Rules for Entrepreneurs: Compete and Collaborate

competition

Photo by Roger Barker on Flickr.

Google and Apple are not only competitors… they are collaborators. Indeed, Apple and Google both offer top level smartphones – The iPhone from Apple and the assortment of Android devices by Google (Google not only has its own phones but is the main proprietor of the Android open source project).

In the same world, Samsung and Apple are rivals (and becoming even more rival-ous) with competing smartphones (Samsung runs Android) sparking ferocious lawsuits back and forth, but Samsung is also a major supplier of parts to Apple.

This segment of my continuing series on Rules of Entrepreneurship is all about knowing when and how to compete and when collaboration is a better option. They are not mutually exclusive. This is a natural segue from my last post where I suggest that entrepreneurs focus on doing one thing well.

Principle: Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

It frustrates me to watch startups (usually not very good ones) try to reinvent the wheel. A classic example of this was from back in 2007 when I was sitting in a Starbucks in Columbia, MD. We had a group of entrepreneurs who gathered there on a daily basis and cowork together.

One of the guys I was working with introduced me to a pair of African-American entrepreneurs and he wanted me to hear about what they were building. I sat down and listened to their pitch. They were building the “YouTube for the African-American community”.

Full stop.

What? Why? Why not use YouTube?

They were well into the process of building an entire video platform from the ground up, complete with their own video encoding technology, instead of leveraging what YouTube (and subsequently Google) already created.

The entrepreneurs real mission was creating a video-sharing community for African-Americans, not creating video technology for African-Americans to use. I told them that day that they should abandon attempts to build their own video service, and instead leverage YouTube (which is built and maintained by really smart people at Google) to build the community they really wanted to build.

Why re-invent the wheel? You distract yourself from your core goals.

Sidenote: I have never heard of or from those entrepreneurs since.

Collaborate

As an entrepreneur, part of the process is identifying your competition. We certainly have done that at WP Engine. Sometimes, it is to your benefit to team up with your competition to achieve a common goal. Remember, business is business and it’s not personal. Don’t let your desire to “win” get in the way of your ability to get ahead.

Also, remember the age-old saying, “A rising tide lifts all ships”. What is good for your competition is often good for the entire industry you’re in. Everyone wins.

Certainly that’s not always the case, but it certainly isn’t not always the case.

Compete

In my opinion, competition is a bottom-line issue and there are lots of ways to positively affect your bottom line. Usually, competition does not equate to a zero-sum game, an assumption that rookie entrepreneurs tend to make. (I did this a lot in 2006, 2007 while at b5media and trying to take pot shots at competing blog networks – years later, I find it all kind of silly).

When you do choose to take on direct competition, keep it narrow, precise and for a specific purpose. Don’t allow personal feelings to affect your business strategies and, in the process, keep the door open to cooperation with your competition in other areas.

Next week, I’ll continue this series and talk a bit about release cycles – which is always a fun debate. If you’re not already subscribed to this blog, do so now. Also, follow me on Twitter where I’ll be talking about entrepreneurship, WordPress and a healthy dose of sports on the weekend.

Afrika

protagonize.jpg

protagonize.jpgFor quite some time, I’ve dreamed of starting an historical fiction blog. I’ve toyed with this idea as I think it would be a fantastic experiment in social media. In my eyes, the blog would be written by a World War II Army soldier, and would be dated and conveyed as such.

This morning, I discovered Protagonize, a community-driven, collaborative fiction writing service that just recently launched. I’m late to the game, however, but better late than never.

Protagonize is one of those ideas that slaps you in the face and asks, Why didn’t I think of that?

The concept is community-driven, collaboration on works of fiction. As a social media kind of guy, anything having to do with “community-driven” or “collaboration” is going to end up on my radar (again, late, but it appeared). It’s just the way I roll.

In this case, Protagonize resounds with me because now I can write my story, but I can let you add to it, provide your own missing pieces, and, well, collaborate. I’ve begun a new story, Afrika, which begins by introducing Johan “Joey” Friedrichson, a German-American U.S. Army officer in World War II who is in deep cover in Rommel’s Afrika Corps trying to collect intelligence on Rommel’s plans. We are briefly told about his wife, Michelle, who has yet to have a picture painted. Why don’t you add that part? Or help us figure out what Joey’s plans are next? The story is wide open.