I love sharing startup ideas and providing feedback to others, but it’s a let down when I hear “Isn’t that idea out there already?” After I process it, I like to take a moment to think about the concept at hand. I almost always come to the conclusion that you can have competition, you just have to do it better.
Some of the best ideas in history were not original ideas but rather innovated ideas that solve a problem better or address new consumer needs. In fact, it doesn’t always pay to be first to market. Here are some historical examples:
Game changing innovation sparked by competition:
Thomas Edison spent the majority of his “career” not always inventing but rather innovating. Edison invented the incandescent lightbulb, but it wasn’t the first method of electric lighting. Arc lamps were the first practical electric light but, to Edison, arc lamps were not ideal. Edison knew there had to be something better, so he tinkered with tons of conductive elements until he stumbled upon carbon, which was a byproduct of his laboratory’s oil lamp.
Edison’s way to deliver electricity to homes and power his new light bulb invention would suffer the first-to-market blues. Nikola Tesla’s Alternating Current would prove to be a much more efficient way to deliver electricity over long distances making Edison’s Direct Current system unattractive.
Marshall Field didn’t invent the department store, in fact, he started working for another dry goods store in Chicago to eventually become financially solvent enough to buy (or force) all of his partners out including Potter Palmer, one of Chicago’s wealthiest socialites and entrepreneurs of the time. Field’s built his dry goods empire around the turn of the century by listening to his customer’s needs and reshaping Chicago’s downtown Loop to anchor at his flagship store. Field created a new type of shopping culture by adopting the motto “give the lady what she wants.” A rather new concept in an era when return policies were not the norm. It was how Field’s did it that reinvented the retail industry of his time.
The retail industry would undergo another significant innovation change towards the end of the 20th Century with the rise of discount stores.
In the 1990s and 2000s, the Field’s empire would lose plenty of market share to rising star concept of the Dayton-Hudson Corporation. (Then owner of Marshall Field’s) This new discount retail concept was the brainchild of Dayton employee John F. Geisse and the first Target store opened in 1962. It would revolutionize the retail industry, yet again, by addressing ever-changing consumer needs and innovative advertising campaigns. The Dayton Hudson Company would eventually evolve into the Target Corporation, and the assets of the “old-school” department store division would eventually be sold off to Macy’s. Ironically, in a similar fashion to how Field bought out his partners a century earlier.
Innovate or die. The lesson take-a-way is your total organization need to be innovative. Make sure your team is enabled to do so.
Google wasn’t the first search engine on the market, but it had advantages that made it attractive enough for consumers to switch. Google’s home page remained clear and ad-free portraying the search engine did “one thing well” and cared about its users enough to not inundating them with advertisements and news. Today, Google does many things well, but it started with a focus on a signature core product.
Facebook wasn’t the first social network and allegedly not even Mark Zuckerberg’s idea. The social network initially scaled by focusing on a rather influential and niche market of college students. It would later open up to everyone but only after finding its voice. Was this a planned strategy or only a accidental growth pattern? Not sure, but it worked for the now publicly-traded Facebook. The first to market MySpace is not even a “thing” anymore.
The only real common denominator among the success stories I listed above is they all consistently put themselves on the front line by innovating and providing excellent products and services. Doing it “their way” was a risk, but it worked for them.
You want competition.
Even as I write this post, I find myself disappointed as I learned a major player in our space recently launched a competing product. It was momentarily gut-wrenching as I examined the product’s web page but what happened after I thought about it? A new idea, a pivot that will hopefully force us to build a better and stronger product that best meets our customer’s needs.
Competition can provide insight into what is right or wrong, it helps validate the concept, and it forces constant innovation. Embrace it and don’t let it stop you.