Your Worst Enemy Is Yourself

One mistake I see startups make a lot is getting too focused on what is going on around them. They spend too much time trying to figure out what their competitors are going to do. They watch the next hot startup with jealousy and it reminds them of when they were that "shiny new thing" and they want that back.

The reality of startups is that there is so much opportunity out there that if you just focus on what is in front of you, your company will do fine. But focusing on what is in front of you means not focusing on what is going on around you. You need to put blinders on and execute. Do not let what is going on around you whipsaw your strategy and your team.

I am not suggesting that you should put your head in the sand. It is critical to know what is going on in your market. But it is equally critical to have a strategy that makes sense in the context of what is going on and execute it with purpose and pace. If you spend too much time looking over your shoulder, you will not execute well. I've seen it again and again.

So don't let all the news of the day slow you down. Don't let your competitors press releases and launch parties get inside your head. Plan, build, ship, and scale. Assess. Repeat again and again. Win.


Comments (Archived):

  1. Julien

    And don’t surrender too quickly! There is no overnight success, but there is no overnight failure either…

    1. fredwilson

      never surrender unless you are in fact dead

      1. kagilandam

        Damn there is no love button on Disqus.

        1. fredwilson

          i’ll take a like 🙂

      2. Henry Yates

        I love that. I read this this morning – good motivation for keeping going….”If the secret of success lies in forming the habit of doing things that failures don’t like to do, let’s start the boiling-down process by determining what are the things that failures don’t like to do. The things that failures don’t like to do are the very things that you and I and other human beings, including successful men, naturally don’t like to do. In other words, we’ve got to realize right from the start that success is something which is achieved by the minority of men, and is therefore unnatural and not to be achieved by following our natural likes and dislikes nor by being guided by our natural preferences and prejudices.Full post here: http://blog.thedolectures.c

        1. baba12

          I doubt that everyone starts of thinking they are going to fail. But there are certain things that go beyond the following of the process.If you deem going to IIT Kanpur for Electrical Engineering is success then I would say that it is purely applying a formula and balancing the equation.If getting into MIT or Princeton is success again I’d say it is the same apply the formula and balance the equation and you will be there.Getting a startup to be successful is beyond following the formula as there are a whole bunch of variables you and your team don’t control and thus the outcomes are not necessarily defined the way you can by balancing the equation.Those variables are on one side of the equation and as much as you try and balance it out, since you don’t control them it is very difficult to change them to create the successful enterprise.What I would love to know is how do you find ways to mitigate those variables you don’t control do VC’s like Mr.Wilson play a role.

      3. ErikSchwartz

        It is important to recognize real death. Sometimes it is not obvious right away.

        1. fredwilson

          tell me about it

      4. JLM

        Haha, and ALWAYS get a second opinion!

    2. Vitaly Babiy

      You cause the failure if you surrender.

  2. David Semeria

    Either Mark Suster or Steve Blank – I can’t remember which – wrote an excellent post on the reality behind shiny press releases and why you should ignore them.Basically, you look at your competitor’s press releases and think they’re killing it, and they look at yours and think the same.On further reflection, I think it was Suster. It’s an excellent read. I’ll go and find it and update my comment.

    1. fredwilson

      awesomeplease share it

      1. David Semeria

        Tried hard, can’t find it. Sorry.Where is semantic search when you need it?

          1. David Semeria

            Bingo!Either your memory or your search skills (or both) are much better than mine….

          2. rahuliffic

            I remember that specific post because I still worry about (trying to get away from it) what the competition is doing!

          3. fredwilson

            thanks Rahuli will read it tonight

    2. Mark Essel

      It may have been in a comment from Mark. I remember reading it as well. I’ll check luck, disqus could use google and youtube’s real time search or any kind of search.

      1. vruz

        Disqus would indeed be just amazing if they created their own search service(perhaps getting bootstrapped with some open source tool like Lucene or Notch to get started with)

      1. David Semeria

        Rahul Chitrapu found the post I was thinking of – see below.

    3. reece

      most press releases are BS anyway.according to any entrepreneur, their company is the greatest thing since the second-coming…maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but their press release doesn’t matter.what you do is all that matters.

      1. ErikSchwartz

        Don’t react to a competitor’s PR. React to their product.Don’t listen to what their CEO says about their product.Listen to what their customer says about their product.

        1. Eric Friedman

          This is great advice

        2. reece

          perfect summary.a haiku version:Hear not the PRListen not to CEO.Hear all customers.

  3. Donna Brewington White

    Seems like straight ahead is always the best way forward.

  4. OurielOhayon

    This is so true. however i see a limit to that when your company needs to pivot. It requires taking your head really outside the box and the operational funnel and find a new relevant way.Delivering, shipping,…is right when you head in the right direction.

    1. fredwilson

      totallyif what you are doing is not working, then that is a different story entirely

  5. Henry Jacob

    Startups should focus on creating new ideas, and solutions. If you focus too much on others, you might get influenced by their ideas.

  6. Michael Yavonditte

    Great post Fred. This nearly crippled elements of my last team (Quigo) from time to time, even though we grew revenues by more than 50% (annualized) each year for 5 years, eventually to $70M+/year before selling. Because we competed “head to head” with Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, some of my smartest, most capable people, were, at times, paralyzed by the fear that we could not keep the magic going or that we were one dreaded press release away (from Google) of losing all competitive advantage.I had more faith in our innovative spirit, in our team, and in our ability to stay one step ahead.

    1. fredwilson

      that’s a big part of CEO leadership Mikeyou have to lead by example with this stuff

  7. awaldstein

    “Plan, build, ship, and scale. Assess.””Assess” is when your competitors claims intersect with your reality.

  8. kagilandam

    “As a start-up company you should be going on a laser focused path and should be looking at the entire universe”Heard it someone say this in one of the start-up meets.

  9. RichardF

    Great post Fred. It mirrors the chapter in Rework “Focus on You, Instead of They” (which is an awesome book by 37signals and a must read for any entrepreneur imo) .They also have a chapter entitled Press Releases are spam.

    1. garyvaynerchuk

      they are right RF!

  10. Ian

    as a VC have you ever intervened in these situations with portfolio companies? How do you approach it and how do the entrepreneurs typically react?thx!

    1. fredwilson

      Intervention is probably too strong a word. Exhortate might be better

    2. Mark Essel

      This post is that “intervention”. I’d guess that some of Fred and USV’s portfolio companies stop in to AVC from time to time.

      1. vruz

        <snark> Oh no. It’s collusion </snark>:-)

    3. Matt A. Myers

      Everyone needs counseling at times. Whether you have a good network of support, or you have a team of people around you who understand how things work, or investors who pay attention and care who have experience to pass on – everyone needs some talk time.

  11. garyvaynerchuk

    Fred this is a great post, in fact when i was a retailer in the wine space I spent so little time on what the other guys were doing that it gave me time to do marketing moves that were mainly built out to make sure the other guys WERE paying attention to what I was doing.

    1. Matt A. Myers

      Hey Gary! That sounds like something you’d do. :)))

    2. fredwilson

      like football or basketball garyset the tempo, pace, dictate the terms of engagement, lead, never follow

  12. William Mougayar

    So well said, and I’m a firm practioner of that approach.The dogs that bark the most are not necessarily the ones that bite.Customers, revenues and growth speak. The rest is noise.

