THE BLOG

Why Every Startup Should Ignore the Competition

06/01/2015 06:20 pm ET | Updated May 31, 2016

I get asked a lot from budding entrepreneurs about how to handle "the competition" in a crowded or fast-growing market place, and I always respond with an answer that may seem counter-intuitive at first:

Ignore them.

That's right. Place as little energy, emphasis and creative capital as possible on your so-called "competition", because thinking about them takes up real estate in your mind that should be spent on strategy, taking care of your team and your customers, and to adding value to your market-space. It really comes down to three core concepts:

1. Second-Guessing Others is a Luxury you can no Longer Afford

As an entrepreneur, you have only a finite amount of time to spend obsessing about the details that will make your company truly great. Worrying about your competitors is an appealing, but low-value exercise, as it doesn't create value. If you're spending your time rolling around in the muck of every new company that claims to have your value prop (but likely doesn't), you're likely missing true blockers - lack of product/market fit, or the urgency and perceived value of the problem that your technology is solving. Or even worse, you're frittering away time that would otherwise be spent strategizing and thinking about the future.

Now I get that this is all easier said than done, and I'm not pretending to be above it all. I run a marketing tech company, and as with most fast growing spaces there is no shortage of companies trying to pretend they do what we do, and trying to steal our customers, prospects and to copy our messaging. Just this week, one such company launched a massive pay-per-click campaign on our brand name, which drove to a landing page that literally lifted words from our website!

This kind of tactic (although frustrating) should be seen for exactly what it is -a significant validation of your space, and a loud, pained declaration of the amount of hurt your success is putting on others in your market. Which should remind you to turn straight back to focus on your product, team and customers, because that's where value is created.

2. Success is not a Zero-sum game

You can spend all your time worrying about competitors, throw all your resources at out-manoeuvring them so as to crush them under the heel of your boot... and then, still lose! Neither your startup nor your marketplace is a zero sum game, and just because you beat someone else, doesn't mean you win. You win when you innovate in the right direction, have a great team, grow the right way and take care of your customers and make them successful.

I see many entrepreneurs become really obsessive about their competitors, and experiencing the highs of winning a customer from them, and then the debilitating, soul-destroying lows when a competitor puts out a press release or product announcement or - god forbid - wins a deal. So much energy can be expended on this kind of low-value obsessing, and this emotional roller-coaster can become a huge distraction. As an entrepreneur, you're already tapped out on many levels from dealing with all the moving parts of your business, it's best not to manufacture additional drama about something that is completely out of your control.

3. Know Enough not to be Blind-sided, then stop

So if you've read this far, then I've made my point and it's safe for me to take it down a notch and say - it's ok to be aware of who might be considered your competitors, but only so you won't be blindsided by their claims. This kind of information will help your sales team answer any "us versus them" questions that may come their way. But then, once you've checked this box, focus back on what's going to make your company great - product, people, and taking care of your customers. "The competition", whoever they might be on any given day, cannot consume more than ten percent of your time, ever - the barest minimum to be able to walk and talk about your competitive space and prevent your business from getting flanked and no more. Period.

If your competitors are spending their time obsessing about you, and you're spending your time obsessing about value creation, you're going to continue to be the better company. You have to keep your eye on the ball, and remember why you started the company in the first place.