If you worry too much about what you are up against you would never start something new. We’d still buy tickets through travel agents instead of online, we’d still use taxis instead of Uber and there would be no Facebook, only a failed Friendster. Competition — whether competing against another company or the status quo — is what evolves old ideas, inspires new ones and makes the world work better.
If we focus too much on the competition we lose sight of where we are going. It’s hard to run up the stairs when you are always looking right and left, and who’s coming up behind you. And, it’s not always as important as you might think. Stay grounded in your vision or strategy.
The week I officially joined eBay in 1999, Microsoft and Dell launched an online auction site called FairMarket. Everyone was very worried about this initiative. Could this be the end of eBay?
Obviously, we now know how this story ends: Just because you have a big name doesn’t mean you will get a big win. FairMarket never became a real threat and eBay wound up buying it a few years later in 2003. Had we gotten bogged down in competing against them we would have lost track of what we were doing, changed our strategy to be influenced by theirs, and given them validation in the market they didn’t warrant. It was more powerful to focus on what we wanted.
That experience showed the value in knowing what is going on around you, but not letting it disable you. You must be more focused on what you want to achieve and constantly work to improve that. The path to achieving rests in setting aggressive, but achievable goals and monitoring the results.We had built a true global marketplace where consumers found items they wanted and entrepreneurs (sellers) found new markets for their products. FairMarket was intended to be a place where large companies could move their products. We were the place where individuals came to shop. And, we decided to stay focused on those consumers and how to become better at serving them. We prioritized what was most important: scalability (we had significant service issues due to our success), trust (we had to make transactions safer for consumers), friction (most of the payments were by check or money order as opposed to PayPal, etc.), and user experience. We also expanded into multiple countries, either via new launches like the United Kingdom or acquisitions like Germany. So, while we kept an eye on what the competition was doing, we spent most of our time making our service better, safer, easier to use and more global.
Remember: You are your most important competition. If you don’t build a product or service of relevance it really doesn’t matter what your competition does. As Michael Jordan said, “You have competition every day because you set such high standards for yourself that you have to go out every day and live up to that.” That is how he got to be the greatest basketball player of all time — and it’s really the best way for anyone to succeed.