  13. baba12

    What made you write about this today Mr.Wilson?Did you have a premonition or you had observed this happening within your portfolio and felt the need to try and nip it in the bud by expressing it in this blog post.If everyone followed through on what they read or get advice on one would think they would all be firing on all cylinders, but that never seems to happen.I wonder if it is because the message does not sink in or is it a lot of A.D.D. that causes many to loose focus.

    1. Matt A. Myers

      Fear is behind most things, including sometimes ADD.FIF – Fear Induced Fatigue is a big one. Being frozen from fear..Fear of failureFear of embarrassmentFear of ridiculeFear of loss

      1. Josh

        Completely agree.People love the idea of doing meaningful work but most avoid it because of fear. Busy work is much easier to execute.

      2. vruz

        I agree, Matthew.Seth Godin is tangentially addressing this today, only he is wrong. disagree with his diagnosis though. He is wrong in that he assumes it’s mere laziness and that anyone can be strong just by wanting it.One cannot choose not to have a condition, but one can treat it once it’s identified.And one can plan and delegate to fend off and manage one’s shortcomings.

    2. fredwilson

      bunch of conversations on this topic over the past monthi woke up thinking about itneeded to write it to get it out of my head so i could move on

  14. Matt A. Myers

    So, you’re saying to spend less time reading AVC? ;)I’d like to note though, it can be a good motivator to know that your competitors (who are perhaps multi-billion dollar companies) think your idea is good — and that you’ll be able to put more detail and care into it, and do it cheaper too.

  15. Elie Seidman

    Such an important topic.I’ve found that as a competitive person the hot new startup of the day can trigger the competitive gene. I read something and want to be as successful as that hot new company that did the new deal, raised the big round, etc.. But the reality is that history is not written today. Many of those companies that are hot today will be gone tomorrow so getting my vision of the future from today’s newspaper is a recipe for disaster.Ultimately, comparing business A against business B is something only investors get to do. For me as an entrepreneur it’s a largely fictitious option since I can’t start a new company for every new idea that comes along even if that idea is, in fact, a better idea/business than the one I’m currently working on. And of course, by the time another business has *actually* been proven to be a better business, it’s often too late for the new entrant starting from scratch. Though, of course, following the hot business model is a concept that is alive and well – hence the 10s, if not 100s, of daily deal email lists that have been started (and funded).Investors get to work on maximizing global maxima by finding the best company among many. Many try, few succeed. The downside is that all of those potential options (companies to invest in) can drive the investor to be unfocused. They know a little bit about many things but don’t really know very much about any one. Unwittingly, in the search for the best business, they become momentum investors trying to get into the hot deal of the day in sectors that seem “hot” but about which they actually don’t yet have a deep feel. I believe that my job as an entrepreneur is to focus on creating a local maxima within the opportunity I’m working on and leave the global maxima challenge to investors. I make my money by getting a single, double, triple or homerun in what I’m working on – all of those outcomes make me and my investors money. I’d love to hit a homerun but if the business is only capable of hitting a double or single, that’s also still good. And it’s very rare that a business, properly executed, can’t hit at least a double or single.There is a lot of noise out there in the press and in the blogs and if you emotionally invest in every new trend and meme you’ll get a bad case of whiplash. I’m confident that you implement the newest feature of the day the result will be a product mishmash and two years down the road you’ll have a bundle of stuff that what was hot but that turned out to be only novel, not important. This will have come at the cost of being focused on the the core big ideas that really catapult your own business. You have to keep your own counsel, for better and worse, if you plan to create the future. It’s my job as an entrepreneur to not only see the future but also create it and I can’t do that if I’m also worrying about the five other futures I could be seeing and creating.History is not written in todays newspaper.

    1. Matt A. Myers

      Re: Competition – I regularly remember that I’m aiming to be good enough to get 100% market share but I’ll still be making at least $100,000,000 a year with only 10%.

    2. fredwilson

      great line:comparing business A against business B is something only investors get to do.

  16. pruett

    Thanks Fred. I really needed this! Time to shut off my inbox and news feeds…time to work!

  17. Harry DeMott

    You don’t worry about what your competition is doing, but you are aware of it. You don’t copy features and business plans – but you are informed by them. I think you iterate on your own path only if it is pretty clear that you are missing something that consumers in your space find incredibly useful or important. Just remember, if you are going to swipe features – you had better iterate on them and make them better, easier to use, more functional, simpler, etc…

  18. vruz

    been there, done that. it’s a sort of paranoia that consumes most of your time and it’s just not worth it.making sense of the web and every possible move as if it were some sort of chess game would imply the consumption of a huge amount of information all day long, 7/365.once you have decided to produce, you have to stop being a consumer.better delegate your sixth sense to other people who are on the lookout, and sometimes better at it than yourself.

  19. Flarson

    This advice is pure gold. Thanks Fred.

  20. maxniederhofer

    My tweet from yesterday: 90% of the information we consume every day is not actionable. It’s like corn syrup for the brain. Consider cutting down.Great post!

    1. fredwilson

      but please don’t cut down on AVC 🙂

  21. Sebastian Wain

    It reminds me of the “Signal or Noise” chapter from Andrew Grove where he talks about investing or not in X-Ray technology, Risc, etc. I think he was one of the top CEOs of the 20th.Many times what we are hearing is noise, mainly with companies with unproven models backed by large capital.

  22. John Caddell

    I don’t know if the inspiration for this post was the reaction to Facebook’s Places announcements yesterday, but it wouldn’t surprise me that every location-based mobile app company was parsing the announcements and spending lots of time trying to figure out what FB’s moves would mean for them. In this space especially, the use cases are still emergent – while Foursquare, Groupon, SCVNGR and others are doing interesting things, it’s not as if the market has settled on what will work and what won’t.Given that, the advantage that all those companies and other startups have vs. FB is sharp focus and nimbleness. And getting distracted by the big guy neutralizes those advantage.regards, John

    1. markslater

      i was just thinking the same thing. It was a big announcement. And you are correct – FB’s challenge will be that this feature just gets lost in the “muck” of all the other crappy widgets they put out as “applications”.

    2. fredwilson

      like i’ve said in other comments like this:it was about everything and everyone, and not any one thing in particulari wasn’t thinking about FB and Foursquare when i wrote it but i can see how you read it that way

  23. Dan T

    I thought this was guest post by Andy Swan

    1. ShanaC

      Where is Andy?

      1. Matt A. Myers

        Clearly he’s hiding because of fear.

      2. RichardF

        He’s got his blinkers on and is going for the win

        1. fredwilson


    2. Tereza

      I was thinking Seth Godin.

  24. Tian Yang

    Agree with everything said there. The question left unanswered is where to draw the fine line between focusing on a predefined strategy and react to what your competitors are doing. Example: today Facebook announced its Deals, should Foursquare just keep doing what it is doing or do something different to counter Facebook’s invasion? (I personally believe Foursquare should just keep doing what they are doing but let’s discuss this anyway)

    1. Jared McKiernan

      Coupons seems so outdated to me, but it’s so ingrained in both business/consumer cultures that it’s hard to imagine the end of such marketing. But it feels like the eventual endpoint must be either a system with perfect price discrimination or pure one-to-one pricing.Media mass psychology is so complex though, what happens going forward (and why) is truly anybody’s guess. Exciting time in our society. This should be an interesting couple of decades.

