponential growth among disruptors.

Such growth was not without its challenges however. As the disruptors’ businesses grew, so did their need for more specialist capabilities, more formal structures and more streamlined processes. Similarly, their technology solutions often hit scaling limits, requiring complicated and expensive replatforming. Growth slowed as their first-mover advantage shrank, and many disruptors and their investors started to ask: Are we still moving in the right direction? Where do we find new pockets of growth? What organizational structures and new technologies do we need?


SparkOptimus has worked with many digital native companies, helping them redefine their strategic focus, shape their growth strategies, and overcome scaling challenges. We have coached executive teams, professionalized structures, streamlined processes, onboarded new talent, and aligned business objectives with personal targets and incentives. And crucially, we have improved our disruptor clients’ IT and data landscapes by selecting fit-for-purpose technology solutions to accommodate future waves of growth. Often we were asked to step in temporarily to help manage the change alongside client leadership teams – the best illustration of the hands-on effectiveness of our Sparkies.

Through working closely with disruptors, we have learned the key qualities that define successful ones: an obsessive customer-first mentality, a ‘test and learn’ approach that values data over opinions, and effective organization. These in combination enable them to make disruption work.


In 2010, we helped shape the growth strategy of – in particular the decision to pursue category expansion beyond their initial media and electronics focus to over 40 product categories. Today they are the largest online retailer in the Netherlands and Belgium with >€3bn in annual revenues (~20% of the Dutch ecommerce market). We have worked with multiple further times over the decade, and continue to help drive their ongoing transformation and innovation, thereby extending their leading position.

Emesa, an international online sales channel for the entertainment and leisure industry, came to us in a period of flattening sales. We helped them turn around a 40% year-on-year revenue decline to 10% growth in just 7 months by applying strategic focus, professionalizing their marketing department, introducing dashboards and advanced analytics, and accelerating IT development.

Want to learn more? Connect with Joris Hulst by clicking below.

Joris Hulst
Practice Lead Data & AI

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