Plan for Your Competitors’ Vision, Not Their Reality

From day one Workstreamer has been very focused on the process of Customer Development. We’re competing in a very large market filled with a variety of legacy products as well as an increasing number of new entrants looking to re-segment and disrupt old ways of doing things. In a highly competitive or burgeoning market it can be disarming to see new entrants burst onto the scene or read about incumbent competitors scoring large new rounds of financing. At Workstreamer have the good fortune to believe that our approach and features (yet unannounced, but currently in heavy beta usage) provide us a true competitive advantage over the competition. However, we are very cautious to avoid a common trap: becoming complacent by planning for the competition’s reality rather than its vision.

What do I mean? When a startup first conceptualizes a product, the team normally has a vision for what problem they’ll be solving and how they will solve it. This vision is often large in scale and hugely ambitious. However, Rome wasn’t built in a night. Thus, executing on this vision becomes a game of engineering small chunks, launching, getting feedback and then engineering some more. Achieving a vision is an iterative process and as the environment changes, so to will that vision.

Un-launched startups enjoy the ability to be small and hugely agile. However, once customers enter the mix, the scope and the build cycles (i.e. executing on the vision) are slowed dramatically as customer usage leads to a whole new set of variables. As a result, a trap (or shadow belief) for un-launched startups is to assume that the competition is light-years behind, lacks some insight, ingenuity or innovation simply because they don’t currently have a particular feature or approach. As an un-launched startup it’s all too easy to find one’s self executing on a road map that only assumes a competitor’s reality (their current product offering and features). Such assumptions are lethal; startups must assume the competition is always a day away from launching the same thing.

Emerging startups (ourselves included) must remember that the competition also has grand visions. While we may think we have a competitive advantage in terms of an ability to rapidly execute and gain first mover advantage, the reality is that incumbents enjoy the true trump cards: a user base and a track record. At the end of the day ideas are worthless in our space. To be a true innovator involves not only having a great idea, but having the ability to execute on it. To remain a step-ahead, startups must plan and execute against the competition’s vision.

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