Whether you are writing your first business plan or have been in business for years struggling against a larger competitor, you can multiply your chances of success by stacking together strategies that turn your (small) size into a sizeable advantage. In the last several weeks, I covered four such strategies. If you combine them all, you could completely change the game.
This is what Ruckus Media is doing. Founded by Rick Richter, who until recently was the president and publisher of Simon & Schuster's children’s division, Ruckus Media is seeking to leapfrog its nearest competitor—LeapFrog—and transform how children consume media and learn.
But instead of trying the old "run fast and pray" strategy that so many technology firms resort to, Ruckus has carefully constructed a strategy that could make them immune to competition...at least for a while. Here is its playbook:
1. Move early to the next battleground: Great entrepreneurs spend more time thinking about the "next battleground" than their competitors. Just as Wayne Gretzky explained his success at hockey by saying "I skate to where the puck is going," you want to be scanning the horizon thinking every day about what is there. The Ruckus team glimpsed the next battleground when they realized that "children with iPads and iPhones often have hand-me-downs from parents," Richter says. Ruckus recognized traditional competitors, even technology-focused ones, were not yet prepared for this new future, so they crafted a vision to create a "LeapPad without the green plastic." For those without young children, the LeapPad is a Kindle-sized device built for kids. I bought my son one for his 6th birthday. He loaded it up with educational games and now carries it everywhere. Ruckus aims to save me having to buy the same green plastic for my 4- and 2-year-olds.
2. Lead the sheep away: Great entrepreneurs see where their competitors’ commitments restrict their ability to defend themselves. The competition has invested time and money building a proprietary learning curriculum. Their curriculum is great. The Ruckus team aims to use that greatness against them, by adopting the Common Core Curriculum, a national standard adopted by school systems nationwide. That choice could give Ruckus an advantage as it moves into the classroom. More importantly, it is a choice that the competition will resist adopting, at least for a while, because they are too invested in what they have built themselves.
3. Coordinate the uncoordinated: One way to build a wall around your innovation is to use the power of coordination and pull together the pieces faster and earlier than your competitors can. Ruckus is doing this by signing up content deals with leading children’s brands from Crayola to Transformers, using the team’s network of relationships, to build new digital learning products.
4. Create something out of nothing: Finally, Ruckus is using a pattern that I believe rests at the core of much of Apple’s success over the last decade. Instead of playing within the categories the industry defines and your competitors follow, Ruckus is seeking to create a new category (Apple didn’t create an MP3 player or a tablet computer, it created the iPod and iPad!). "It’s not an e-book or a movie or game; it’s all of those," the team explained to me. When the company gets the rights to a new character or children’s brand, it invests a lot of creativity into building a story line composed of text, activities, and video.
The verdict is still out whether Ruckus will transform the children’s media space—but it has the DNA to do so and early results look promising. Only days after its formal launch, four of its "Ruckus Reader" apps hit the iTunes Top 10 Chart. Within two weeks it clocked one million downloads.
During a sunny Sunday afternoon at home last week, I was busy building a treehouse. I was making great progress in part because my children got bored of "helping me." I looked across the yard and saw my daughter in front of the pool, sitting cross-legged on a couch. She screamed, "Papi, necesito tu ayuda," which means, "Daddy, I need your help!" I walked over and saw that she was trying to get the Ruckus Reader Little Pony through a maze. I explained that she should tilt the device. With that, she was off on her own. An hour later I was hammering down the last treehouse floorboard, and she was still captivated.
Turn your competitor’s size to their disadvantage. Stack up your advantages:
1. Find the next battleground
2. Identify the sheep your competitor will not protect
3. Coordinate faster
4. Create something out of nothing
[Image: Flickr user John Carleton]