When Jim Geary is interviewed by a reporter, the question always comes: "Who's your competition?"
Geary looks at the reporter . . . mulls over
the question for a moment . . .
wonders why he should give his competition free publicity-then he lies. He names his fourth and fifth competitors as the guys he really needs to beat. Then if the reporter asks about his actual top competition by name, Geary waves them off with "Oh, we don't really compete with them."
Geary, 43, is the CEO of 2-year-old SHYM Technologies, a Needham, Massachusetts, company that provides security software for companies that handle financial transactions through their Web sites. "I think people thrive on it," he says of competition. "People enjoy it because it validates their strategies. It helps validate the thinking or the insight that they had, and with that comes a heck of a lot of satisfaction-and, of course, market success."
But Geary draws the line at calling competition "a kick." And that's understandable, according to Gary Cadenhead, a senior lecturer on entrepreneurship at the University of Texas, Austin. "I've never heard an entrepreneur jump up and down and say, 'Hey! We've got competitors,' " Cadenhead says. "It's not something anybody's going to think is great. That said, it's a reality, and, once the reality is there, it's like any kind of athletic event where there's a thrill. There's an excitement in giving your best and seeing how that compares with somebody else's best."
But Michael Morris, director of the entrepreneurial center at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, doesn't see competition as ever creating much of a rush for entrepreneurs. "Like most people," muses Morris, "entrepreneurs are strong believers in competition and see the value in it-as long as it isn't for their business." Still, he concedes that many entrepreneurs recognize that competition has benefited both their businesses and their customers: "In terms of pricing, it keeps them honest."
And if you're wondering who Geary's competitors are, don't bother. He wouldn't tell us.
Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.