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This article was published on May 31, 2021

How I learned to love my competitors as a startup founder

Having competitors isn't an obstacle, it's a benefit

How I learned to love my competitors as a startup founder

Love your competitors? You might think I’ve got a screw loose, as this doesn’t sound like the mantra ambitious startups need to become market leaders. 

But hear me out, it’s not as absurd as it sounds.

Instead of spending your time obsessing over competing businesses doing better than your company, take the time to analyze what exactly they’re doing right. Once you’ve identified that, you’ll find the space and the methods for your own business to grow and prosper. 

And how do I know? Because that’s exactly what happened to me.

Flashback to the early days

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First, let’s take a walk down memory lane. Truth be told, I haven’t always believed in ‘loving’ my competitors. Putting my business on the map was a grueling learning process, a tale of high ambitions, long working hours, good faith, broken trust, and even envy of other successful businesses — well, yeah, I’m only human. 

When Tara Kaboli and I co-founded Wesual in 2018, we’d been working several years as freelance architecture photographers for local real estate agencies, and companies such as Airbnb. 

At one point, I found I had more work coming in than I could execute myself, and that’s when I decided to launch a platform that could connect businesses with the right professionals who could provide photography and videography services in their region. 

In this business model, Wesual would be the middleman, connecting the parties and guaranteeing quality output through an in-house team of post-production experts.

(Spoiler alert: we’re doing great now, with plans to expand to several European countries, a solid investor base, and growing numbers that reflect the hard work we put in.)

Self-made founders

In the early days though, all we had was an idea and the drive to make things happen. We had no prior business experience or know-how around what it took to launch a startup. 

There were no external investors, which led to continuous cash flow challenges. We were photographing during the day, and doing post-production — on other photographers’ work for Wesual clients — at night. It was downright crazy!

Sure, there was a romantic feel to it, but was it sustainable? No, not in the slightest.

Turning things around

After a while, we decided it was time to leave that way of working behind and professionalize by entering an acceleration program. Through that acceleration process, we learned what we needed to turn Wesual into a prospering startup company. 

We learned to delegate and keep an overview of the business. We learned to form a multi-expertise team around us, and to validate ideas and strategies in-house. We learned to develop a strategy for the future and stick to it.

Dive into your ‘blue ocean’

One of the biggest challenges for us was realizing that the market needs competitors. They helped us find our blue ocean — the market segment Wesual could focus on to grow. 

By identifying and analyzing the strategies implemented by other businesses, we were able to assess market interests in segments already tested by our competitors. It helped us to develop a successful go-to-market strategy for our own company.

Embrace the competition (and 2 other key takeaways)

I guess the bottom line is: don’t see successful challengers in your industry as obstacles on your way to success. Learn from them and tailor your strategy accordingly. Analyze their lessons learned and take an agile approach to incorporate them into your business plan.

Oh, and make sure to gather a team of specialists to bridge gaps in your own skillset. It will help you to grow faster and develop a better product. Don’t do everything by yourself, but learn to delegate. And if you can’t find the right expertise in-house, make sure to seek it out there — through an acceleration program, for example.

It’s the only way you and your co-founders will learn to stop doing everything yourselves and create a team that can grow a successful business. And don’t forget to love your competitors! If you look closely, they’ve done quite a lot of groundwork for you.

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