  25. PhilipSugar

    My first three rules about this are similar to real estate:1. Listen to the customer2. Listen to the customer3. Listen to the customerI will admonish you if you bring me something about the competition during the working day if it didn’t come directly from a customer.You can bring it to me during my office hours at night, I’m not afraid of the competition and I don’t mind if you study at night.But if you are doing it during the day you are not following my first three rules.

    1. Matt A. Myers

      You’ve never seen something a competitor’s done and thought through its value to your customer? And then ask a customer and listen to the customer for what they think about it?

      1. PhilipSugar

        I should really define customer as potential customer or call it the market or whatever, its just easier to say one word. Certainly some of the most important customers are those of your competitors.My point is not to bury your head in the sand. Or not know what the competitor is doing. Or not adjust your strategy.My point is that whatever the competitor says on their website or press releases is not a source of information. That is what you can’t have employees spending time on during the day.In the high tech space, the hardest part is the competition is not easily defined….and if you go searching for it on the web that information in my mind is pretty much useless to information that you find out from customers.

        1. Matt A. Myers

          Right, who would just then tell you what they like (or don’t mention) features wise. 🙂

  26. JLM

    Fred, great post and a great conversation. I disagree with almost everything said.First, I agree completely that when it comes to execution of YOUR business plan — ” Plan, build, ship, and scale. Assess. Repeat again and again. Win.” Absolutely correct!However, the leadership of any company has got to know the market and that means knowing EVERYTHING about your current and future competition; and, your real and perceived competition.You cannot hope to find a more aggressive operator than me. I will be up before you. I will stay later. I will work harder. I will find you, I will **** you and I will eat you.But first, I will KNOW you — everything I can possible learn. I will know your founders, funders, business education, experience, business plan, product, packing, pricing, promotions, customers, professional advisors, favorite color, home and car you drive — I will know your birthmarks and I will know what your Momma calls you when she is pissed off with you.Because knowing the competition — even when there is no competition — is what drives business. Business is competition.A competent marketing guy is charged with creating USPs or USAs — unique selling advantages — which are used to differentiate our product from theirs. You have to know the competition to divine whether your product features are really unique.I often find that young businesses are not willing to put in the work to compete like a mature business and this smacks of that trait.I would concede that the company itself does not have to fixate on the competition and that most press releases are pure baloney but the senior management of a company should be comfortable enough in their skin to be able to deal with the reality of their competitors.To win a fight, you have to get in the fight. To fight well, you have to know the capabilities of your enemy. You can be losing a fight initially and still win if you adjust your strategy and tactics mid-fight. But you cannot fight blind and expect to win.

    1. Matt A. Myers

      You are correct.You have to absorb what your competitors are doing and learn to understand fear. Even acknowledging the different things to be fearful of helps it settle.

      1. JLM

        Fear is misdirected energy. Harness the energy and fear is your friend. I have been afraid of failure my whole life and it has been my best friend. Life is real. Deal with the reality.

        1. Matt A. Myers

          This goes with a solo-comment I posted about an hour ago;At some point an entrepreneurial spirit will experience fear, and will have to learn how to acknowledge and harness it.

          1. JLM

            If you are not afraid, you are not fully invested.

          2. Matt A. Myers

            I see what your saying, and I think it has to do with the wording of my comment. I can see how it can taken as that once the fear is acknowledged and harnessed that it goes away.I am aware of a constant fear, constant push and drive, but I have it managed. I have the next steps that I need to worry about figured out. When I go to bed I can let my thoughts settle (or I sometimes have to write things down). When I wake up, I can let them come up and organize and prioritize my day. Sometimes too I have to write down thoughts before I can get on with what I need or want to do that day.

          3. Harleyqmc

            confucius say ‘me no rikey this comment thread’

          4. Matt A. Myers

            Sorry, I don’t follow..?

          5. Donna Brewington White

            That attempt at dialect imitation is demeaning.

          6. JLM

            Your second paragraph could have been written by me. I have never been a worrier though I have a quick trigger on fear.Courage is simply continuing to act when others might otherwise be paralyzed by fear and unable to continue acting. It is not difficult to be courageous if you are prepared to recognize the onset of fear.You have to talk YOURSELF down off the ledge sometimes.In some ways, fear is a gourmet entrepreneurs most favorite dish. It means you are alive and on the cutting edge of what you are doing. Not recklessness — not being a jackass —, but daring and risk taking and seeing what it does to your heart rate and your tolerance.I think we should all promise to scare the shit out of ourselves no less frequently than monthly. As long as it does NOT involve power tools.I think we develop a tolerance for fear that grows with time. Some of it is obvious. If you have $10 in your pocket, you are a bit more courageous than if you have $1. Natural enough.

    2. Carl Rahn Griffith

      It’s a difficult balance to achieve, for sure. Both yourself, JLM, and Fred are correct.We are still steeped in a “Only the paranoid survive” mentality, in many respects. When taken to that extreme it’s not healthy. Paranoia is not a rational mindset to be in for business or life. Many macho CEOs however still sadly subscribe to this approach, obsessing with their competitors to an extraordinary – and unhealthy – extent. From which, industrial espionage and the like derives…I am a great believer in good old fashioned SWOT analysis – it’s one of the first things I insist on doing with any company I am involved with, whatever the context of my engagement.Competition is great – it shows one is in a healthy market sector. There’s data to analyze, etc.You have to understand your competitors to ensure you always do a better job than them – from design to execution and all points inbetween.The biggest danger is to sneer at one’s competition, to disregard them because you don’t like their UI/logo/HQ/tagline/CEO/whatever…I’m reminded of a study Ronson did many years ago, and they discovered that their biggest competitor was in fact Parker Pens, in the context of a impulse gift purchase decision. You can only discover such stuff by research, analysis and looking at things obliquely.Competition is often not what it seems.

      1. JLM

        The exact nature of the competition is what you have to discover. Your Ronson anecdote is priceless.They were not in the lighter business — they were in the impulse purchase business.

      2. Donna Brewington White

        “Competition is often not what it seems.”Priceless.

      3. fredwilson

        swot is a great process for the initial plan and also the assess process

      4. Lucas Dailey

        Carl, yours is the closest opinion to mine, but I don’t think you took it far enough.3 thoughtsomni competitionThe Ronson example is great for broadening your understanding of your market and competition, but competition goes further than just other companies competing for a particular wad of that customer’s money. Your competition is really for attention and mind-space. If you’re a web business, your competition is Facebook, Twitter, email, family, talk radio, pets, phones, cnn, and the view out the window. Victory is getting your customer to say “One minute!” when hailed by their spouse, or when they look out their window after using your product and see the world in a new way.tactics vs strategy JLM’s (first) post, SWOT etc and anything broadly defined as “market positioning” is tactical. You can’t play a good chess game without holistic tactics, and tactics in particular is something that should be in the mind of every employee. But strategy, the evolving mission, doesn’t care a wit about “the competition.” personalThis can get too self-helpy, but it should also be philosophical. We definitely are our own worst enemies, the only ones holding ourselves back, etc. Continually being aware of your various motivations and biases is difficult but essential. I’ve been having a long conversation with a friend about this for a while, and how people’s skills at it can vary so widely and almost randomly. The topic often strays into emotional intelligence. One strong correlation I think I’ve found is with people who spent much of their intellectually formative years in design schools. I had the good luck of studying (steel and glass) architecture as a U/grad student and then professionally before transitioning into politics and then our web app. One of the core pedagogical components drilled into you in arch school is criticism and self criticism. Of design schools architecture tends to focus on this the most, I believe. The number of students that cry during design reviews there is higher than any other.One of our co-founders is a world-class design researcher/product designer and, uh, neighborhood-class lifestyle Japanese martial art practitioner. He introduced me to the concept of Mushin, having the mind of no mind. As a designer, and certainly business leader, such being (not thinking) is at the core of being objective, critical, deeply observant and analytical.Some fortune cookie wisdom always in my mind:“look underneath the underneath” -Masashi Kishimoto“know thyself” –old greeks”Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” Tolstoy

    3. Evan

      <3 this post.

