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Here’s a general rule of thumb: industry leaders — no matter what industry they’re in — reached their high status for a reason. In climbing to prominence, they did at least a few things right.
For this reason, if you’re in the process of building a company, you should see the leaders in your space not as immediate competitors to be disrupted or feared, but as examples you should try to learn from. If you want to one day achieve similar levels of success or influence — if you want to achieve something notable and meaningful as a company — what better place to look for guidance?
This has proven an instrumental mindset for Skylum.
At Skylum, we build software for photographers. The company was born out of a love for photography and a simple desire to empower both amateur and professional-grade photographers with the ability to make great photos with less effort. It was not born from a desire to disrupt the industry or otherwise unseat the industry leaders. But in the early days, especially — as we were strategizing around how we wanted to position ourselves — we did look to the industry standard for some insight.
That standard was Adobe.
While others might have viewed Adobe as a daunting opponent — and strategized only around how to beat them — we studied them and learned from them what we could.
And later, we positioned ourselves as an alternativerather than a competitor.
Here’s whywe chose that approach, along with the impact it’s had on us as a company.
Studying competitors as peers allows you to identify and create smaller, successful foundations, which will later help you develop true market alternatives.
When we started Skylum, we viewed the industry leader in our space with interest rather than fear — and with intentions of co-existing as opposed to coldly defeating them.
I believe this is a healthier and more sensible mindset for young companies to adopt in general. In our case, it allowed us to focus initially on building great products for a targeted audience that Adobe wasn’t serving as comprehensively — namely, iPhone, iPad, and iMac users. And this gave us a solid foundation from which we could springboard later.
Then, later, when it came time for us to expand out of our initial ecosystem and build tools for the cloud or for Windows, for example, we were prepared. Because while carving our own lane in a niche that Adobe hadn’t yet conquered, we’d also identified areas in which we could offer viable alternatives to Adobe products, like Adobe Lightroom, as well as an alternative to other software companies in the industry.
Eventually, when we were ready, we set out to build both plugins of our own as well as the world’s first real Adobe Lightroom alternative, which is how Luminar was born.
In building Luminar, we did, in a sense, begin competing with Adobe, but our mission as a company — to simply build great products that could co-exist with those offered by the industry standard — never changed. If we would have let it change, or if we’d started out with ulterior motives, that would have proven shortsighted, because “defeating Adobe” simply doesn’t amount to a sensible business strategy.
It’s better to operate sensibly — taking the time to learn where and by what means you can compete with industry stalwarts — than to attack with blind, war-minded ambition.
This mindset allows you to capitalize on opportunities that large competitors don’t have.
Here’s the truth: as a smaller company, you can do certain things that your larger competitors can’t.
Adobe, for example, is a huge corporation. Although they do a lot for their users — and though their products are powerful — they inevitably also have to consider their stakeholders. It’s for this reason, largely, that Adobe has expanded far beyond the photography business into video design, user experiences, marketing, and various cloud services.
As a result, they’ve stopped innovating as much in the photography sphere as they used to. Their products require ongoing subscription, and their connection with customers has grown inevitably weaker.
These are all areas where smaller companies can compete — so long as they possess the right kind of mindset.
At Skylum, we recognized Adobe’s limitations, and we were ready to turn them into our advantages. As the CEO, I can connect directly with users on Instagram or Facebook. We as a company can offer lower prices for a more focused selection of products. We can spend weeks on the road talking to photographers to really understand their pain points and desires. We can also focus our research and development only on one thing — photography — and not get distracted by others. And all in all, we can employ more of a personal approach that customers appreciate.
Studying your competition allows you to emulate what they’ve done right, too.
Adobe is an innovator in the photographer software space.
Furthermore, they do a great job educating users about how to use their products and features, and they prioritize people in a way that’s enabled them to consistently put together high-performing teams. For all these reasons, when we at Skylum think about how we want to do business, we look at Adobe. When we strategize how we want to grow, we look at Adobe. And when we think about how we build our products, we look at Adobe.
Studying your high-performing peers allows you not only to co-exist and compete more effectively — it provides you opportunities to learn from them, too.
Of course, emulating your competition will only get you so far. We know that because we see a number of other photo software companies simply copying our actions. But we grow faster than they do. We look at what Adobe is doing, but we don’t blindly copy them.
If we would have tried implementing a subscription-based revenue model like Adobe, for example, that might not have worked for us. You have to stay true to what makes you unique. A strategy focused only on cloning the success of others isn’t sustainable. Not everything that works for your competition will work for you.
That said, there is so much that you as a small company can learn from industry leaders — both in what they’re neglecting and in how they’re succeeding — that to not try and study them would be foolish.
If you want to meaningfully succeed in your industry, you have to learn from the industry leaders.
Ultimately, if you want to achieve true, lasting success in your industry, you have to study the industry leaders. Those who only blindly try and compete are missing key opportunities for enlightenment and understanding that might otherwise prove valuable.
This mindset amounts to a commitment of putting your company in the best position possible.
The way you do this might look different than how we did it at Skylum, but this imperative remains: learn from those you seek to compete with. Don’t merely compete with them.
Source: Medium (link to the post)
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