Why I Wish My Competitors Well And You Should Too

About This Blog

This site is for  entrepreneurs.  A full RSS feed to the articles is available.  Please subscribe so we know you're out there.  If you need more convincing, learn more about the site.

Community

Google+

And, you can find me on Google+

Connect on Twitter

Get Articles By Email

Your email:

Google

Blog Navigator

Navigate By : 
[Article Index]

Questions about startups?

If you have questions about startups, you can find me and a bunch of other startup fanatics on the free Q&A website:

Answers.OnStartups.com

Subscribe to Updates

 

30,000+ subscribers can't all be wrong.  Subscribe to the OnStartups.com RSS feed.

Follow me on LinkedIn

OnStartups

Current Articles | RSS Feed RSS Feed

Why I Wish My Competitors Well And You Should Too

 

I’m going to start with a story — which includes a confession.

 

When I started my first company, I didn’t start with a grand mission.  The idea behind the business wasn’t transformational.  It wasn’t going to change the world.  Historians weren’t going to write about it after I was dead.  And all of that was OK.  Even though there was no grand mission — I was solving a problem and meeting a market need that I cared about.  Wait, let me clarify that a bit.  I cared in the sense that if I didn’t solve it, I was restless.  I couldn’t let it go.  I wasn’t satisfied with the way the problems in that industry were being solved and the solutions that other companies were offering.  That’s what drove me for 10+ years with that startup. onstartups competition

It wasn’t until much later (well after I had sold that first company), that I gave the topic some additional thought.  How do you know whether or not you care about the problem you’re working on?  Here’s my litmus test:

1.  Define the problem you’re solving in reasonably broad terms.

2.  Answer yes/no:  If the problem was somehow magically “solved” (to your satisfaction), but you weren’t the one that solved it, would you be fine with it?

Let me clarify by shifting back to my story:  In the niche market I was working in, the problem I was working on was relatively small.  But, if one day, I woke up and learned that somehow the problem was magically solved — even if it was by a competitor, I would have been fine.  A little miffed that they had beaten me, but still OK.  As long as they really solved it.  I could have stopped toiling away the sleepless nights working on that particular problem and I would have found other problems to work on.  The concept here is:  You care enough about a problem that you don’t necessarily mind if someone else solves it.  What really frustrates us entrepreneurs is when competitors win, but they don’t actually solve the problem.

One way to explain this concept better is to look at an extreme example.  Lets say the problem you were working on was curing cancer.  Of course, you’d be passionate about finding a cure.  You’d be working hard.  It’s an important problem, and it’s not surprising that you care.  Now, imagine if you woke up one day to learn that someone else had created a cure.  You’d be glad that the problem was solved — even though it wasn’t you that solved it.  Sure, it would have been great to get the fame and glory, but that surely wouldn’t cause you to wish the other scientists/researchers/doctors ill.  Nope.  You’d wish them well.  Why?  Because fundamentally, you care about having the problem solved.

Now, with my current startup, HubSpot, I’m still passionate.  But the problem happens to be much, much bigger.  This time it’s transformational.  This time it’s a mission.  I’m working furiously on this startup too.  I co-authored a book, “Inbound Marketing” on the topic.  I’m doing a fair amount of public speaking (despite the stress it causes me).  I believe we’re on the path of truth and justice (we’re helping small businesses grow and reducing junk mail, spam, and marketing calls that interrupt you at dinner).  We’re hoping to be the ones that end up transforming the marketing industry.  But, if someone else ends up doing it, and winds up delivering on our mission, well, then, more power to them. 

I care enough about the problem that I don’t mind if someone else solves it.  That’s why I truly wish my competitors well. 

But, just because I wish them well doesn’t mean I’m going to make it easy for those competitors.  After all, like you, I’m an entrepreneur and as such, I’m fiercely competitive.

Summary:  When possible, work on really big problems.  They’re more fun, and it’s easier to get excited.  But, even if you’re not working on a really big problem, it’s OK, as long as you at least care enough about the problem you are solving that you don’t care who solves it.  You just want it solved.

What do you think?

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Mon, Feb 22, 2010

COMMENTS

Man, you are right Dharmesh. This is exactly my feeling about problems I like to work on. Besides, I believe that competition is really an attribute of success. The greatest danger to a startup is not competition, but obscurity. 
(Which I know is the problem that HubSpot is designed to solve :) 
Thanks! 
-Stas Antons 
SmartSymbols Visual Platform

posted on Monday, February 22, 2010 at 3:53 PM by Stas Antons


Competitors keep you honest and without them there is probably not a market worth pursuing. So healthy ones are good to have around. 
 
