Alex's Tech Thoughts

Competitors- Jealous, Nervous or Ready For Battle

You can tell a lot about companies by how their employees respond on Twitter to competitors’ announcements. I’ve seen everything from jealousy and nervousness all the way to battle cries from top management down to junior employees. This post isn’t to say what is right or wrong, just an observation (my personal opinion is to ignore commenting publicly about such things- however, it is okay and even necessary, to defend yourself to naysayers).

One of the most notable competitor call outs was a few months ago when Yelp’s board member Keith Rabois made a swipe at Foursquare. Dennis, Foursquare’s CEO, jumped in to defend his company and sort of mustered up a battle cry for his team (telling Rabois that he is going to make his tweets look foolish). Rabois probably thought his tweets were amusing, the problem was that everyone who commented on them could see clear as day a Yelp board member nervous about Foursquare. It makes sense. Foursquare is mobile first, social, lots of developers using their API. If I were Yelp, I would be scared too.

Bottom line: I recommend shying away from publicly commenting about moves competitors make. There is never anything good that can come from it. You will probably come off as some variation of jealous and nervous (even if you are not). Always and I mean always, defend yourself if a competitor calls you out.

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Competition Jealousy Nervousness Rallying The Troops
Calling Out A Competitor

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I recently saw a company in a very crowded space tweet something negative about their competitor. The first thing I thought was, damn, this company must not be very comfortable in their own skin. They are scared.

It’s the same thing I thought when I saw the Keith Rabois, Yelp board member, negative tweet about Foursquare. Yelp must be nervous about Foursquare (and they should be. Foursquare has better data and is more mobile friendly).

Long story short, don’t tweet anything negative about a competitor. There is no upside and it shows fear.

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Competition Crowded Spaces foursquare yelp
Being Competitive

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This past weekend everyone was talking about Michael Jordan’s 50th birthday. There was a great piece in the ESPN magazine about what he is up to now. One of the main points of the article was about how competitive MJ is.

I definitely identified with that part of it. There are a few levels of competitiveness, some are healthy, others are not. There are also other factors, innate talent for one thing. You can be immensely talented but not have the get up to be competitive as hell. On the flip side, you could be born with average skills and get better and better because you go out and give it your all (high competitive level).

MJ is the latter. He was born with a high aptitude for basketball (but maybe not the innate skills of someone like Tracy McGrady). But because he was so competitive, he became the greatest.

It’s the same thing in any field. You want to be competitive. Go out and give it your all. Put it all out on the table. Being competitive is good for everyone, but remember why you are being competitive. To win. Don’t forget that. Don’t let petty things get in the way. No excuses. Just win. Always remember to win, win, win.

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MJ competition
Use Your Competitors’ Products

Every once in a while I hear about a company making sure their executives aren’t active on their competitors sites (think Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google). I think this is a terrible mistake.

If anything, you should be the most active user of your competitors’ products. You should understand what works, what doesn’t, and how you can continue to make your product better than theirs.

You can’t truly comprehend your competitor unless you are a user of their product. This doesn’t mean you need to publicly blast out promotion for your competitor’s product, but make sure you use it like a typical user would. One additional user is not going to make a difference for your competitor, but it will make a difference for your business.

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competition product
Embrace Competition

I’ve come to embrace competition in the past few years. I used to be terrified of it. In college, I was working on a business with two friends and every time we would see another company doing something similar we freaked the F out. We were young and stupid, we didn’t understand that competition is validation. Validation tells you that what you are doing is worthwhile. 

If you can’t find one company doing what you are doing, then there is something off. I repeat- if you cannot find one other company that is trying to do the same thing you are doing (i.e. going for the same end-game, maybe in a different way) then something’s not right.

Why isn’t anyone doing it?

Have people tried and failed?

Where are your competitors right now? How far along are they?

Do they have users/customers? Where do you stack up?

If you can learn to embrace competition, rather than being scared by it, long-term you will be in a much better position. You wont even consider giving up when you see a competitor drop an article on TechCrunch, it will actually propel you to work harder.

Just remember Facebook wasn’t the first social network. Youtube wasn’t the first video sharing site. They just did it better than anyone before.

So stay focused, build great things, and don’t let competition bring you down. Embrace it.

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competition startups