collaboration

'Collaborative' Is the New 'Competitive'

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I’ve always been competitive. When I was 5, my sister and I were playing a game called Concentration. A bunch of cards were laid out face-down on a table, and you had to flip over the cards, then try to find the pairs.

Related: Why Collaboration Is Essential to Entrepreneurship

I flipped over the cowboy card and would have bet all of my Barbies that I knew where the second cowboy card lay. So I flipped it over. But, instead, I saw "the horse," not "the cowboy" -- and flipped out myself.

Gripping the bottom of the table, I turned the whole thing over and watched the cards fly onto the floor. That was the moment my parents realized they were in for a challenge in raising me.

The reason: As I got older, my competitive nature oozed into everything, rather than just card games. I wanted to run faster than the random jogger beside me. I wanted higher grades than my friends got. I wanted to bend farther over than the other students in yoga class.

And when I started my business, Headbands of Hope, my competitive nature spiked to a whole new level. I wanted more profits, I wanted more social media followers, I wanted more stores. I wanted more celebrity endorsements.

I found myself constantly comparing my business to every other one I came in connection with. If I saw a gift guide in a magazine that we weren’t in, I couldn't just be happy for the business behind it. I’d only think, “Why weren’t we in that?” And so on and so on.

I was exhausted.

About a year or so into Headbands of Hope, I joined an entrepreneurs' coworking space in Raleigh, N.C. Originally, I had regarded the space as an office where I could work and receive mail. But after I started working there, I saw its real value: Business owners there were helping one other, discussing ideas and forming collaborations.

Joining that coworking space started to change my energy toward other entrepreneurs. It was one of the first times in my life where I was genuinely willing to sit down with another entrepreneur and share my lessons and advice without charging a consulting fee.

The first collaboration we did as a company was with another headband company called Sweaty Bands. They’re the leading fitness headband, and even though our product is more a luxury brand, we saw our collaboration as a way to merge our audiences.

It worked: Sweaty Bands' team members created a branded headband for us, and we did cross promotions with them, gaining hundreds of new followers and selling out of our new headband in under 48 hours. Sweaty Bands didn’t see us as competition; they saw us as a collaborative opportunity.

Related: Want to Change the World? These Quotes Will Inspire You.

A few months later, both companies were vendors, operating separately, at a big race. They were running a promotion that offered a free headband to customers who bought three. When they saw us there, they included us in their promotion. A customer who bought a headband from us could have it count toward the promotional offer.

Instead of thinking of ways to position themselves competitively at the event, they chose to collaborate and build relationships. And, in that way, we both won.

Not that we were the first to do this: One of the best collaborative entrepreneurs I can think of is Blake Mycoskie, of TOMS Shoes. Mykoskie came up with the concept of “one for one,” where every time a pair of shoes is sold, another pair is donated to a child in need. Thousands of people, including myself, have been inspired by that business model and have “duplicated” it as other one-for-one businesses helping those in need with every purchase.

And Mykoskie? He didn’t push back on people copying his business model; he encouraged it. He wrote a book called Start Something That Matters that helps people create socially responsible businesses through his experiences. He even started a marketplace on the TOMS website that sells products from other socially responsible brands.

Recently, we celebrated donating headbands to every children’s hospital in the United States. TOMS tweeted to Headbands of Hope, congratulating us on our milestone.

We also recently collaborated with a knit-hat company called Love Your Melon, which, like my company, gives back to kids with cancer. We have similar missions, but different products. So, instead of seeing each other as competitors, we two joined forces and created a joint beanie hat and brought each other's products to hospital donations for the kids.

The lesson here is that it’s easy to stand beside everyone you meet, or every business you see, with measuring tape to see how you compare. And you could argue that it’s healthy to think of how you can get a step ahead and stand out from everyone else.

However, applying that mentality to everything you do can be draining, and sometimes detrimental to growth. Instead, let your mind look for opportunities to join forces and do something great.

Related: 3 Steps to Happy Collaboration Between Your Engineering and Business Team