I kind of agree that if the problem you are working on gets solved, then you should be happy about that but I would rather solve it and reap the rewards.  
 
Big problems have many solutions and if a competitors comes up with a better one than me, then it will just drive me to do better.

posted on Monday, February 22, 2010 at 4:20 PM by Jarie Bolander


This article is truly inspiring. What you are saying so true, by trying to solve bigger problems not only give excitement but high satisfaction, which motivates us to really achieve the goal or wish the best to our competition to do their best as well.

posted on Monday, February 22, 2010 at 4:52 PM by Shivani Mehta


This article is truly inspiring. What you are saying is so true, by trying to solve bigger problems not only gives excitement but high satisfaction, which motivates us to really achieve the goal or wish the best to our competition to do their best as well.

posted on Monday, February 22, 2010 at 4:55 PM by Shivani Mehta


how un-american ... and what will journalists do, who view everything as a win/lose contest? 
 
you are asking for maturity, wisdom, smarts? where will those be found? 
 
lol

posted on Monday, February 22, 2010 at 7:10 PM by gregorylent


Actually, there is another reason, a far more simpler reason, for any business to wish its competitor well.  
 
 
 
For a moment imagine your business had no competitor. What would that mean? It would mean you are operating in a monopoly market, which in itself is hugely disadvantageous. Let me state three reasons why it is disadvantageous.  
 
 
 
One, the customer will be suspicious that she has nothing to benchmark your quality and pricing against.  
 
 
 
Two, in a monopolistic situation, you yourself will inevitably become complacent and slip up on many fronts including innovation and quality control.  
 
 
 
And, three, the government of the day will be after you hammer and tong with 'Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act' or some similar Act that might be operative in your country. (Remember, Microsoft felt the heat of this earlier). 
 
 
 
So it is always better to wish your competitor well. More than that: it is common for similar businesses to get together and form Associations to protect and project themselves.  
 
 
 
In fact, I would stick my neck out and say that competition is essential for a business to thrive.

posted on Tuesday, February 23, 2010 at 12:14 AM by Hirak Sen


Actually, there is another reason, a far more simpler reason, for any business to wish its competitor well.  
 
 
 
For a moment imagine your business had no competitor. What would that mean? It would mean you are operating in a monopoly market, which in itself is hugely disadvantageous. Let me state three reasons why it is disadvantageous.  
 
 
 
One, the customer will be suspicious that she has nothing to benchmark your quality and pricing against.  
 
 
 
Two, in a monopolistic situation, you yourself will inevitably become complacent and slip up on many fronts including innovation and quality control.  
 
 
 
And, three, the government of the day will be after you hammer and tong with 'Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act' or some similar Act that might be operative in your country. (Remember, Microsoft felt the heat of this earlier). 
 
 
 
So it is always better to wish your competitor well. More than that: it is common for similar businesses to get together and form Associations to protect and project themselves.  
 
 
 
In fact, I would stick my neck out and say that competition is essential for a business to thrive.

posted on Tuesday, February 23, 2010 at 12:16 AM by Hirak Sen


(NOTE: Sorry, last two times I tried posting this comment, I got system error messages. So I am trying to post this one last and final time. If the previous two attempts have also been posted, notwithstanding the error messages, please ignore/delete those two). 
 
Actually, there is another reason, a far simpler reason, for any business to wish its competitor well.  
For a moment imagine your business had no competitor. What would that mean? It would mean you are operating in a monopoly market. This in itself is not an advantage, but a huge disadvantageous. Let me state three reasons why it is a disadvantage.  
One, the customer will be suspicious that she has nothing to benchmark your quality and pricing against.  
Two, in a monopolistic situation, you yourself will inevitably become complacent and slip up on many fronts including innovation and quality control.  
And, three, the government of the day will be after you hammer and tong with 'Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Act' or some similar Act that might be operative in your country. 
So it is always better to wish your competitor well. More than that: it is common for similar businesses to get together and form Associations to protect and project themselves. 
In fact, I would stick my neck out and say that competition is essential for a business to thrive.  

posted on Tuesday, February 23, 2010 at 12:28 AM by Hirak Sen


I agree with this wholeheartedly. 
 
I would also like to add something that I've observed recently among some people I've met working on various startups. It seems that people are now naturally or instinctively (even if unintentionally) thinking in terms of whole systems/ecosytems as far as the big problems they are trying to solve. With this type of big problem, often there is no way that one entrepreneur or company can solve the problem, whether they think small or big. Instead, it seems that for the problem to be solved, it would require an emergence of a number of different companies and perhaps other organizations working in concert. 
 