    4. ShanaC

      There is a difference between knowing what your competition is doing versus knowing what your customers are doing.I always thought no matter the business, you are a service. The nicest guy often wins because s/he wants to create better change

      1. JLM

        I think you are peeling the onion pretty thin. Know your competition requires your knowing what the entire marketplace — all customers — thinks.Everything in business starts and ends with the customer including intimate knowledge of your competitors.I know Steve Jobs loves the iPhone. I want to know what YOU, the customer, think of it.

      2. JLM

        Why are any of these things mutually exclusive?Why can’t you know everything about your customers, your competition and also be a nice guy?Plus be able to hit a nice draw, waltz, ski, body surf, fly an airplane, be kind to your parents, be kind to yourself and be a wizard computer person?You can do anything. You can do everything. If you just don’t let the bastards talk you out of it.

        1. ShanaC

          I don’t let people talk me out of things normally.Mostly there was an article from the WSJ that rang close to my heart:

    5. GlennKelman

      This is one of the few cases where I disagree almost completely with JLM. You need to understand the competitive landscape, but the mistake most new businesses make, overwhelmingly, is focusing too much on the competition, and not enough on the customer. It is a mistake I have made for most of my life.Since we are all prone to this mistake, it is actually a saying of Jeff Bezos that competitors don’t matter. I am an extremely competitive person, but the way I compete now is by knowing my customer better than anyone else.Redfin has thousands of customers buying and selling homes with us today, and millions of users who choose not to; I will never get enough time to talk to all of them, but it’s a better use of my time to do that than most anything else.

      1. JLM

        I think you have answered your own and my question — who are the millions of uses who “…choose not to do business…” with you actually doing business with and why?Competition and competitive analysis is multi-faceted and certainly does not preclude consultation w/ the customer.The issue is water v air and the right answer is BOTH.

      2. JLM

        I was addressing the issue of competition only. The knowledge of the customer is just one element of understanding the competition.To whom do they appeal and to whom do you appeal and are they the same customer?Targeted customer differentiation is one element of a successful business plan.This is why Apple is cool and PCs are business.Knowledge of customers v competition is NOT mutually exclusive. It is a BOTH AND issue.

      3. ea cpe

        I agree– if you’re going to stay competitive, you HAVE to understand what’s going around you. I think, though, that the main idea of the post has some merit. Focusing TOO MUCH on the competition can cause you to neglect what you’re trying to accomplish yourself. It’s like running a race while turning your head to look behind you at your competitors; eventually, you’ll probably run into something.

    6. PhilipSugar

      Totally agree in a space where the battle is defined.In this case the battlefield not only hasn’t been set but it doesn’t even exist, it hasn’t been created yet. With start-ups its very hard to define and the only way you can define is to see what the marketplace says.I agree on getting intelligence but not via anything that your competitor says, only what they do.

      1. JLM

        Say v do is one of the greatest insights one will ever acquire.Why was Obama repudiated so viciously on Tuesday >>> huge gap in say v do. And nobody liked the do.

      2. JLM

        One of the first challenges of any new business is to define the market — the battle space.This is why the war on terror has been so complex — new battle space including the Internet.

        1. PhilipSugar

          Yes and when you let the enemy define the battlefield you lose.If on the war on terror we had defined the battlefield as becoming energy independent whether by building nuclear plants or stealing their oil and their gold and their money with the most powerful military in history, IMHO we would have won.I would have done all of the above and then it would have been mind over matter. I don’t mind because you don’t matter.Nice guys finish last. I would have built a fleet of tankers to take their oil, use our banking system to strip them of their wealth, and build a long term nuclear solution.

          1. JLM

            Please tell me you are going to run for office, your beautiful brilliant Son of a Bitch! I will arrange billions of illegal campaign contributions! LOLBuying shit from your enemies is always a bad idea.

          2. RichardF

            “Buying shit from your enemies is always a bad idea.”Someone needs to tell that to the US consumer, given that China make just about everything the US (and the rest of the western world) buys. (apart from BBQ and chili)

          3. JLM

            There is no question that the American consumer has always sown the seeds of its own destruction as it relates to buying patterns of critical goods. We destroyed many strategic industries in the US because we did not see them as vital and did not support them.Of course, I buy lots of stuff in China myself.

          4. JLM

            I sit here mystified as to why we are not building 2 nuclear power plants in every State in the Union.Short term and long term jobs. Energy independence. Cash flow.It is a no-brainer.Worse, France can do it! Sorry to all the French who are here, I’m not talking about you guys. Truly sorry.

    7. Tereza

      Good competitiveness: knowing what your competitors are going to do, before they do it.Bad competitiveness: “Ohmigod, ohmigod, ohmigod. I can’t believe they did that.”.Analyzing and understanding your customers is a place where passion and emotion can do great things for you.In looking at your competitors it’s about facts, hard analysis and anticipation. Get as many as you can get your hands on.It should be, “Yeah — We knew they were going to do that. Which is why we’re already down the path of doing ABC.”

      1. JLM

        Exactly.React before the competition acts because you have gleaned “intelligence” rather than having read their press releases.Know what they know before they know what they know.Catch the bomb maker when he orders the materials not as he is deploying it.


      What if you don’t want to “win a fight”, but would prefer win the battle? What if you naturally tend to stay ahead, because you are consistently shipping and setting the pace for the rest of the pack? That’s the goal right? If so, you can’t get there worrying about what the rest are doing.

      1. JLM

        I agree with you from a temperment perspective; however, the best competitor is a DEAD competitor. Sometimes you have to finish them off and bury them.

        1. Scott Barnett

          I was kinda hanging on the fringes of your message JLM, but I’m not so sure now. Focus is so key in business, what is your primary focus if your goal is to bury your competition? First off, I have to assume you have more than one competitor, are you going to bury them all? And does the time it takes to do this worth not focusing more on product, customers, personnel, etc? I’m ok with the spirit of your message, but I just don’t get how it works in practice.

          1. JLM

            Kill them all, let God sort them out?I guess I am not articulate enough to get the message I am trying to send. Knowledge of one’s competitors is not an EITHER OR choice, it is a BOTH AND choice.Effective marketing does not allow one to focus on only one thing, you have to do lots of things.One of those things is to know your competition better than they know themselves.This knowledge will provide a clearer lens through which to fous on product, customers, personnel, etc.

