Startup Killer #4: Leading by Comparison

If you ain’t first, you’re last. – Ricky Bobby

One of the most dangerous things to any company, regardless of stage, is paying more attention to your competitors than your customers. When you lead by comparison, every TechCrunch article with a valuation number becomes a distraction, every minor feature release from another company tangential to yours becomes an existential threat, and other companies’ cultures become more important than your own. Constantly comparing yourself and your company to the successes of other products and companies is a surefire way to guarantee being behind your competitors.

In the same way that social media has inflated and exacerbated our natural tendency to compare ourselves to the Jones family, it’s done so in the professional world as well. The difference is that in the business world, we aren’t often aware that news articles and press releases are filtered just like our selfies. Often more so.

“But Derek! If we’re not aware of the market landscape, how can we continue to succeed?”, you say. I’ll let Jeff take a stab:

If we can keep our competitors focused on us while we stay focused on the customer, ultimately we’ll turn out all right. – Jeff Bezos

Focus on the customer, not the market. By focusing on customers, you won’t constantly react to what the market is doing, you’ll actually define what the market is doing. By listening to customers more than you listen to the press, you’ll begin making headlines rather than reading them. This is a much better position in which to be as a company.

But it’s difficult: TechCrunch is easier to read than user feedback. It’s far more fun to talk valuations as some kind of measuring stick rather than focusing on one user who thinks that boxes with borders is a dumb design decision. When you’re out with friends talking about your business, they are comparing you against other businesses. Investors are comparing you against other companies. Ironically, leading by comparison requires you to follow industry norms. But it’s vital to your sanity, your team, your customers, and your company that you refuse to play the game. Focus on what matters, and execute.

Don’t worry about your competition; let them worry about you.

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