I’ve noticed a tendency of some early stage tech companies to be excessively distracted by what their competitors are doing, or what they think they are doing.
Understanding the landscape and differentiating your product – or approach to the market - is of course essential and there could be a number of areas of head-on competition. Competing for key words on Google as key distribution channels are examples of these.
But, the overriding focus of the CEO must be the customer/user not the competitor.
The questions to be answered are:
- · What is our real mission
- · What would make a better experience
- · How can we deliver our service/product better, cheaper, faster? Than we are currently doing.
My own experiences have brought home the importance of this focus.
Joe Corre, co-founder of Agent Provocateur, never looked at a competitor’s product! I well remember the occasion that a new member of the design/marketing team went out and bought a pile of competitor’s bras for price, quality comparison. Joe absolutely flipped and practically threw both the offending garment and the unfortunate member of staff out of the office. He and Serena, his partner, had our clear vision of what the product should be like and they wanted no distraction of that vision.
This may be extreme but during my 5 years I was associated with AP I was able to see firsthand how this unfettered vision was instrumental in making AP one of the worlds admired fashion brands.
Steve Jobs at Apple clearly comes from a similar school.
Wonga, one of Europe’s start-up superstars, was founded and is run by two entrepreneurs (Errol Damelin and Jonty Hurwitz) who designed their business, product and service without any regard to competitors but rather by recognising a consumer need and filling it with precision and dedication to a great user experience.
The same can be said of Daniel Ek at Spotify.
Look around and I’m sure you’ll recognise the characteristics in most of the great new companies.
Great entrepreneurs and companies don’t spend large amounts of time and money refining and defining nuances of differentiation from competitors or indulging in feature wars with them.
Quite often the real competitor is NOT the other on line (or pure play) company but the off-line incumbents putting the user at the centre of the thinking, immediately flushes out who the real competitor is.