          2. Scott Barnett

            I’m a little late replying to this thread, but wanted to share one more thought. In the “old” days, it was hard to find things out about your competition – no websites, no open source, no blogging – the only way to find out about companies was to go to trade shows, and we’d guard our information from competitors very closely. These days, things are so much more open – and the thing that really distinguishes companies (especially in software) is service. It’s really hard to “know” your competitor from a service perspective, and frankly pretty hard to beat them by looking over their shoulder. You need to focus on what you do best and thrill your customers – that will keep you a step ahead of everybody. You are only as good as your last support call!So – while agreeing with most of your points, I’m not so sure you can know your competition better than they know themselves these days, nor that it matters as much.

          3. JLM

            Why would you not just buy their product and use it and see how it works?Why not foucus group a number of users?Why not lurk on a support blog?What I find is that people justify their own pre-conceived notions rather than casting their net a bit further. More intelligence means better decisionmaking.________________________________

    9. Donna Brewington White

      JLM this is when I can tell you are a military man. (not that this completely defines you by any stretch)Contained within this comment, I hear the military adage “Know your enemy better than he knows himself.” with the word “competition” substituted for “enemy”. In sales and marketing, it is often “know your customer/consumer better than she knows herself.”What I sometimes find is that the company does not always know “itself” as well as it should and that is one of its greatest limiting factors.

      1. JLM

        The AK-47 was a better weapon than the M-16 and we used to capture lots of them and lots of ammo.Why not use the damn AK-47?The other funny thing is that when you ambushed somebody using an AK, they initially thought — hey, that’s “friendly fire” — and that one second and failure to react immediately created a unique selling advantage for the real friendlies.You should know EVERYTHING about your customer and your competitors. Everything!Funny thing is that it is all “low hanging fruit”.The guys with the best intelligence have the best opportunity to make the superior plan and to deploy the superior product.

    10. joeagliozzo

      I think the point you are at in the company’s lifecycle is very pertinent to whether or not you spend much time and resources on knowing your competition.For many startups the real competitor is “non-use” – meaning that you are solving a problem for the customer for which no solution existed before (or it was manual, or overly complex or expensive, whatever). So your competition is really the customer doing it “the old way” and of course you want to study this problem and how to motivate the customer to use your product instead of doing it the old way.If you do crack this, I would take the position that focusing on getting more customers to adopt YOUR solution is way more important and way more profitable than focusing on any actual or would be competitor. If you have chosen the right market (meaning it’s big enough) there are likely to be plenty of customers to get you to the next stage of growth, when it then might be very important to do comparison tables and the fifty other things you do to try to differentiate from a competitor.I would also say that the startup that has to worry about differentiating from a competitive product very early in the lifecycle of the company doesn’t have very good odds of survival anyway, because it’s hard enough to convert customers from non-use without the further hurdle of having them pick your solution over a competitors – it’s just too much work that has to be accomplished in too short a time, as a general principle.

      1. JLM

        For some reason folks are having a hard time grasping that the issue of customers and competition is a BOTH AND thing.I agree with everything you say — everything it is particularly well articulated and reasoned — but simply add that you ALSO have to know your competition even if the competition is “imagined”.Sometimes the competition is to do nothing or to do something completely different.Take the entertainment business — movies compete with each other and alternative forms of entertainment and they compete differently even in the passage of a day.On Friday nights in Texas, high school football reigns supreme and on Saturday it’s date night at the movies.If you know your competition, you don’t go after Friday night.

        1. joeagliozzo

          Depends if you have the time and resources for BOTH AND. Most startups don’t. It takes incredible focus to create a product or a company itself and when/if you are creating a new product or service where the category didn’t exist before you can’t afford to get sidetracked on supposed competitive issues.Case in point – I was a founder of a company that created one of the first business to business exchanges in 1999 – it was an exchange for shipping. Companies could post truckload or less than truckload shipments and trucking companies would bid on the price to move the freight. Seems simple enough and we started to build the software and talk to customers about how they would use it.Well, long story short, we took a detour that killed us – we started worrying about what the third party logistics companies (3PL’s) and enterprise software companies would launch into our market. This led to feature bloat as we thought of all the capabilities they already had or would have and that feature bloat led to continuous delays in releasing the product and THAT led to lack of traction and THAT led to running out of money.We would have been far better off to ignore everything but satisfying 50-100 customers and building a simple stripped down product that they would use on a daily basis. The rest of the market and the competition were irrelevant at that time.But I failed to see that then and have tried not to make that mistake again!

          1. JLM

            One can never and should never attempt to argue against real world experience. So I cannot honorably opine to the contrary nor do I think you are wrong.I continue to believe that the issue is one of the complete 360 degree focus of any businessperson.The fact that you converted your awareness into action may be the “bridge too far” while your knowledge may in and of itself have been sufficient to carry the day.The fact that we seek to know something about our competitors does not mean we are compelled to do something about that knowledge. Sometime just being forewarned is enough.

    11. fredwilson

      i bet if we talked this over live, we’d be in perfect agreement

      1. JLM

        Actually I am not so much in disagreement with you as much as I was with many of the one dimensional comments that responded to your post.I recognize completely in your writing style that you can isolate a single issue and focus on it like a laser but do not intend to purposely ignore the attendant subtleties.I do believe that the days of being a one dimension company or “C” are over. I believe in 360 degre knowledge and expertise.Knowledge of one’s competition is as basic as any element of a successful marketing plan.BTW, I am in NYC all next week if you have time for a cuppa…

    12. William Mougayar

      JLM It’s tough to generalize approaches, which is why I believe you’ve commented that way. I’ve learned over the years that there are only 4 marketing approaches – which Ries & Trout outlined over 25 years ago: Offensive, Defensive, Flanking and Guerilla. Only the market leader plays Defensive, because everybody else is attacking them.Only #2 or #3 play Offensive, because they have a shot at #1. (it’s expensive to be offensive)For most start-ups, at least in their early stages, they are doing either Guerilla or Flanking. Flanking is most popular in start-ups because they land in an uncontested area and start carving their territory from there.Based on that, every position will require very different market approaches and levels of awareness and actions about your competition.

      1. JLM

        I agree with you more than you agree with yourself. LOLThe only real point I am making is that intimate knowledge of one’s competitor is a very good piece of intelligence to possess regardless of what approach you are taking or should be taking.What I also note is that many times folks are just plain lazy in gaining knowledge of their competitors. My personal experience tells me that such intimate knowledge is valuable in both practical terms and to de-mystify the competition.

  27. Sam Birmingham

    I read something yesterday that really grabbed me and I think it kind of applies to this topic too:”Startups play poker, big companies play chess”When you’re going all-in day after day, it doesn’t really matter what your competitors are doing anyway…I enjoy chess as much as the next guy, but I’d much rather spend my time focusing on the two cards in my hand and the three on the table, rather than wondering where someone else might move their rook or knight next!Ref:

    1. ErikSchwartz

      In poker you play the person, not the cards. It’s zero sum; heads up, one will win and one will lose. Poker is solely competition. It does not really matter if your hand is better, it only matters if your competitor THINKS your hand is better.If you’re only focusing on the cards in your hand and the cards on the table then you’re welcome to come to our next game. 🙂

      1. Sam Birmingham

        Way to ruin a perfectly good analogy by taking it literally, Erik :PWould be glad to take you up on your offer some day, although I suspect we’re playing in different countries – unless you’re down here with me in Australia, of course?!

