A common struggle with most start ups that venture into an industry dominated by larger, well-established and better funded rivals is how best to compete when the odds are seemingly against them. Make too much noise, and the competition may train their guns directly at you. Make too little impact, and you run the risk of not becoming profitable and cash flow positive before your seed money runs out. To many outsiders, such a scenario would appear impossible to overcome.
Trust me – it’s not. One only has to look back just a few years to see the potential. Take Dell Computer for instance, who appeared prominently on the scene with their direct-to-consumer customer service model, displacing the now defunct Digital Equipment Corporation, Wang and other strong computer manufacturers of their day.
That being said, the tasks of going up against the so-called "big boys" will take some firepower, but not all of it coming from the entrepreneur in charge of the new company. So before grabbing your homemade slingshot to go after Goliath, make sure you’ve got the following in your arsenal:
Be sure your offering is truly unique. "Also-Rans" will most certainly get crushed otherwise, as established players can quickly undercut new entrants that have no real competitive advantage on price without sacrificing their long-term cash flow projections or solvency. Once the start up is gone, the rival will simply raise their price back to its original level and move on. The only way to prevent this is by having a compelling, real, unique and sustainable competitive advantage.
Have all your ducks in a row. Ensure the four Marketing "P’s" are fully in place; especially the promotion and placement aspects. Having a good product isn’t enough if no one knows about it or can get to it. In short, don’t start announcing your presence until you’re really ready to compete.
Get others to chime in. If you’re going to rise above the fray and start to create fear, uncertainly and doubt amongst well entrenched players, you’re going to need some help. The old saying that "there’s strength in numbers" rings very true, so get your partners, investors, clients and all other stakeholders to talk you up both online and offline. The collective voices will help make you heard despite your rival’s best efforts to prevent it.
Play to your strengths. Like any new company, trying to be all things to all people will stretch resources beyond your capacity. It’s important as you pick up steam to stay focused in meeting your customer’s needs with your current products. As you and your cash flow grow, you can start to expand your offerings. Until that point, make sure you’re not distracted from doing what you have to do to establish a strong hold within the market.
Taking on the big boys can – and should – be done if the market demands it. However, due care and consideration by upstarts must occur if they are to have the best chances for survival. I know from where I speak, having taken on the same role in my own college textbook market. Just make sure that before you give the "Go" order, you’ve got all the right tools in place to give yourself a fighting chance.
About the author: Bobby Brannigan is the founder and CEO of ValoreBooks, a fast-growing online provider of cheap college textbooks. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.