Why This Founder Asked Her Biggest Competitor for Help

It was a big risk, but it may have saved her business.
Why This Founder Asked Her Biggest Competitor for Help
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This story appears in the April 2020 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Angela Gennari didn’t expect to win. She’s honest about that. She’s the founder of Titan Global Enterprises, an Atlanta-­based company that staffs and runs security for events, and it’s a small player in a giant industry. So when the University of Georgia’s athletics contract came up for 2019 (which included its huge football stadium), she saw it as a good learning opportunity. She thought she’d throw everything she had at the bid, lose, get some great insight, and be better prepared next time. But then the unexpected happened: She won. “What a sense of release that was,” she says.

The feeling would soon turn to panic. She discovered that her three employees overseeing operations were slacking — not filing important documents, not properly training new employees, and so on. “It could have cost me the company,” she says. All three resigned. But now she was left to clean up the mess and shoulder the giant contract all by herself. It was impossible. 

Related: Expanding the Local Talent Supply Requires Competitors to Collaborate

She considered her options. There weren’t many. Then she thought of her son; she is a single mom and conscious of the example she sets. I will not fail at this, she thought, because I have to show him that no matter what the obstacle is in front of you, you have to push through it and not let anything defeat you. So she decided to do the one thing that might save the business — but that would also be the riskiest, craziest, most vulnerable thing she could do. She went to her biggest local competitor, Les Dupree of Dupree Security Group, and asked for help. Dupree could save her business…or easily destroy it. Here are the three steps that helped her survive.

Step 1: Lay the groundwork.

“I am transparent to a fault,” Gennari says. This wasn’t always true. In her 20s and 30s, she put on what she calls a “fearless facade” — but it pushed people away. “Now I realize that if I’m honest and tell people, ‘Look, I am really nervous right now,’ they step up.” That helped her build great relationships, including with Dupree. They’d met at many events and developed a good rapport. “I’ve always chosen to show respect and work well with my competitors,” she says, “because you never know when your competitor will become your ally.” It was time to put that to the test.

Related: 3 Reasons Why I Gladly Welcome Competition

Step 2: Own the weakness.

Gennari wasn’t in control of the situation, so she embraced it. She invited Dupree to lunch and said, “Look, this is what’s going on in the business. I don’t know what to do with this right now. But I’m coming to you because you have the chance to take me down right now — or you can advise me on how to get out of this craziness.” Dupree chose option B. (“It was just the right thing to do,” he says.) He helped her staff up with reliable people and advised her on how to fix the business’s problems.  

Step 3: Strengthen the team.

With a new team in place, thanks to her competitor’s help, Gennari was able to staff up for the University of Georgia’s football season. Everything went great, and she was grateful. She wanted to keep her team happy. One fall evening, the temperature suddenly dropped into the 30s, and her staff wasn’t prepared. “We had a little cash in the bank,” she says. “As an entrepreneur, you’re constantly worrying about money — but I thought, I’m not gonna let them freeze.” So she spent $10,000 on coats for everyone. “They were so appreciative,” she says. Now they’re all preparing for this year’s season.

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