Start Up Blog

Competitors

Competition is eternally existential. We compete for love, money, attention, fame, wealth, recognition, and sometimes, we even compete for food. Turns out humans aren’t the only species who must to compete to survive. All living things must do it. Even trees in a deep forest compete for sunlight by growing as quickly as possible forgoing width for height.

What I find most interesting about competition is how we or any being chooses to do it. When a competitor catches us unaware, they usually achieve this through  using some form of subterfuge. Like growing in a smaller segment of the market. Focusing on a neglected geography. And the really smart competitors disguise what they are doing so you don’t even see them coming. A little like Google has done to Microsoft who was overly focused on the ‘desktop’, while the world was moving to web app’s and gathering and storing of information externally.

I noticed this phenomenon first hand recently. My business was moving along swimmingly (which in this case is my tomato plantation). As you can see from the photo below. My Roma’s looked healthy and almost ready for the picking:

tomato1

But upon closer inspection a competitor had been eating away at my market for quite a long time without me noticing. Once I turned around the tomato to inspect the back side of them – I was devastated to find my competition. They caught me napping and had a very big impact on my market share. As can be seen here:

tomato4

How did they manage this?

  • The caterpillar was smart enough to attack on the reverse side out of view.
  • His color is exactly the same as the tomato proving an excellent camouflage.
  • He waited till the market was already developed (by me) and the tomatoes had a reasonable size and were worth attacking – in this case risking his life over!
  • In true terrorist fashion he penetrated the market at one entry point and ate it inside out. That is, the caterpillar was so deep inside the market, he was completely out of view.

None of this was by mistake. It has been driven by millennia of evolutionary survival and subsequent genetic coding. Nature is smart.

The implications for startups are many. When we start out to compete, the best thing we can do is replicate what nature does. Stay out of harms way. Stay small and unseen. Try and gain some momentum and size. If we’re lucky will have built our share of the market and be ensconced before anyone notices.

(FYI – I picked the tomatoes, and placed them in another location of the garden to let the caterpillars fight another day – they may just leave some seeds which will flourish next season!)

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6 Responses

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  1. Ross Hill said, on January 7, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    That’s absolutely hilarious… bad luck!

  2. Xavier Shay said, on January 7, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    I love glass-half-full people

    THEY ATE YOUR TOMATOES

    GET ANGRY

    seriously though, well written. I like the ongoing parallels between your garden and start-ups. It’s very zen.

  3. artgra said, on January 7, 2009 at 5:14 pm

    A clever article. And very good advice for those of us starting small and ‘grass roots’ style.

  4. samotage said, on January 7, 2009 at 8:25 pm

    When having many many legs can be a great advantage.

    Top post Steve.

  5. Andre Sammartino said, on January 8, 2009 at 9:53 am

    Surely you can stretch the metaphor to the issue of how to protect yourself more effectively?

    – By creating insurmountable barriers to entry: for the garden some good old fashion netting, for your business IP protection

    – Wiping out the little critters: for the garden some lethal pesticides, for your busienss through lobbying government for licensing or monopoly rights, or via good old fashion kneecapping Sicilian style :)

  6. Rex Chung said, on January 8, 2009 at 7:19 pm

    This is so true. Exactly same conclusions from Harvard’s research!

    http://harvardbusinessonline.hbsp.harvard.edu/b01/en/common/item_detail.jhtml?id=1857


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