Do you have that feeling that someone is watching you? That everyone in the room is talking about you? That maybe your relationship isn’t exclusive?
If you don’t, you should.
I was fortunate enough to work for Intel when Andy Grove was CEO. One of his most famous lines is “only the paranoid survive”. This term is as relevant today as it was in the 90s. Being paranoid, in the right way, is essential for all companies and especially startups. It’s what will propel your business forward. What does being paranoid “in the right way” mean?
1. Look over your shoulder.
2. Be self-aware.
3. Realize you’re not the only game in town.
1. Look over your shoulder: Assume if you have this great idea, someone else probably has it, too. Once the word is out about a new way to grow an audience or solve a problem, there will be a crowd of imitators jumping in the fray. The movie industry is a great example of this. You can google “similar movies coming out at the same time” and see the same trending themes from 2013’s Olympus Has Fallen/White House Down to 1997’s Volcano/Dante’s Peak.
Once you realize that others are close on your heels, you need to run like hell. I have watched and worked for companies who lost their competitive edge because they weren’t paranoid enough and were having too much fun telling everyone how great their technology was versus how it will transform the client’s world. The result: a window of opportunity for the competition. Someone is going to try to catch you. It’s your responsibility to not let anyone preempt your narrative with a more compelling story.
2. Be self-aware: Assume people are talking about you. Today, with social media, your missteps go public overnight and have the potential to throw a wrench in your progress. So yes, you need to run like hell, but you need to be running in the right direction and not skipping steps that affect quality, preparation like Q/A and alpha and beta clients. And don’t overpromise the initial capabilities of your product.
Reputation is everything, especially in the beginning as you build your brand. Tell a great story and deliver as promised; stay close to your early clients; be responsive and become the company that is trusted, that is essential to your clients’ success.
3. Realize you’re not the only game in town: If your customers are talking to you, they are probably talking to others. There are two ways you meet prospective customers. They asked for you to come in or you or a partner convinced them to let you pitch your product. If they asked you, this typically means they are looking to improve some aspect of their business and are probably exploring multiple options. If you convinced them to let you pitch and stimulated new ideas and solutions for them, as grateful as they are, they’re going to do their homework and see what else is out there.
Make the choice easier for the customer: Be ready to stand out from the competition by reassuring clients through your acumen that they’ve made the right choice, that they can count on you, that you know your stuff. So be prepared to wow them.
Do you know what makes you unique? Can you articulate it? Do you know your Unfair Advantage? Set the bar so high that the competition can’t get over it and the only choice is for your customer to choose you.
This may seem obvious, and you may think you are already doing this. But remember 20% of startups fail from being outcompeted. Another reason startups fail is they don’t get outside help. Be paranoid that someone may do it or sell it better if you give them the chance. So don’t let that happen. Run fast. Run hard. Run smart. Get help.
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