By Chris Herd
Any founder worth their salt — who has grown their company to any significant scale and experienced any semblance of success — will tell you that one of the leading indicators that their startup has got any chance of success was the day they realized they had copycats.
Welcome them like a sibling replicating your style. They might resemble you but they will never be you.
Enjoy the flattery then continue revolutionizing. Copying a product is the biggest compliment another founder can give you. It’s a veiled confession of superiority which acknowledges their own inability to innovate.
The platitude that everything is in the implementation has never been truer.
But there is a key element of that which people never realize of misunderstanding: as critical to the development of any product is the learning that went into its development. The failures you overcame, the reasons for the specific choices that were made that led to the product or service you offer today.
It’s the equivalent of getting marks for your working in a Mathematics examination.
While you have the working and the answer, the startup ripping your idea off only has the answer and understands nothing about the question or the struggle to get there.
Where you have iteratively developed your startup over time, internalizing the lessons of what has worked and what hasn’t, NewCo hasn’t and will often be sentenced to explore and repeat the same mistakes you did.
During this process, they are unlikely to persist as their passion is misplaced.
You must relentlessly stick to your mission and not be distracted.
Even if you both start out from the same place, the likelihood of you reaching the same endpoint or progressing in the same direction is unlikely.
But make no mistake about it, competition is an existential threat.
Competition is war, but it provides validity to your argument. Competitors bring validation of ideas and increase focus on unloved spaces.
When you have those replicating your efforts you know what you are producing is resonating with a wider audience.
Double down and get back to it.
Focus on your key advantages, batter down the hatches and blow them away.
If you have existing users/customers renew every focus on over-delivering at every opportunity. Your customers are the lifeblood of your future success and a resource that should be exploited for learning and teaching at every opportunity.
Start talking to them more; you should have more users to interview if you are the incumbent which is a massive advantage. Understand your advantages and start putting them to use.
Do you have more users, a wider customer base, more financial resources? Whatever it is work to your strengths, understand your weaknesses and exploit theirs.
Get dirty and renew your love for the problem you are solving. Competition should sharpen your mind not dissuade you from participating.
Remember though competitors can win.
Competitors should eradicate any and all complacency.
You won’t be the only fish in the pond any longer.
But the pond will be expanded.
As your market gets more public acclaim those other fishes are understandably trying to steal your lunch.
You may start out as the big fish in an increasingly large pond, but to stay at the top of the food chain, you need to continue to offer the best service/product.
The old adage of a new company having to be 10x better in order to encourage customers might be true when a company is an established brand, but at the early stages, it is an empty moat you can’t hide behind.
The ease in which users can download an app and delete it should frighten us all, but it is also our greatest strength. Continue to wow your customers and they will remain.
Remain abreast of your competitors’ developments and continue to produce. Make sure they always remain the ones who are striving to keep up.
It would be a mistake to panic and over commit resources to watch them.
It would be equally as large a mistake to ignore them completely.
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” ― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
That is the nature of entrepreneurship.
Continuous existential threats that must be navigated with grace while continuing to offer an increasingly superior service, both to what you offered previously and what your competitors seek to replicate.
So embrace those who copy your work. Thank them for the motivation and put it to work. You now know your business has merit. Now it’s your responsibility to respond to the challenge and excel.
If you can’t handle the fight don’t put on the gloves.
If you are it’s time to start swinging.