This is just an overall feeling I've gotten by listening to a fairly large number of different pitches over the past year or so and observing certain trends. And I might add that this isn't just inexperienced entrepreneurs trying to "boil the ocean" without a clear addressable market and opportunity. It seems equally prevalent among seasoned entrepreneurs with major successes under their belt. 
 
While my focus has been on the financial system, here are a couple of examples of ideas/visions/"big problems" related to multiple interacting "systems": 
 
http://www.solarroadways.com 
 
http://www.wired.com/autopia/2009/05/the-grid-our-cars-and-the-internet-one-idea-to-link-them-all/

posted on Tuesday, February 23, 2010 at 1:13 AM by David Thomson


Loved this one "What really frustrates us entrepreneurs is when competitors win, but they don’t actually solve the problem." 
 
We see it happening often. Someone beats you purely because he has 100 times more marketing budget and quickly gets the consumer's mindshare. Then it becomes even tougher and more fun!

posted on Tuesday, February 23, 2010 at 1:25 AM by Suryadeep Agrawal


We find, and coach our clients: 
- Any market is way to big, dynamic for one firm. Look at how Microsoft struggles. 
- Pioneering new markets is orders of magnitudes harder and usually fails.  
- Your competitor will understand your business way better than anyone else, especially clients. 
 
In our decades of marketing work we have never met two competing firms that really want, or make money, on the exact same kinds of clients. Remember: rejection is protection. If a part of the market/prospect wants your competitor and not you - they are doing you a favor. 
 
How often have we all focused on the deal rather than a fit? 
 
We are also increasingly focused on granularity in our work and all of the above is even more true.

posted on Tuesday, February 23, 2010 at 3:20 PM by Rich and Co.


We find, and coach our clients: 
- Any market is way to big, dynamic for one firm. Look at how Microsoft struggles. 
- Pioneering new markets is orders of magnitudes harder and usually fails.  
- Your competitor will understand your business way better than anyone else, especially clients. 
 
In our decades of marketing work we have never met two competing firms that really want, or make money, on the exact same kinds of clients. Remember: rejection is protection. If a part of the market/prospect wants your competitor and not you - they are doing you a favor. 
 
How often have we all focused on the deal rather than a fit? 
 
We are also increasingly focused on granularity in our work and all of the above is even more true.

posted on Tuesday, February 23, 2010 at 3:21 PM by Rich and Co.


Business aside, sometimes - you need to appreciate when your competition does well. Being "nice" sometimes goes a long way! 
 
Great take.

posted on Tuesday, February 23, 2010 at 3:48 PM by Websitetranslation24


Business aside, sometimes - you need to appreciate when your competition does well. Being "nice" sometimes goes a long way! 
 
Great take.

posted on Tuesday, February 23, 2010 at 3:48 PM by Websitetranslation24


Business aside, sometimes - you need to appreciate when your competition does well. Being "nice" sometimes goes a long way! 
 
Great take.

posted on Tuesday, February 23, 2010 at 3:49 PM by wt


Business aside - sometimes, one needs to appreciate when the competition does well or achieves something significant. Being mr "nice" aint a bad mentality to have! 
 
 
 
Great article yet again!

posted on Tuesday, February 23, 2010 at 3:58 PM by Website Translation Co


Our competitor’s success and greatness could give us an incentive to work harder and improve our performance.

posted on Tuesday, February 23, 2010 at 4:10 PM by Sandra Melo


Competition is a great spur to continuous improvement. You don't just want to beat the competition, you want to do it better. 
 
Collaboration between competitors is also extremely valuable, as long as it doesn't result in the creation of an effective monopoly.

posted on Tuesday, February 23, 2010 at 4:21 PM by Andrew Knowles


Perhaps I can be the first to disagree a little.  
 
I concur with all the previous remarks - competition is good and necessary, but the idea that as founders we care more about the problem being solved than we do about building a successful building solving the problem presupposes that it doesn't really matter too much personally if we fail (as long as someone else succeeds). 
 
This might be true for a number of (maybe second-time) entrepreneurs, but I don't think it is universally true. It matters a lot to me (and my family) whether I make a success of solving the problem I set out to solve - I can't afford (financially or emotionally) to be always jumping to work on the next thing because someone else got there first. 
 
Perhaps some would argue that I should go and find something more meaningful to work on, but I would argue that not everyone has the luxury to work on those kind of problems. 
 
Perhaps I am missing the point here, but I thought it worth putting forward a counter-argument - I'd be pleased to be re-directed if I'm missing something important here.

posted on Wednesday, February 24, 2010 at 2:11 AM by Steve Wilkinson


Re: "When possible, work on really big problems. They’re more fun, and it’s easier to get excited. But, even if you’re not working on a really big problem, it’s OK, as long as you at least care enough about the problem you are solving that you don’t care who solves it. You just want it solved." 
 
