Every startup has competition. In fact, I can virtually guarantee you that someone is already working on your idea. And you know that you can’t go into an investor pitch and say, “We don’t have any competition.” That’s completely untrue and sends horrible signals to investors.
But who is your biggest competitor?
Most startups have several other startups (at least!) playing in the same space. But I don’t necessarily consider them real competitors, unless one of them has real market traction. If you have a bunch of startups all roughly at the same stage and none of them owns a significant piece of the market, they’re not really competitors. They’re creating a lot of noise, most likely distracting you and scaring you (this is the “holy crap reaction to competition!“), but they’re not hardcore competitors. You still need to demonstrate an understanding of these players and the overall market, and start to differentiate yourself from them (for your own benefit and when pitching investors), but you can’t get obsessed with them.
The real competitor you need to obsess over is the dreaded “doing nothing.”
“Doing nothing” is even worse than the good enough solutions provided by big competitors. “Doing nothing” is right at the very root of human nature: laziness, uncaring, “meh.”
Chances are the real alternative to your solution is “doing nothing” and not another competitor (startup or otherwise). Changing behavior is hard. Being haphazard about how you go about changing people’s behavior will kill your startup. You have to be methodical, analytical and totally focused on getting people to do what you want. You have to be 100,000x better than the alternative: doing nothing.
I’ve rarely seen “doing nothing” or even “the status quo” listed as a competitor in startup pitches – and maybe that’s because everyone recognizes this as obvious, but then startups go off and build products, provide solutions and try to sell customers without a strong enough value proposition to justify action. So customers sit and wait, maintaining the status quo of doing nothing and getting psychologically further away from being interested and motivated to do what you want. More than anything, startups need action. Even if people aren’t using your product quite the way you want, or they’re not using everything, or they’re not sticking around long enough, out of the gate you need action. Without any activity you can’t learn and iterate fast enough. But even with early adopters, you need a compelling enough value proposition to get them moving, to turn inaction and doing nothing into action.
“Doing nothing” is probably your biggest competitor. That’s where you need to put most of your focus, not on other startups in your space.