        1. Jared McKiernan

          the analogy is a nice sound bite, but i don’t think it really holds- poker: incomplete informationchess: complete informationBig companies don’t have complete information, in fact there are many examples where big companies miss key pieces of information due to their size- they are simply unable to see certain pieces which smaller companies might be able to find while they’re nimbly seeking small bits of information others might have missed.more accurate analogy in my opinion would be: both big and small companies are playing poker- but big companies play way tighter and lower both their variance and expected value compared to the more aggressive strategy which is played by thousands of startups all around the poker room. Some of the bunch are going to have the right luck/skill combo to bust the big company or at least make them begin to play more aggressively than BigCo’s usual “play AA/KK/QQ/AK only” range of starting hands.Any two can win. Raise often, gather info and adjust, fold wisely: pick your battles, rarely call. winning strategy for startup poker

        2. ErikSchwartz

          Yeah. Sorry about that.I’ve been thinking a lot about the analogy recently. It’s not bad. but there are better.I think poker is a much better analogy for the start up lifestyle rather than any particular start up.

  28. Vitaly Babiy

    Hey Fred really great post. It’s very important to stay focus as soon as you lose that the product goes down the drain. Also watching other people causes you to want to copy them and most copies are just not as good, Mostly due to the fact that the same amount of love is not given to a copy as a orignal idea.

  29. Tom Labus

    The Zappos approach blocks out the world and the world becomes solely Zappos. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. Some people are calling their approach a “cult”.

  30. Hershberg

    This is something we dealt with early on at Reprise Media. We competed with a startup that was founded by people we worked with at a different company years earlier, but who took a very different approach to building their business. We were self-funded and bootstrapped, they were the first search marketing firm to raise a big round of VC. Needless to say, that brought the company a ton of press and they capitalized on it with some savvy PR/marketing initiatives that effectively established them as the leader in the category. By all accounts they seemed to be killing it. And because some of our employees had worked with some of theirs at our former company, they became hyper-focused on every move their company made and how we planned to respond to them.What our people didn’t know was that while things looked good publicly, they were basically self-destructing in every way possible — infighting amongst the founders and management team, disagreement with the VC over future direction of the business, high employee turnover, etc. Over time, these issues began to impact client relationships and it wasn’t long before the company’s reputation took a hit. While we found ourselves competing with them for almost every new client in our first 1-2 years in business, they had basically disappeared by year three.Seeing that company’s outcome was a very valuable lesson for our employees (especially those without much experience), particularly because the search marketing category became so much more crowded and competitive over the years. They stopped worrying about what everyone else was doing and simply focused on building the best business we possibly could.

    1. reece

      I’ve had similar experience, Peter.Companies that are “hot” and have cash seem like a big deal, but then you get on the phone and learn that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Just happened to my friend’s company too actually…

    2. fredwilson

      i love that story Peterthanks for sharing it

  31. ErikSchwartz

    The key here is not to be paranoid about the competition. Do not take it personally. Other people sometimes have great ideas. Use that. Learn from that. But still trust your vision.I use the competition.I occasionally run a focus group with a competitors product.I leverage their research and deconstruct their thinking. Sometimes I copy something they do. Often what they do reinforces a different path. Sometimes they do something I was about to do and I realize it’s a mistake.

  32. ShanaC

    Extremely true- and the best medicine is friends and family who support you. Paranoia comes from feeling alone in the process- it’s probably one of the reasons that many look around- it eases the loneliness of working on an idea because at least your competitors are doing something similar.

    1. Tereza

      I think if you are clear on what you plan to do and how you’ll get there and you know yourself enough to know that it’s a plan you can deliver and you competitors cannot, then feeling ‘alone’ is irrelevant. You are on a mission to do it and you don’t have room or time for paranoia.If you are paranoid then your plan is not unique enough and not unique enough to YOU and who you are and what your unique strengths are.If your paying customers and your partners are convinced that uniquely you can give them what they desperately need then you’ve got a business.If they’re dicking you around and playing you off against your competitors then you haven’t figured out your sustainable business model.

      1. ShanaC

        It something that occurs right before you know what you want or have to introduce it to your first customer. Companies are like kids- you want them to grow, not get hurt. That moment can be paranoia inducing (hoverparent, hoverCEO)Unfortunately/Fortunately sometimes a small amount of pain is the best way to get a company to grow, or a kid. Got to learn from the struggle.

        1. Tereza

          Remember that skin from scars is stronger than the skin it replaced.

  33. Matt A. Myers

    At some point an entrepreneurial spirit will experience fear, and will have to learn how to acknowledge and harness it.

  34. reece

    Without reading every comment already…Press releases are crap (I’m not saying PR is invaluable, it’s just not worth worrying about, at least when it comes to the competition).It’s why I stopped subscribing to TechCrunch a long time ago. Just too much noise.I am curious though… how often PR works in reverse. You hear a company is floundering and they’re about to lose and then a quick TD and onside kick and things are looking up… (obligatory sports analogy for you, Fred).End story. DON’T FUCKING GIVE UP.

  35. stevekiesling

    Great post Fred. This applies to more than just startups – this is about life in general. You can’t change what other people do, only what you choose to do. So spend your time where it is useful, which is usually not trying to copy others. You have different goals, strengths, and weaknesses – optimize for those.

  36. Ken Maready

    good advice as always. I’m not personally a NASCAR fan, but being here in the Southeast I do pick up some of the jargon. When I hear people talk about startups needing to focus on their own product and not overly fret about competitors, I can’t help but think of something I once heard a NASCAR driver say when asked how he drives through wrecks – he said “you just have to pick a line and stick with it. even if there are cars directly in your path, they will often spin out of the way by the time you get there, or they will be knocked out of the way by other cars. you just have to have faith in the line you’ve chosen.”That takes some intestinal fortitude, but is good advice. (Not often you get to apply NASCAR philosophy to startups, eh?)

    1. fredwilson

      have faith in the linegreat advice for a lot more than car racingthanks

  37. Neil Jain

    Great post.I always tell our team to focus on the goal at hand and to keep a ‘watchful’ eye on the competitors in our space. Love the book recommendation you made in your previous post ‘Do More Faster’

  38. Aviah Laor

    1,000 likes.Just printed and posted on the wall (real wall).Consuming news is passive and interesting: strategy, the big picture.Tasks are hard, and many times boring. But you win with the tasks.

  39. Doug Kersten

    If I counted how many times a competitor said they were going to do something but didn’t, I’d be rich! If I counted how many times I stressed out about what a competitor said they were doing before I understood this, I’d be rich! When you are watching your competitors you see everything they are doing through your own mindset. Usually they aren’t even doing what you think they are and it almost never impacts you in the ways that you think.

  40. angrywayne

    Agreed. Just realized this myself a few days ago. Wise and hard lesson.

  41. Brian Wang

    Great post Fred – words that many folks need to take to heart.The concept of flow, in this case related to “putting the blinders on”, is often discussed at places like Hacker News. The fact of the matter is, letting competitors destroy flow is an easy trap to fall into. As you point out, the question remains how much time one should allocate toward observing and reacting to competitors. While it is undoubtedly above 0, one has to take into account the opportunity cost involved as well as the energy wasted on switching gears, which can be quite significant and is often overlooked.

