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Why You Want Your Competition To Succeed

Stare Down

When I was in High School I taped a picture of the next guy I was going to wrestle to my bathroom mirror. I stared him down as I scrubbed my teeth every morning. I was on a mission to beat him physically and mentally. It was a winner-take-all world, and I never learned to like losing.

My preparation for a match wasn’t unique. Frankly, I stole it from a cheesy over-watched 80’s movie. I’d bet that 20% of the homes on the block had a similar photo taped to the mirror. One of them probably was a photo of me.

That competitive perspective is beat into many of us, whether athlete or not, from a young age. We’re consistently setup in winner-take-all games in life. You get promoted or he does. You get the A or she does.

Our society figured out long ago that people are self-interested, making competitive dynamics effective at driving performance.

This is why when entrepreneurs land in the founder role they typically start staring down their competition.

While focusing on winning is good, real life is full of shades of gray. In the real world few systems have zero-sum outcomes – many players can succeed or fail simultaneously. For those of us trained to think myopically about conquering our opposition, we might miss an important nuance; while it’s important to out do your competition, their existence and their success is typically good for you and your company.

Put another way, you should try to beat your competition at the same time that you cheer them on. (Who said life isn’t complicated?)

Here’s why:

When your competition succeeds they can help you be more successful. Here are some examples:

  • When your competition teaches customers how to use the new type of service, they make it easier for you to sell. 
  • When your competition validates the business model, it can be easier for you to raise capital from investors. 
  • When your competition achieves liquidity (through the public markets or otherwise), they might want to buy you.

And…there’s another reason. When your competition scales, they’ll likely become bureaucratic making it easier for you to out-maneuver them. If they’re not going to wake up one morning and leave the market so that you can acquire all of their customers, you might just be better off if they succeed to the point where you can beat them.

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