CEOs in highly competitive spaces often claim that competition is critical and that they welcome it. I'm not convinced. It is much better to carve out a niche that doesn't have a lot of competition but still be disciplined about how you innovate and operate. Return Path doesn't live in a very crowded marketplace but take it from me: even without a competitor in sight, running a startup is stressful enough. If you do have competition, there are a few things you can do to win—or, at the very least, keep them from causing you to fail.
Two of the “big classics” I mentioned in Part One were written by George Stalk and Rob Lachenauer: Hardball and their follow-up article in the Harvard Business Review, “Curveball.”
As with most business books, Hardball isn't really geared toward small, entrepreneurial companies but most of the principles of competition—and how to win—are timeless. The basic principles, each of which gets a chapter, are on unleashing massive force, exploiting anomalies (perfect for the data junkie within), threatening the competition's profit zones, plagiarizing with pride, breaking compromises, and M&A.
The chapter on breaking compromises is my favorite because it deals with a facet of human nature that I think can be devastating to business: the “that's the way it's always worked” conundrum, otherwise known as “baggage.” Why does XYZ happen in our business, illogical as it may seem? Because that's how we have always done it! ...