  42. Derek Skaletsky

    This issue reminds me of learning to snowboard.One of the first things I learned when starting to snowboard was that the board tends to head in the direction in which you are looking. If you start staring at the big scary trees on the side of the trail…inevitably you will end up eating one. But if you keep your eyes on the open trail ahead (not directly ahead, but a couple of hundred yards ahead), you end up doing just fine. It was a big revelation for my snowboarding experience…and I hope business experience.This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be aware of the trees on the side of the trail. They’re there and you need to know it. It just means that if you spend your time staring at them, you’ll end up becoming one 🙂

  43. Siminoff

    Great post Fred and so true. It is one of those things that I think everyone knows but needs to be reminded of.I feel like no matter how good the entrepreneur, over time it is just human nature to do this. It creates what I call business blinders (like the blinders on horses).It is why I think it is so important to have mentors you trust outside of your industry to help keep you from insulating yourself from the real world and what matters.

  44. Michael Langer

    Very Timely and encouraging advice from me……It’s not a good idea to ride the news roller coaster

  45. Andrew Greene

    I think this is a timely post for at least one of Fred’s investments. Given yesterday’s Facebook Mobile announcements, the advice is truly apt for what must be happening at foursquare. I agree that foursquare would do well to ignore most of what Facebook is doing with daily deals and Places. It’s not like they would be missing out on any innovation, because there is little non-trivial innovation in this space. I think if foursquare focused too much on Facebook, then they would get distracted from their customers and become intimidated.Not every company needs to be the next Google/Facebook. foursquare is a great product with many dedicated customers. foursquare will be a strong profitable business. Will it ever be as big as Facebook? No. But there is so much room in the ecosystem for companies with valuations between $100 million and $1 billion. If foursquare continues improving their product and listening to their customers, then I have no doubt that they will be a $1 billion company.

    1. fredwilson

      it wasn’t about foursquarebut foursquare doesn’t need to look at what facebook is doing because they did all of that six months agothey just need to keep innovating and leading the market

      1. Andrew Greene

        I didn’t mean to say that you had foursquare in mind when writing the post. Just that the advice applies to foursquare.I think constantly looking at competitors is often backwards looking. Foursquare is a great product, and it will keep on improving through original ideas and customer requests.More generally thinking, I was thinking of the “X is going to kill Y” meme in relation to startups. People love posting that phrase to twitter and techcrunch, but it’s usually inaccurate. Companies can find their own niche if they listen to their customers and continually improve their product. I think it’s very rare for a single company with one action to put another company out of business. I think if it does happen then it’s often counterproductive because it’s not that easy to mop up the numerous customers who are probably disaffected. Exceptions might be in cases of near monopolies.

  46. LIAD

    not sure this post is specifically about competition like JLM et al are’s more a generic post about focusing on what you’re doing and not flitting back and forth between opportunities and bright lightsLocation is the new buzz-word, everyone feels they need to pile-in and add it to their product. Gamification is hot, everyone changes their development pipeline. Group buying gets press attention, strategies are automatically ripped up and written afresh.The goal is to disrupt others – NOT YOURSELF

    1. fredwilson


    2. Donna Brewington White

      You’re right of course — I read Fred’s post as one about focus which can never be talked about enough — unless of course talking about focus becomes the focus.But, you must admit, JLM talking about competition from the perspective of a fighting man has stirred up a bit of fun.BTW: “The goal is to disrupt others – NOT YOURSELF” Brilliant!

  47. @mckra1g

    It reminds me of what happens if you run with your head turned back, looking over your shoulder. You look focus on your own path and give your competition an opportunity to pass you. Good post. Thanks for taking the time to draft it. Best, M.

  48. paramendra

    Stay focused on the road ahead, not the rearview mirror.

  49. thewalrus

    nice post.there was social before facebook. there was search before google. there were portals before yahoo. there was mobile before iphone. there was the lightbulb before edison. there were telephones before bell. there was democracy before america.if i had a dollar from everyone that wants to over-discuss competition… i could just switch to private equity and invest in them all 🙂

    1. John McGrath

      There actually was not a telephone before Bell, crude earlier devices like those of Reis notwithstanding.

  50. jenniferhillside

    Excellent post, Fred. This is sound advice for start-ups and sound advice for life.

  51. hypermark

    The one thing that I would qualify relative to your point, Fred, is that there is a tendency for entrepreneurs to see the “shiny new object” and feel like they have to “do something,” when in truth, the something is analyze and sanity check, and then go from there — not default to RESPONDING.My experience on this one is that in one of my companies, we had built out a nice, utilitarian business when an impressive competitor popped up with what seemed like the 2.0 to our 1.0 business approach.The initial response was, “Holy Crap! We have to do something.” But then, we took a deep breath, looked at their positioning, what they actually had today, and concluded that their vision was 3.0 for a market embracing pragmatic 1.0 solutions.In other words, they were offering lots of long-term benefits but failing to solve an immediate 1.0 need.Armed with that knowledge, we felt better (and less internally apologetic) about what we did, and crafted counter-messaging for competitive situations, while continuing to evaluate their products and process, especially in competitive situations.In the end, the shiny competitor was a non-factor.Mark

  52. missrogue

    I know that our biggest competitor is customer apathy. It leads us to focus on getting to the point where we don’t have to explain why the customer needs us so badly. 🙂

  53. dave gooden

    This is a great article and it just blew a hole in the “TechCrunch Fatigue” post I have been working on. Great insight; spot on.

  54. Scott Belsky

    I think it’s important to pace yourself with others in your industry. It is a powerful motivator, and often helps you break the seal of hesitation when launching new features/products.It’s also smart to learn from your competitors’ failures (and successes), which requires us to be tuned in a bit (hence your point about not putting your head in the sand).But, not doubt, your competition wins when they win your attention away from your own business.

  55. Jspaulding

    “And if you’re worried about threats to the survival of your company, don’t look for them in the news. Look in the mirror.” Paul Graham – near verbatim

    1. fredwilson

      Paul speaks the truth

  56. Pete Meehan

    Who you compete with depends on which phase of the game you are in.During the concept and build phase, presumably you have mapped out your market and audience and taken good note of where the competitors are, so the best thing you can do is focus on Doing It Great. Nothing more than that is necessary. Anything less than that is deadly. Just stay focused.Certainly there comes the commercial development stage whereby strategies and tactics are going to swing more towards who is doing what and how you can compete with them on a daily basis. That time comes if the first phase was executed correctly. But no jumping steps.At the risk of being a little alone in my thoughts here (am I?). My biggest competitor is myself, always has been and always will be. I can (and so can you) do Extraordinary things if I don’t get in the way of myself – and I suspect that was the intent of Fred’s article.In one sense I care about the competition (commercial reality), but in other ways I don’t give a damn. My success or failure will not be defined by them, so why get distracted by them and their posturing.It’s really all up to me. Focus on nobody else. Blame nobody else. Follow nobody. Stay true to my vision, as it’s probably the only really valuable thing I’ve got.

