Size isn’t everything in the business world. While bigger businesses may have more experience, resources, and connections — this isn’t a death sentence for you. You do, however, have to be strategic with the path you choose.
David vs. Goliath: Business-Style
Most people are familiar with the biblical account of David and Goliath. In the story, the Philistine army is coming to fight Israel. David, the beloved son of Jesse, is told to take some food to his three brothers who are fighting for King Saul in the Israelite army.
When David arrives at the camp where his brothers are located, he sees Goliath, the famed Philistine giant, come sauntering out from his own camp. As he had been doing for the past 40 days, he yelled at the Israelite army to send someone over to fight him. But it wasn’t just a challenge — there was a wager attached to it. If Goliath won, the Israelites would become slaves to the Philistines. If Goliath’s opponent won, the Philistines would become slaves to the Israelites.
Because of Goliath’s size — it’s estimated that he was taller than 9 feet — no Israelite was brave enough to face him. After David learned of the great reward Saul would present to any man able to defeat the giant, he decided he would take on Goliath.
Despite being told by others — including King Saul himself — that he was just a small boy, incapable of defeating his much larger opponent — David continued. [Sound like your favorite entrepreneur?] David went down to a nearby stream and gathered five smooth stones. He placed each of the stones in his bag, grabbed his sling — and went out to meet Goliath. Yeah — Goliath laughed in his face.
While Goliath was still smirking at the thought of the little shepherd boy, David began to run toward the giant. He took a stone from his bag — carefully placing the stone in his sling, and hurled it towards Goliath. To the surprise of everyone except David, the stone hit Big G in the head — and he immediately fell down.
The biblical version of the story is obviously one of faith and how placing your trust in God leads to redemption. BUT — if you will take a look beyond any religious connotations — author Malcolm Gladwell believes he knows why David was victorious.
It’s Gladwell’s theory that Goliath suffered from acromegaly — a condition that produces excessive growth hormone. (Among many other side effects, people with acromegaly tend to have large features, slow movement, and poor eyesight and vision.) Gladwell believes that David recognized these weaknesses and used them to his advantage to topple the supposed “powerful” giant.
While you certainly don’t have to subscribe to this theory, it’s interesting, nonetheless. It also provides a nice parallel for small startups (David’s) competing with established companies (Goliaths). It shows that every giant, no matter how powerful they may appear — has their own set of weaknesses. Startups, while small in stature — can exploit the weaknesses of the competition — by playing to their own strengths and dexterity.
Instead of being overwhelmed by what major industry players bring to the table, you should be focused on what they don’t do well — their weaknesses — their shortcomings and oversights. What you’ll discover is that the fight is much more fair than you originally thought.
4 Tips for Overtaking Bigger Businesses
How did a company like Amazon almost singlehandedly reshape the entire bookselling business and topple companies like Borders, Books-a-Million, and Barnes & Noble? How did a little startup like Netflix knock off Blockbuster?
When you look through history and study the evolution of various industries over time — it becomes apparent that small businesses overtake established organizations all the time. Learning from what they’ve accomplished may help you topple your own Goliath.
- Leverage Your Small Size.
It probably doesn’t feel like it most of the time — but your small size is an advantage when you face off against large competitors.
While it’s true that your competitors have vast resources and can outspend you every step of the way. These competitors enjoy a more recognizable brand name, and will use economies of scale to undercut you whenever they please. But, remember they’re also bound by bureaucracy and layers of rules and regulations.
As a small startup, you’re agile. You can pivot and shift when the marketplace demands a change. You have the time to focus on building strong relationships with individual clients. You don’t have to filter a decision through a bunch of different department heads. You can make a decision and execute to your advantage in the same day.
This is something Green & Clean Maid Service, an Atlanta-based non-toxic home cleaning service, has found extremely advantageous. As owner Cheryl Clayton says, “It’s easy for us to step in, choose a new product, test it out, and if we’re pleased, replace all existing products within the year.”
JavaPresse Coffee Company, a fresh-focused specialty coffee club, has used its agility to both source all-natural, organically grown coffees and bring customers into the fold. Raj Jana, the company’s founder, said, “We wanted to give our customers a chance to share their stories and write about how their coffee ritual helps them thrive in daily life.
