Rarely in business do you find yourself in the luxury position of having no competition whatever. Even companies that we typically think of as being sole players still have to be wary. Take Facebook, for example. Here is a corporation that has had very little direct competition for several years now, ever since MySpace stopped being a thing. But it’s still got to be careful. LinkedIn is snapping at its heels in the business market. And Instagram is doing a great job with visual content, sucking some users away.
Competition in business is never predictable. If it were, then it wouldn’t be so disruptive. Companies try new things all the time. And the actions of a company in your industry could impact your business in a big way. There is no established formula for dealing with competitors. But there are some strategies you can follow to get ahead of the competition. So what should you do?
It would seem as if the market were impenetrable for new startups wanting to make their own bikes. But that’s not entirely accurate. Zach Schau is the entrepreneur behind a California bicycle startup called Pure Fix Bicycles. The company was only founded six years ago. But since then, it’s made significant inroads into the bike market. How?
The first thing Zach did was start eyeing up local sports retailers. He knew if he could get his product onto the shop floor, he’d have some traction. But how? Zach started showing off his products at trade fairs. While he was there, he got talking to the sports store’s CEO. As it turned out, the CEO loved his product and Zach took his opportunity. How would he like to stock Pure Fix bikes in his shop? Very much, as it turned out. And now this startup bike company bikes can be found on shop floors.
What this episode shows is how important it is to take risks. Schau knew he had to take a risk, because if he didn’t, somebody else would.
We all know that packaging can be super important for businesses. But many small businesses don’t have the in-house capability to do a good job of it themselves. Packaging and distributing products is a complicated task. And to do it well really requires the touch of an expert.
Tamara Monosoff, who ran an online business from her home, realized she had a problem when her daughter couldn’t use her bedroom. She had products scattered all over the house and there simply wasn’t anywhere for here to live. Order fulfillment had taken over her home and her life.
For Tamara, this was in many ways a good thing. After all, she would prefer that orders come in than not at all. But she realized that she was spending so much time packing and shipping her business was suffering. After months of living with boxes filling every room, she decided enough was enough. Rather than build her own packing and distribution network, she went to a fulfillment service. The fulfillment service took over her business’s packing and distributing function. And, finally, she was able to reclaim her home.
More importantly, however, she was able to get a leg up on the competition. It turned out that by using a fulfillment service, she could get hold of the same quality of packaging as the big players. Her product looked and felt as it if had come from a huge company rather than a lone entrepreneur.
But it doesn’t stop there for startups. Because fulfillment services can integrate with existing distribution models, they’re very accessible. If you ship with eBay or Amazon, these fulfillment houses simply layer their services on top. You get to keep your existing business model. But you benefit from having an expert doing the work for you on the ground.
Focus On Yourself
It might sound a little strange to suggest business beat the competition by focusing on themselves. But this is precisely what Steve Blank thinks they should do. Blank is an upstart and controversial Silicon Valley entrepreneur. His advice is not to worry about what the competition is doing. If you are worried, you’ve already lost he says.
He takes a different approach. He would prefer it if companies focused more on sleuthing and keeping an eye on the competition. It’s not so that you can change the way you operate at a moment’s notice. It’s that you can pinch their ideas, he says, when they’re better than yours.
Grab A Strategic Partnership
Catapulting a startup from obscurity is difficult. But when you’ve got an innovative product with no competition, it’s an imperative. Why? Because there’s a chance that the competition in the space will introduce their own product. And, thereby, render yours obsolete.
This was the risk facing entrepreneur Lisa Lavin. Lisa is the CEO of a pet product company from Minneapolis. She had the idea of building a tool that people could use to interact remotely with their pets. Owners could watch their pets and deliver treats through a smartphone app.
When she had the idea, there was no other competition in the marketplace. But she knew that it would only be a matter of time. As a small company, she knew that delivering her product to market quickly would be tough. And so she resolved to build a partnership with another company. In other words, she hitched a ride.
Lisa chose to work with a pet food store in Minnesota called Tuffy’s. Tuffy’s decided that they would market the device using a pet food treats. They agreed with Lisa to only sell proprietary treats with the device. Thus, Lisa managed to use Tuffy’s marketing power and distribution network to her advantage. Without their help, there is no way the product would have made it to market in time. Though she had patents on her product, Lisa was glad she took the opportunity when she did. It would only be a matter of time before somebody tried to copy her idea.