CEO’s Blog – Don’t look at the competition; it’s beneath you
As an entrepreneur, you are always fielding questions about your plans for the business and growth strategy.
One question that comes up again and again is: who are your competition and what are they doing better than you?
I hate this question. In all my years as an entrepreneur, I have never once tried to copy a rival product, or pretended to be a customer to get access to a sales deck. I have always felt it unethical to obtain this kind of information – especially through underhand means. More than that, it damages your own brand to be too focused on what other companies are doing.
For me, the competition is a distraction that I don’t need. Their plans, their goals, their products, are nothing to do with us. If we start trying to look at all the rival platforms out there, and try and shoehorn things we like into our own system, we risk destroying the beautiful technology we have created.
I don’t wilfully ignore rivals. I talk to our customers about what they want and systems they have used. This means that I’m hearing about competing brands anecdotally, and constantly trying to ensure that our system is the best on the market. But my focus remains zeroed in on BigChange and making small improvements to what we have built.
Obsessing about the competition is the worst thing an entrepreneur can do. While you are trying to copy someone else, they are forging ahead. You never know what the next release will look like – what they’ll add and take away, and why.
Entrepreneurs who try and gain intel on competitors don’t get the full picture. So often, a huge part of what makes a brand exciting and popular is its customer service: how the company supports the product and the way the customer relationship is managed. You can’t accurately assess that from a slide deck or quick demo.
If you knew every detail about all your rivals in the market, maybe you wouldn’t bother to try at all. You can be blinded by information, and overwhelmed by all the spin out there.
As BigChange grows, we will have to be more open with our own systems and expect that the competition will know a lot about us. Companies like Salesforce let you download a trial version of their software for free. It has nothing to hide. We want to be that big someday. If we are afraid of what people will see, then we will be in a pretty bad position.
I’m in the US again – Seattle, this time. As I scan the shelves in Whole Foods, I see hundreds of versions of the same product. If you want eggs, they come in 50 breeds, colours and qualities. The drinks fridges are packed with soft drinks, all just slightly different. Ultimately, the customer benefits from more choice and variety, and all these drinks companies are successful.
As an entrepreneur, you have to believe in your own vision, and back your own offer. That’s not possible if you’re always watching other people, terrified that they are doing things better or faster.
Luckily, I’ve never been afraid of a little healthy competition. I barely remember it’s there. There’s no point looking in your rear-view mirror when you’re miles ahead of everyone.