Shake Your Competitor’s Hand

Those who have studied conflict in depth all emerge with the same conclusion: the best way to beat your competition is to avoid triggering competition. Sun Tzu and Colonel John Boyd, two military geniuses who dedicated their lives to studying how to effectively kill enemies, both came out of their lifelong studies thinking a lot like Mahatma Gandhi. All three of these great men realized that the most efficient win comes when your competition chooses not to fight.

Yesterday I began my examination of PetMD, and I found that the management embraced the lesson above. It has outlined its business to carefully avoid triggering a competitive response by would-be adversaries. For example, PetMD is not designed to replace veterinarians, but rather it’s designed to help them. As PetMD’s CEO Kim Schinnerer says, "We are not out to replace vets, but instead we try to connect people to vets. Our defined goal is to connect consumers with veterinarians."

This way PetMD avoids clashing against what could otherwise become a powerful adversary: the veterinarian community.

They additionally avoid competing with other pet-related companies by adopting a business model that could actually help other pet-related web sites. As Kim explains, "We syndicate our content to other pet-related companies."

In general, PetMD takes a helpful stance. "We are creating positive energy because we are a complement to others and not an abrasive factor to other businesses," says Kim.

This launch approach is identical to the one Google took at its birth. When Google was founded, other sites, like Yahoo! and Alta Vista, were moving away from search. Investors and industry experts believed there was no value in the search business and pressured web sites to become portals instead.

So Google offered to do the dirty work, to take that boring, low-value search work off the hands of Yahoo! and Alta Vista. Google signed search deals with these large sites and very quickly became the largest search site in the world. The rest of the story you know.

Kim advises, "You can outthink your competition just by shaking your competition’s hand."

In my scheme of competitive patterns, this is pattern number 33: be helpful to your competition.

Ask yourself the following question to see if there is a way you can apply this strategy to your own business. What can I do to help my competition while carving out my own piece of the market?


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