I see your point here. I think my challenge is that often times I care so much that I always want to be the one to solve the problem.  
 
Right now I'm focusing on prioritizing my time and my efforts on the work (tasks) that I enjoy the most. Currently, that's speaking and coaching with a handful of clients. It's when I try to conquer the world that I run into problems.

posted on Wednesday, February 24, 2010 at 8:22 PM by Ricardo Bueno


I kinda disagree with the entire premise of this posting. The problem is with the premise that a business solution can be "solved"....that's just much too simplistic. Name me one business solution that's solved, and i'll tell you how you can do it better. HubSpot isn't "solving" internet marketing...it may be advancing the field and better than the competition, but it will never "solve" the problem. So, wishing your competitors well for this reason makes no sense. 
 
 
 
Instead, forget about what the competition is doing and focus on your own innovation and your own product. It will never be done, only improved...keep trying to improve it every day.

posted on Thursday, February 25, 2010 at 7:35 PM by Michael Hennessy


Re the last comment - Michael, in answer to your question, I suspect there are plenty of examples, but here are a few - Internet search: Google; desktop operating systems: Microsoft; portable music: Apple. The point is that it is next to impossible to compete with these guys because their solution is a) so much better than what went before and b) a good enough answer to people's needs, that the marginal cost/benefit of switching makes no sense to go elsewhere. Of course, there will always be a market for niche players that yields okay (though not massive) revenue, but as far as the market is concerned, those specific problems are already solved. 
In the case of Hubspot, they are genuinely doing something new and naturally want to take the high ground, but it seems that Dharmesh is so passionate about the problem space that he doesn't mind if someone else gets there first. 
(Dharmesh - what must your investors be thinking...?)

posted on Friday, February 26, 2010 at 6:30 AM by Steve Wilkinson


Steve...you've made my point. Google built a better search engine than what existed before...but should entrepreneurs say "Ok, problem solved, onto the next one." ? That would have stopped any innovation in the space such as wolfram alpha or Bing. A couple kids out there might think they can solve Search better...I'd encourage them to do it if they really felt it could be improved (Which it can). Same with The Desktop OS, should developers at Google or Apple throw in the towel because Microsoft has "solved" the OS problem?? 
 
 
 
The answer is obviously no, because technology changes constantly, and the problem is never just "Solved"....only improved.  
 
 
 
If your competitor solves a *specific* problem you were looking to solve yourself, accept it, build that into your own solution and start innovating on top of that. But that's no reason to outwardly be hoping or wishing they did it first. Someone will solve it...and if your an entrepreneur, you should want to do it first.

posted on Friday, February 26, 2010 at 8:10 AM by Michael Hennessy


Good point, but so hard to embody...  
 
Bad competitor are the ones that really get on my nerves. When someone "solves it" with a crappy solution, and every starts praising them and talking about it... that's when I feel the world is not such a perfect place after all :)

posted on Friday, February 26, 2010 at 11:27 AM by Michel Ozzello


I think you make a really good point here, Dharmesh. By truly caring about solving a problem, you don't really have a "hidden agenda" in creating a solution. I also agree with Mr. Ozzello when a crappy solution is praised ... although that can also be an impetus to create a better solution. :-)

posted on Monday, March 01, 2010 at 1:47 PM by Mahesh Raj Mohan


Here is UCLA working paper, supporting your feelings: "Seeking an Aggressive Competitor: How Product Line Expansion Can Increase All Firms’ Profits"  
 
Our Twitter post with pdf link: http://twitter.com/richandcom/status/10129321946 

posted on Sunday, March 07, 2010 at 12:01 PM by Rich and Co.


How intuitively brilliant! It's nice to see that there are still those out there who think great in this "it's all about me world." While I can imagine (to the best of my limited capabilities) how satisfying it could be to "win", the journey is so much more enriching and rewarding. It's whom you reach out to, the relationships you establish, lives you touch, and what you learn along the way (good and not so good, and both about ourselves and others) toward this "success" that make the difference. So, the key is all in the attitude, perspective, and approach. Even those who "fail" can find victory, sometimes more so because failure humbles. And, humility connects us. This is when self-actualization is given a chance to begin. Only by attaining this level of development and achievement are we able to reach our highest potentiality working together as one...toward the goal of common good..... for all humanity, which is the way it should be... As such, leaders lead by example and service. Thank you for doing just that and struggling through those long nights to find the "answer". You have truly spoken to and from the heart. May God bless you always.

posted on Friday, March 12, 2010 at 5:02 AM by HL for GA3


Comments have been closed for this article.