Shift how you look at competition in business from a negative to a positive
Recently, I remembered a moment at the very beginning of IWearYourShirt. People often ask if I ever had an “a-ha” moment with that business. A moment when I clearly knew it was a good idea worth pursuing.
In September 2008, there was a moment, in my closet, when a culmination of previous thoughts and ideas came together, but that was simply the spark for the idea of IWearYourShirt. And we all know what they say about ideas, right? They’re worthless without execution.
Which brings me to an “a-ha” moment that actually was important.
Competition doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It can be the perfect motivator
When I first came up with the idea for IWearYourShirt, there was nothing like it.
No one had thought of IWearYourShirt in a way that I had packaged it all together in my mind. And certainly, no one was crazy enough to take on a 365-day challenge like I was. At least until November of 2008, when “Girl In Your Shirt” popped up on my radar.
Now, back in 2008, Twitter was a very small space. Yes, there were millions of accounts already, but when you did something that got press on TechCrunch, everyone knew about it. And Girl in Your Shirt got it. Suddenly, she was everywhere.
I remember my first reaction to the TechCrunch story: a mix of fear, jealousy, and utter despair. I’d clearly had the idea for IWearYourShirt first, but there was no mention of me. No credit given to my unique idea. Just a girl doing what I set out to do, which apparently was more worth talking about to the all-important TechCrunch. She was going to get all the attention going forward, and IWearYourShirt would get left in the dust.
But then, my clouds of anger started to disperse. I felt in a shift in the way I looked at this t-shirt wearing competition that had popped up out of nowhere.
I had to crush Girl In Your Shirt.
(Not literally. I’m a lover, not a fighter, people!)
When competition becomes motivation
Having someone in direct competition with my unique idea created a spark of motivation. I knew I was going to have to work hard to make IWearYourShirt succeed, but now, I was going to turn things up to 11. I was going to give everything I had to my shirt-wearing business to make it more successful and more talked about, and to leave any potential competition in the dust.
For the rest of 2008, I obsessively checked in on Girl In Your Shirt. I checked her Twitter and watched her videos, all while putting in maximum effort to do the best work I could possibly do with IWearYourShirt. By the time January 1, 2009, rolled around, I had already sold out 1/2 of my calendar (nearly 200 sponsor spots). Because she’d copied my idea, she had a calendar as well, and I’d sold triple the amount she’d sold.
Competition early on was the motivation I needed to make my business successful, and was probably the most important a-ha moment I’ve ever had.
Competition does another great thing: It proves a need in the market
Whether you have a crazy idea like IWearYourShirt, or you’re a designer looking for great clients, or you’re an aspiring food blogger, or you’re a restaurant owner (of yet another restaurant), etc., having other people do what you do proves there’s demand for it.
You have three options if there’s competition in whatever space you’re in:
1. Let the competition crush you: See other people already doing what you want to do, and let them stomp on your dreams until you cry yourself to sleep every night. That sounds fun.
2. See the competition as a learning experience: What can you learn from the people already in your niche? What are they doing that you can do differently? Can you find customers of an existing business like yours and ask questions about what they like and don’t like? Be a sponge, and soak up as much knowledge as you can about what people have already done (or not done).
If someone is already doing what you are trying to do, don’t get discouraged. There are barely any unique ideas left in the world. That’s okay! You can start businesses and embrace ideas that already exist. You just need to put your unique spin on it.
3. See the competition as an advantage: Especially if you’re first in your space, seeing competition pop up is a good thing. It means your idea is attractive to others and is inspiring “me-too” tendencies. When that happens to you, celebrate. I’d always rather be the “I did it first” guy than the “me too” guy. And then, when you’re done celebrating, get back to work. Learn from what the me-too competition is doing and not doing, and keep innovating. It’s a great sales strategy to be able to tell potential customers that you were the first one to start doing X.
Competition won’t go away and why you should be thankful for it
For all the time I spent worrying about her and how she would affect my business, Girl In Your Shirt shut down just a few months after starting. But she wasn’t the only competition I ever had in that business. Far from it. As the years went by, there were multiple people who tried to copy IWearYourShirt. I watched as all of them lasted a few days, weeks, and sometimes months. And I kept working hard. Then, as fast as they had appeared, they disappeared into the catacombs of the Internet (somewhere near Geocities, the Netscape browser, and Dogster).
I don’t begrudge them for copying. In fact, have each and every one of those competitors to thank for my success. Without them, I would have gotten comfortable, and I would have gotten lazy.
Instead, competition kept me on my toes—for that project, and for every project that has come after. Whether it’s an existing idea and someone tried to copy it, or I was starting a project where people had already created something similar.
Don’t be afraid of competition. Embrace it. Be thankful for it. Learn from it, use it to your advantage, and then dominate it!