The bane of any startup founder’s existence is the emergence of competitors, or the discovery of competitors after dreaming up an amazing idea. It can certainly be discouraging to find out there are other people out there as brilliant and creative as you are, but there are many advantages to having competitors that most people never discuss. Here are a few of my favorite things about having competitors:
1) Competitors validate your model and niche/market.
The big buzzword nowadays is “disruptive ideas”…projects and startups that flip a market on its head and make everyone see things in a totally different way. It’s extremely difficult to predict whether a disruptive idea will actually stick and take hold, and even harder to test such a belief. So this often leads to people believing in and launching projects and ideas into markets that literally don’t exist.
The Lean Startup movement is all about testing your niche or market thoroughly before actually committing time and money and effort into actually building things out. This is smart. The simplest, easiest way to test a market? Look for competitors. Look for companies that have done something similar to what you’ve had in mind, see how they’re doing it, how people like it, how much they charge. Dissect them. Then make them your bitch.
2) They give you something to beat.
The beauty of competitors is they set the bar for you. Sometimes that’s impossibly high (trying to beat Google in search) or crazy low, but regardless, the bar is set. It gives you something to keep in the back of your mind when you’re busting ass on your startup.
The important thing to keep in mind here is that you should not spend your time trying to catch up to your competitors. You should have your own independent roadmap, you should have intimate knowledge of what you want to build and why it makes sense, and you should simply have your competitor’s progress in the back of your head as you execute. You are you, not your competitor. Never ever ever define your product in terms of a competitor. Use a competitor’s progress as a motivator to crush kill and destroy.
3) They make you look great when they fuck up.
When you’re building your startup, your only goal should be to build the best damn thing on the market. It should be shiny, it should be fast, it should be easy to use. It should be better in every way than your competitor, and that includes providing great support, having great up-time, fast response times to emails, and all in between. When you have no competitors, you are on an island when things go bad. You’re setting your own expectations for your customers.
But when you have competitors, their slip-ups and shortcomings become your selling points, whether you ever talk about it or not. As you start to grow, you’ll see people bring up your competitor’s mistakes on forums, twitter, blog posts, and everywhere else and that becomes a perk for you. You’ll see people compare your product to your competitor’s simply because they screwed up and you didn’t.
Remember to stay the course though and make sure to not use your competitor’s screw-ups as your own selling points directly, as that can come off as petty and scare away new leads for your product. Be professional and let your competitors go down in their own fire and fan the flames by doing a better than great job with your product.
4) They give you ideas to
steal improve upon.
Let’s be honest: people steal ideas all the time. They’re out there, they’re public, you can stare right at them, use them, test them, and ultimately copy them.
Verbatim copying of your competitor’s ideas is a bad idea. People will notice this. It will get awkward. So the thing to do here is to “meet and exceed”. Look at what your competitors are doing and if it makes sense to add to your product, do it better than they did. Make it sexier, make it simpler. Make your customers go “yeah, well Competitor has that too, but these guys do it so much better”.
The thing to remember is that you won’t take a competitor’s customers simply by cloning their service. You have to give their customers a compelling reason to switch. People are complacent, they don’t like to switch. But they also don’t like it when everyone else’s toys are shinier than their toys. So if you make something more kick ass than your competitor, that will make them jealous and help lure them over.
5) They make mistakes for you so you don’t have to do it yourself.
Have a new idea for a feature or addition but not sure if it will crash and burn? You can move forward and toss it out there and see if it sticks, or you can sit on it for a second and research the current market to see if others have tried it already. See if people are using it or just ignoring it. Let your competitors spend their time and money screwing up so you don’t have to.
Obviously this strategy doesn’t work if the idea literally doesn’t exist except in your mind, but you’d be surprised how many ideas have already been executed in the majority of niches. Startup founders are compelled to keep adding features to their product because they think features = progress = new customers. But sometimes, it’s better to just log all of your ideas and sit on them for a bit, and spend the rest of your time simplifying and streamlining your product, optimizing your funnel, reaching out on popular social media channels, or maybe running some webinars.
Similar to point #3, you can oftentimes benefit from your competitor’s failures. That’s a beautiful thing.
6) Rarely does one company utterly dominate a niche.
People are inherently afraid of competition. The high of coming up with a new, never-before-seen idea can be so easily destroyed by finding out someone is already executing it. So many times have I had my close friends threaten me with death to keep their million dollar ideas a secret because they’re afraid of someone stealing it. All I can do is LOL at such a request. The bottom line is that if you have an idea, and you start executing and then eventually launch, as soon as you are public, someone WILL be coming after you. The day you launch is the day you put a target on your back. So you better not be living in fear of competitors because they ARE coming. It’s just a matter of when.
But even if competitors are coming and they could eat into your market share, it’s not the end of the world. Nearly every single niche ever has a few companies competing in it. And rarely is a niche completely and utterly, 100% owned by a single company. There’s always a way to improve on someone else’s ideas or features, to beat them with your offering in terms of volume or price, to be faster or simpler or sexier or whatever. Don’t be scared, be better.
The simple take away here is no one ever succeeded by being afraid of their competitors. Even if you build a product for a niche with no other competitors in it, the very act of publicly launching will create competitors eventually. In order to succeed, you have to constantly be confident in the fact that you are the best option on the market, you have to be the best in every regard. Let your competitors beat themselves by trying to catch up to you.