We can invite our clients and customers to see how well brewed coffee impacts the lives of people all around us all — each and every day. Each week, we feature one incredible story and gift the storyteller with every one of our products — and a month’s worth of coffee.”
The more you focus on the positive attributes of being small and nimble, the less the competition will intimidate you.
- Do Something the Competition Isn’t Doing.
If your small startup is trying to replicate the same things your much larger competitors are already doing, you’re going to fail. It’s almost impossible to enter an industry and mimic what’s already being done. The established company already has brand equity – so why would customers listen to you?
The key is to do something different. By targeting an aspect of the industry that the big players aren’t going after, you can find something to connect your name with.
Colorado-based Healthy Hemp Oil is a great example of this. While the legalization of marijuana in many states has led to a burgeoning cannabis industry that’s already rife with big companies — Healthy Hemp Oil has decided to do something different. They’ve targeted CBD, or cannabidiol, which is a natural cannabinoid contained in the plants of the cannabis family — including hemp and marijuana. Their products serve a segment of the marketplace (i.e. people who want the positive health benefits of marijuana without the high amount of THC).
Whether it’s CBD, baby products, or lawn care services, small companies have to do something different. Finding your niche within the larger industry will serve you well and eventually provide you with an opportunity to overtake the giants.
- Establish Strong Connections.
Connections are paramount to your success. While you may have a great idea, you probably don’t possess the connections to help you dominate your industry and build a massive business that overtakes the competition. It’s very rare that an entrepreneur has a world-class idea for a business and strong connections. Most have either/or. Tesla is a great example of this.
While many people believe Elon Musk is the founder of Tesla — and he’s technically listed as a co-founder – he didn’t actually start the business. Tesla was founded by Martin Eberhard, Mark Tarpenning, and Ian Wright. However, they were smart enough to pitch their idea for a fleet of electric vehicles to Musk. Once they did, the rest became history. That one single connection took them from a small idea to a company that just recently launched one of its vehicles into space.
“While we can’t all woo Elon, there are other ways that entrepreneurs can find valuable mentorship and support,” entrepreneur Tony Li writes. “There are hundreds of accelerators and incubators that will provide training, networking opportunities, and even office space and capital to help you get your idea off the ground.”
Jim Bailey, a member of Entrepreneurs’ Organization who has led multiple painting and general contracting companies, found himself in a David-and-Goliath situation when a larger company sued his own. He and his four employees didn’t have the resources the 1,000-person business did, but they did have the strength of a community. “Everyone in our local industry knew about the suit and they could tell we were struggling,” Bailey said. “The second word got out about our troubles we banded together and became a team. Our customers, our suppliers and even some of our other competitors rallied around us.”
As you build your business, work on forging connections. Even if you don’t need them at the moment, there will come a time where you’ll want some assistance. Having those relationships in place will pay dividends.
- Always Be Ready to Pivot.
Rarely does a startup follow a singular path. While it does happen, the majority of successful businesses experience a few shifts and pivots along the way. Some pivots are small and others are large, but they’re rarely nonexistent.
Amazon would be a good example. Bezos has tried a lot of different things along the way to becoming one of the world’s most successful companies. From selling books to developing hardware to launching subscription services, Amazon has had an affinity for pivoting since the beginning.
You need to have the same mindset. You shouldn’t pivot at the first sign of trouble, but you should be willing to shift at any time you need to shift. Don’t be ridged on this point. This willingness to go in a new direction will take you far — and may even save you sometime.
Play to Your Strengths
When you’re David, you can’t let the size of Goliath scare you off. If you take the time to lean in, identify your competition’s weaknesses, and play to your strengths, you’ll have a chance to be successful.
Nobody is saying you’re going to topple a billion-dollar business. Success might look like getting acquired by Goliath, or carving out a profitable niche in the industry. The point is that you shouldn’t be dissuaded by size and size alone. You have distinct advantages of your own. Tap into your own unique distinctness and you may just find that your strengths exploit their weaknesses.
Jeremy Webb Blog | Startup Grind https://www.startupgrind.com/blog/4-pointers-to-help-your-startup-compete-with-major-industry-players/