Every time when we get a business idea or we start a company we cannot avoid but think that someone is going to steal our idea and f*ck us over. I think that is a very natural thought. We feel jealous of our idea, we had it, we think it is very cool. But sooner or later that is going to happen, someone is going to copy us. There is free market and if the idea is actually good someone is going to try to replicate it. Some other company can copy your idea. Maybe someone is going to create an open source version product. Your first employee will decide that the idea is cool enough that he deserves a try by himself. But no worries, don’t freak out. It is likely that you’re not the first one that had that idea, you are not going to find an empty niche waiting for you. The world is full of smart driven people willing to build things. So, in the end everything that can be copied, will be copied. The only things that differentiate you from the rest are those things that cannot be bought nor replicated.
For example, insider information. Insider information is the knowledge of non-public information. It can also be considered insider trading, but as a startup, this may not be that easy to achieve. However, if you are a leading expert -knowing all the ins and outs, including the pain points- you can take advantage of it. It is not enough to know the problems at a surface level; you should know them in detail and have the skills to address them. In this case it will be hard for the competitors to find a similar skillset as you have (everything in one person) or even to find a team that can see the big picture as you can. Probably when they assemble the team you would have upgraded yourself to the second version. Sometimes it is necessary to team up with other people. Not everyone knows about everything nor have the same character. Awesome teams have varied skillset but a common vision. In any case they have the insider knowledge and expertise to increase the chances of success.
Single-minded, single-focus. Or as the proverb puts it: Jack of all trades, master of none. It is very difficult to fight with the same intensity on various open fronts. With multiple goals and paths one is forced to allocate resources dividing the attention into multiple directions. Sometimes you’re obliged to choose among tradeoffs trying to keep things balanced but with a single focus you already know which path is the optimal. You only need to be good at one thing. Apple for example put the design on top of everything, and Google their search engine. Those are the features that differentiate them among everything else, those are the things that got the eyeballs on them. Your single focus should not be easy to achieve either, if it is trivial it is not worth the time.
Something that is not easy to achieve but highly rewarding is authority. Authority is not something that you can buy, it is something that you build over time with constancy and lots of effort. You don’t sit one afternoon and build it. It requires a constant effort to let others know you and consistently show your expertise in the field. This can come in form of celebrity endorsement as well. Other well-known celebrities in your field may acknowledge that you’re doing a great job. If they do, your score is going to increase substantially.
There is, however, one asset tough to replicate. Existing customers. It is troublesome to gain new customers. People don’t like change. They stick to what they have, seen, and experienced. They like routine. Changes cost us in different ways. There is the learning curve on how to use the product, on how to interact with the new provider, on learning about the new representatives and their characters, etc. No one likes change. So, in most cases companies don’t get killed by competition but die by suicide. Current customers can help you to take the leap and jump to the next level. Don’t leave them aside. Customers are your momentum, don’t ditch them.