  57. Hawa

    Hello,My name is Hawa and I’ve been a follower of your blog for the past few months, but this is my first comment. I recently graduated from college and I’m currently in the very beginning stages of starting a high-end e-retail business.I have no professional experience in this arena (my resume shouts ‘politics’), but I’m a serious addict/avid follower of the high-end market of the fashion world, from the photographers, models, designers to the marketing and business strategies used by luxury brands.So my question for you is, for someone interested in entering a field with no background, but just a lot of drive and passion and a business model with a competitive edge, is it OK to devote a lot of time to competition in your business plan and in general to make up for the lack of professional background in that field? Granted, I only listed three competitors (should I add more?), but I give very detailed analyses of their strengths and weaknesses when compared to my business. Thank you.P.S.I just wanted to say I watched the clip you provide where you talked about gender disparities in the start-up/tech world with Rachel Sklar and the advice you give to entrepreneurs, but female entrepreneurs in particular, is very invaluable and I’m really grateful to have come across your blog. If I ever meet any women who have a great idea and want to start a tech company relating to web services,I have every intention of sending them your way via this blog. Thanks again for the strong encouragement.

    1. fredwilson

      great question Hawa. in the business planning phase, it makes sense to do a lot of competitive analysis. i am always impressed by an entrepreneur who truly understands the competitive is once you are in execution mode that paying too much attention to the competition is bad

  58. MikeSchinkel

    Racers say it more succinctly:”The quickest way to loose a race is to focus on your rear view mirror.”:)

  59. Norm Levy

    “The sun’s energy warms the world. But when you focus it through a magnifying glass it can start a fire. Focus is so powerful!” ~Alan Pariser

  60. Tami Forman

    AMEN, AMEN, AMEN!! Love this. As the PR person I often get the frantic emails when our competitor has news. I often say, “[OtherCompany, Inc.] is allowed to have a good news day too.” Defensive PR, like most defensive strategies, rarely works and is often unsatisfying even when it does work.

  61. Leonid S. Knyshov

    I’ve done my research into competition to a certain extent. It was a great time saver when working on industry-specific features. They are welcome to innovate and it’s a very large sandbox. Most of them also operate as small businesses – not executing to scale rapidly.Our approach is similar to what Mailchimp is doing to established email marketing companies – make it extremely easy to connect to your existing systems and offer incredible ease of use. I am very impressed with one particular competitor, but I am not obsessed with what they are doing.We are working on distribution agreements instead of direct customer sales. In essence, we want to be a premium add-on feature for sites with which we partner that they can offer to their paying customers. Our partners will save a ton of time on development and get paid by us. While we get some direct customer sales, that’s mostly a proof of concept and a nice source for marketing materials. It’s the distribution partnerships that will drive us to the scale I have in mind. 🙂

  62. Nathan Snell

    As a young tech entrepreneur bootstrapping (for the time being) his startup, I must say this post was well timed, and I look forward to reading through all the comments. Sad to admit I woke up this morning evaluating what has been one of our differentiating factors and wondering whether it made sense to the consumer. I wondered that, however, NOT because the consumer has particularly expressed otherwise, but because the vast majority of our direct competitors (of which we have few) lack this differentiating factor (obviously, otherwise it wouldnt be differentiating).While I realize this post wasn’t written for our exact situation, is certainly is an encouragement to evaluate the circumstance further and ensure action isn’t taken solely on the guise of “what everyone else is doing because it seems to work”.

  63. Ardith, MC Think Tank

    Often companies mistake knowing the competition for knowing themselves. These companies can tell you all that they are not, vis-a-vis their competition. But put to the test to articulate what they are, on a standalone basis, they falter.So it is fascinating and breathtaking to watch teams evolve as they face down the challenge. It’s never as easy or quick a process as the teams thought it would be. But the results are always worthwhile. These companies emerge from the process with precision ability to articulate their own messages and competitive value. They demonstrate a keen vision that manifests itself across everything from operations and marketing to product development.So, yes, knowing one’s competition is smart business. Knowing one’s own business in and out, most importantly not making assumptions about what you know…priceless.

  64. Amy Drill

    While I agree for the most part in doing the work in really understanding your market, your competitors, and your consumers for the initial stages, I’m a huge proponent of immersing in and with your rabid loyal/heavy users as your primary queue for the insights and “pearls” for sustaining innovation and competitive leadership. There’s no substitute for delighting your inner circle; that investment (and work) pays for itself in delivering truly proprietary capabilities that eliminate the need for downstream short-term marketing promotional spending – the combination of which yields the margins needed to keep the innovation pipeline profitably funded, sustained, and successful.

  65. Terry J. Leach

    BRAVO!!! It’s all about vision. Stick to your vision, but be flexible to change in the market and in the long run it will be possible to build a great company. I’m a big fan of Steve Blank’s Customer Development process to keep myself ground with what is important and ignore the latest this or that from a potential competitor.

  66. Eric Leebow

    This is very true and makes me think of the book Rework, and how they mention not to focus on your competition, or not to care about what the competition is doing. If a new startup tried to do everything the established competition is doing, they wouldn’t even do it the same way, and it wouldn’t look right.It’s interesting how sometimes less can be more for some startups, and will even give one startup an advantage. Take Twitter for example, it started as a simple status update, and look at it today, it’s heard on television, the radio, etc. just for people talking about status updates because everyone wants to be followed or heard.One of the challenges with some entrepreneurs, and I can see how you can say we are an an enemy to ourselves is wanting too many features, and the reality is that the user or customer might be content or not even know that we left something out. Doing too much, or attempting to do too much can be burdensome. If would have tried to start out with Meetups Everywhere, or Twitter would’ve started out with lists, then they may not have gotten to the point they are today, or it would’ve taken them longer.

  67. hust0058

    I work with college students that are starting new fraternities on campuses across North-America. This message is exactly on point for that audience, too. Thanks for this sound advice!

  68. IdeaBling

    While I agree for the most part in doing the work in really understanding your market, your competitors, and your consumers for the initial stages, I’m a huge proponent of immersing in and with your rabid loyal/heavy users as your primary queue for the insights and “pearls” for sustaining innovation and competitive leadership. There’s no substitute for delighting your inner circle; that investment (and work) pays for itself in delivering truly proprietary capabilities that eliminate the need for downstream short-term marketing promotional spending – the combination of which yields the margins needed to keep the innovation pipeline profitably funded, sustained, and successful.

  69. Jimmy Logue

    A very interesting read!

  70. Boris Fowler

    This is really smart. Even in day to day life, focusing on yourself and your tasks is more valuable than what everyone else is doing. It’s kind of like cheating on a test, just because someone does something, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.Great article.Steve Jobs did a good job at this.

  71. Lavon Woods

    This is very much a reality, it’s hard to do with all the news of this co get funded and this other co getting acquired but it’s proven to be a necessary thing to just focus on the task at hand and execute like you said, great post!

  72. curtis

    I would pay money to watch JLM read the book’Different : Escaping the competitive herd’And then i’d make a mix tape of their head exploding when he realizes everything they thinks about competition is just cultural programming and a warmonger mentality@fredwilson good sense and good quality statements.

  73. curtoe33

    Simple, to the point and very TRUE.I notice myself looking in a very small bubble within a niche – always checking competitors. But if I spent more time doing my own thing and creating what I wanted to create – I do believe the results would be intensified. Lets not forget about creativity and individuality with our start ups here.

  74. 上官颦儿

    Yes,the worst enemy is ourself.