Fail Fast. Start-Up Mistake #3: Obsessed with the Competition

Posted by Jessica Gulick on May 15, 2017

Fail fast has become an innovation mantra in the digital age, the idea being to adapt products quickly to the market or cut your losses. However, as an owner or founder, your capital and your professional reputation are tied up in your new venture, so failure is not an option. In this blog series, we look at start-up mistakes that can cause you to fail fast...and not in a good way.

You love to hate them—competitors that is. You dove into the market knowing your solution or innovation was uniquely positioned and then THEY came along trying to woo your best clients and prospects. You think their service is inferior. Their solution a pale imitation of yours. Their spokesperson a shyster. And maybe, like Ricky Bobby from Talladega Nights, you believe, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”

We see it too often, especially in teams that are creating new markets—company leaders become obsessed with the competition. Instead of understanding that new entrants provide market validation and consequently using the competition to sharpen their value proposition, these leaders squander time and opportunity pursuing petty rivalries.

If nobody is competing in your space, there's a very good chance the market you're going into is too small.

First, it’s important to get some perspective. If there was no competition in your space then your defined market was probably too small. This is especially true in cybersecurity where you are creating markets to serve needs that your customers didn’t know they had.

You don’t have to openly thank your competitors, but be grateful that your market is large and lucrative enough to attract attention. Then capitalize on this increasing attention to build buzz and underscore your unique selling proposition.

It’s getting personal.

Your obsession with the competition is unhealthy if it becomes personal. Having an adversary drives you to succeed. Having multiple helps create energy and buzz for new market segments. However, if you’ve given them nasty nicknames that you’ve starting quoting in interviews or are constantly putting new pictures on your dartboard, it’s time to consider therapy.

It’s healthy and helpful to know those in your space personally. Your competitors are some of the few experts in your field—they can validate your market assessment, or attract additional media attention for the niche you both occupy. Regardless, you’re bound to see them often. Study and learn from them to help differentiate your message and attract buyers. But don’t waste energy in hating, dissing, and obsessing about them.

A rising tide lifts all boats.

Undoubtedly there will be poor ideas that get funded or overvalued. However, as an idiom often attributed to JFK says, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” When your market area is performing well, typically everyone in it benefits, including you.

This is especially beneficial when it comes to marketing. As your competition heats up, you can pivot your strategy and tactics to use your marketing dollars more effectively. For instance, as the tidal wave of interest in your market grows, it becomes easier to earn free and credible media coverage for your brand, solution, or issue.

Don’t foster an unhealthy obsession with your competitors. Focus on healthy competition—and then innovate, differentiate, and dominate.

Growth hackers for hire.

Ready to compete more effectively? Let’s talk. At Katzcy, we’re proven growth hackers and offer a broad portfolio of services including market strategy and planning, brand development, market assessment, and campaign management. Whether starting up or scaling up, let’s talk about ways to compete effectively and accelerate your success.

1 Ben Yoskowitz, partner, Year One Labs.

Topics: Long-Term Growth, Growth Hacking, Start Up, competition

Written by Jessica Gulick