My first company was a software consulting firm. We were young and dumb, and didn’t particularly consider ourselves to be in business. We just hated our corporate jobs and were consulting because it “paid a lot.” We were good at writing software, had a few connections, and like I said – hated corporate America. In the world of tiny software consultancies, where it’s only two of you and you can only work so many hours in a week – we didn’t have any competition. Sure we’d lose bids to firms that were cheaper, or those that utilized a different framework, but we didn’t particularly care. We had enough work for us, we were making enough money to buy stupid shit, and life was good. Except that it was consulting, which sucks (which is a story for another day).
My second software company didn’t really have competition either. We would often talk about how “pencil and paper” was our biggest competitor. Put differently, the status quo was our biggest foe. Our application was best described as “process improvement” software, and thus our challenge was to convince people who were using pencil and paper to start paying a ton of money for software to make their lives easier.
Now, there were competitors actually. They just weren’t any good. They were old, bloated, client-server installations. We were the shiny new, UI/UX-ified web application. They were expensive with maintenance contracts and whatnot, and we were no-contract pay-as-you-go software-as-a-service. And thus life was good. We would win bids against our competitors all the time. In fact, they were the best customers, as they’d already been converted from the “status quo”, and now we just had to convince them that we were better/cheaper/faster.
In both of these cases, there were indeed competitors – just not *good* ones. Not ones that push you to be better and that make you mad when you’re inferior. And that’s exciting for a while, but over time gets boring. We would from time to time lose business to the competition, but it was never for reasons that made us mad because they had a better product.
Fast forward to my third company. In our space, there’s by my estimation a billion hosting companies in the world. One for every 6 humans on earth. And many of the them are terrible – I call them “hosting companies in a closet”. Rent a server, install cPanel and BAM! you’re a hosting company.
And yet there are some amazing ones. Ones that have amazing custom technology stacks. Ones that have amazing support (Zappos-level almost). And ones that are pushing the envelop with features beyond your typical “web hosting.”
For the first time ever, I find myself jealous of the competition. Yeah yeah I know, focus on our customers not the competition. But given my history of not having competitors at all, I find it perplexing that someone is out there doing good work. It drives me. It makes me want to push, and push our team to be the absolute best.
I’m not typically competitive by nature – not like I was into sports or anything like that. But what I do have is an almost OCD desire for quality. Not perfectionism, quality.
In fact it’s that drive for quality that is what drove me bonkers about the first consulting company – we were beholden to someone else’s definition of quality. Ultimately it wasn’t up to us to define how far to push or what the cost/benefit breakdown was.
Nothing new or surprising here, we see it all the time. Google in the browser war makes Microsoft and Firefox better. Apple in the mobile phone market makes everyone else better. But for the first time, I am experiencing it first hand – and it’s great.
It’s important to note however, that I’m not talking about “copying.” I’m very deliberatly talking about “innovation” or “quality.” How having great competition increases one’s drive for their own product to be the best that it can be. We have incredible ideas on where to take this, and truly innovate in the space. And we’re driven each and every day by the thought that someone else might actually beat us to it.
And that’s what I love about great competition. When I see one of our competitors do something great, it makes me want to be even better. Not change course – be better. We’re steadfast in our vision for what we’re building, and have a shared idea of the level of quality we’re striving for. And we’re confident of our ability to execute, and ultimately come out on top.
We’ve got great competitors, and I love it.