The idea of your business entering a market that is untouched and untapped is an appealing idea to chase when getting your company off the ground. Startups can be fragile things, and finding a space free of turbulence seems like a great way to forestall many of the issues that can serve to sink others that have tried their hands. In that way, we’re treating our startups much as we often do our children, looking to shield them from the slings, arrows, and pitfalls of the world for as long as we can. And there is no shortage of misapprehensions and misconceptions to avoid, as you can read about here.
The appearance of easy entry into a market can be a siren’s song, however, drawing you in only to throw your business up against the rocks. Too many businesses have taken the path of trying to tap into an untapped market without taking into consideration the unique challenges that can bring, looking instead only towards the big rewards that they expected to reap. Others have seen the opportunity to sidestep competition as the elimination of hurdles altogether, rather than seeing it as choosing a path with its own set of obstacles.
Competition is a challenge for any company, undoubtedly, but not necessarily one that any startup should make efforts to avoid. It can be a cruel business out there, especially when the pursuit of a particular customer base is a zero-sum game, but you have to be willing to tackle in order to survive. After all, you got into business because you believed in yourself and your ideas, and at a certain point you have to have the confidence to put those ideas up against anyone’s in order to let the consumers ultimately decide on their merits.
How then to embrace competition against your instincts? Here are a few tips.
Take competition as validation. Competing firms are an outside force to deal with, but they’re also a confirmation that your ideas are sound, particularly if that competition is well established and had some degree of success. Nothing can breed doubt quite like a singular bolt of inspiration, because at that moment you can’t be sure if that inspiration is brilliant or something else entirely; your “genius” idea might be everyone else’s “harebrained scheme.” Looking at your competition as confirmation of the soundness of your ideas and plans can help you avoid some of the initial nerves that might otherwise occur.
Let competing ideas sharpen your own. The challenge of direct rivals is one way that many of us can push ourselves to be better. Most people have some modicum of competitiveness in us, a desire of varying intensity to outdo others, and those qualities are easily found in those who get into the founder life. Competitors offer us the chance to look at what’s out there in the market and challenge ourselves to do better with our products, marketing, and customer service. Their own innovations and iterations can show us where we’re weak and push us to shore up our deficiencies. As much as we can push ourselves to be better, there’s nothing like an existential threat to our business that competition to provide extra motivation.
Recognize opportunities where they exist. Complacency is the bane of any business, the loss of appetite for success can be deadly. That critical weakness is also a tremendous opportunity for other companies looking to get into the same market. Having a big customer base isn’t the same as having a happy or satisfied one, especially if the product hasn’t adapted or improved with the times. That potential dissatisfaction gives new players the chance to establish themselves in the market by offering an alternative that addresses those same issues overlooked by competitors. By strategically viewing opportunities, you can make others’ relative success work for you.
We would all love an easy path to success with our business, a quick, linear progression that sees us where we want to go with no bumps along the road and no one to challenge our success. And while life is rarely exactly what we want it to be, there’s no reason that we shouldn’t embrace the struggles and obstacles as much as the good times, because it is those struggles that will prove that our idea was ultimately worthy. Competition can serve to frustrate or discourage if we let it, or it can serve as the impetus to create the best version of our company and our product if we embrace it. #onwards.
Mary Juetten is the CEO of Traklight & former CEO of Evolve Law (sold to Above the Law). She is a LegalShield Access Advocate and holds a BComm from McGill & a JD from Arizona State.