Getting a product or service out to market is a large task in itself. Add to the mix competing with larger companies that have established brand recognition and any entrepreneur feels like crawling back to their idea laboratory with their tail between their legs.
Being the new kid on the block doesn’t have to be a shortcoming. Let’s learn how to use being the underdog to your advantage:
Know Your Competitor
How can you dominate your industry if you don’t know who you are trying to surpass? Not knowing your competition is a fast-track to failure. You have to know who is currently serving your audience and what hole you plan on filling. Yes, they may have a dedicated audience, but what can you bring to the table that is currently missing from their meal?
Entrepreneurs need to invest their time in perfecting their product, but also need to stay abreast of industry trends. You have to live and breathe your startup – have the passion and urgency of a caged Lioness. Of course you have fears, you’re human. However, you have to be ferocious when it comes to execution. As a startup, you’re not on the big players’ radar. They’re too busy eyeing other established brands. So when you’re ready to strike, be prepared and precise.
Take a page from boxing great Mike Tyson’s playbook when it comes time to step in the ring and take your product to the masses:
“While I’m in the dressing room five minutes before I come out, my gloves are laced up. I’m breaking my gloves down, I m pushing the leather to the back of my gloves, so my knuckle could pierce through … When I come out I have supreme confidence, but I’m scared to death. I’m totally afraid. I’m afraid of everything. I’m afraid of losing. I’m afraid of being humiliated. But I’m totally confident.
“The closer I get to the ring the more confident I get. The closer, the more confident. The closer the more confident I get. All during training I’ve been afraid of this man. I thought this man might be capable of beating me. I’ve dreamed of him beating me. For that I’ve always stayed afraid of him. The closer I get to the ring the more confident I get.
“Once I’m in the ring I’m a god. No one could beat me. I walk around the ring but I never take my eyes off my opponent. Even if he’s ready and pumping, and can’t wait to get his hands on me. I keep my eyes on him. I keep my eyes on him. Then once I see a chink in his armor, boom, one of his eyes may move, and then I know I have him. Then once he comes to the center of the ring he still looks at me with his piercing look as if he’s not afraid.
“But he already made that mistake when he looked down for that one tenth of a second. I know I have him. He’ll fight hard for the first two or three rounds, but I know I already broke his spirit. During the fight I’m supremely confident. I’m making him miss and I’m countering. I’m hitting him to the body; I’m punching him real hard. And I’m punching him, and I’m punching him, and I know he’s not able to take my punches. He goes down, he’s out. I’m victorious.” – Mike Tyson, from the 2008 documentary “Tyson”
Strike Where You’re Not Expected
In Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War,” a strong strategy in chapter one is, “Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.”
Don’t go around telling everyone how awesome your product/service is, show them. Being a startup means you have time to test your idea and, as Eric Ries teaches in “The Lean Startup,” pivot if something isn’t working. Don’t worry about failure. It’s a clue that something in your strategy or purpose needs refining. While large corporations pour millions into ideas that go bust, you can host controlled focus-groups and soft product launches that give you insight into consumer response under the radar.
If you’re a product developer looking to launch the next big thing, consider markets that can use some revolution. When the Snuggie burst onto the scene in 2008, no one was talking about blankets. The product became an unexpected pop culture phenomenon.
Work Small But Think Big
Another reason startups fail early on is mismanaged spending. Don’t go out and get an office if you can save money by working at home. Keep your overhead costs as low as possible.
When The Oprah Winfrey Show gave SPANX Founder Sara Blakely a buzz, her product was already in seven Neiman Marcus stores. So imagine their surprise when they showed up at Blakely’s apartment to film.
Blakely retold her funny moment at The Edge Connection Networking Breakfast in 2011 in Atlanta. “They said, ‘Sara, on the plane we decided that we want to film you in your headquarters.’ I said you’re here. They kind of looked at each other and went, ‘Oh. OK.’”
Despite her immediate success, she continued to operate out of her home for almost two years. While women were falling in love with her company and rushing out to buy SPANX, they had no idea the CEO and a couple of friends were running the whole shebang from two cardboard tables in the back of her apartment.
Pricing also plays a large part in working small and generating revenue. Just because it costs you $30 to make an item, doesn’t mean you have to sell it for $35. If your product is delivering value, figure in that worth when creating your pricing structure. You are here to make money. When consumers feel they are getting great value, they will pay for it.
Being a smaller operation allows you to take risks and opportunities that larger companies cannot. Remember, it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.