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How Competitive Startups Can Fuel Each Other's Success Researching your startup's competitors is a smart move, but teaming with them might just be your smartest.

By Yoav Vilner Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


"If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner." -Nelson Mandela

When it comes to your business, you've got to be willing to do whatever it takes to make it to the top. Even if that means leaning on your so-called "enemy'' to help you get there. First off, it's important to get the stigma out of your head. A lot of startups get so caught up in thinking that their competition is a bad thing, when after all where would you be without them? Think about it this way. If you're in a market with zero competition, you're probably doing something wrong. Competition is a good indication that there's a golden opportunity there.

As Kanye West said (and Nietzsche wrote about 150 years earlier), what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. A UK research of over 2 million businesses revealed that those which entered into a highly competitive and difficult market during their first year were more likely to succeed and maintain their business in the long run.

Related: Win or Lose, Competition Always Makes You Stronger

Start your engine.

If you're a new business, there's no better place to begin then with your competition. Imagine you're entering a new pool with no leads and no customers. Instead of diving into the deep end, start shallow by checking out the competition. You'll be surprised how much it will teach you about your own business as well. This will rev your engine and hopefully spark your mind with new, powerful and creative ideas.

Your competitors are a priceless way to find you new followers on social media, help you with your marketing efforts and tell you where to advertise. The best way to start is by getting to know your competitors. If you're a new business trying to open a new coffee chain, for instance, literally go in and check out other local coffee shops. Buy a coffee, listen to their pitch, check out their different prices and speak to some of their customers. Ask what they like and dislike about this particular coffee and why they selected this particular coffee out of all of their other options. Use this as your competitive advantage! If there's something they're not getting from the competition, it drives a demand for something you can offer.

Okay, so chances are you're not in the coffee business but there are other ways to find out who your competition is online. Product hunt is a great resource for every entrepreneur to be aware of. Let's say you've just created and are ready to market a cooking app or a travel app. You can't visit users and ask them about the application but with Product Hunt' you can search by product or technology for all user reviews and how many people "upvote" the product.

You're optimizing or starting your business for the consumers, so it's important you have real conversations with them or, at least, check out what they're saying online. The fact of the matter is, however, people lie. Reviews are a great resource on Product Hunt to learn about how you can give your product an edge over the competition, but you can't rely on it as your sole approach because people lie, numbers however do not.

Related: Pointing Out Flaws in Competitors Won't Win You Points With Investors

All roads lead to the same client.

We're entering a more collaborative culture today. It's possible that along the road somewhere your enemy could turn into your collaboration. You know what they say, "keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer."

This can come in many different forms. For instance, Spot.IM which turns regular webpages to live social networks is actually using Facebook's API, all while its goal is to keep users engaged within websites rather than Facebook itself.

A different example from the tech arena is how AppsFlyer, an app tracking platform, teamed up with Swrve, a mobile marketing automation system, to fully integrate the two programs. The integration made it possible to deliver full reporting and personalization based on the acquisition's source. The two companies have the same goals and the same target market, but instead of constantly trying to one-up each other, they found combining forces can be an extremely powerful tool.

In the end, you and your competition have the same goals and you're trying to get to the same place. Since you've already seen your market intelligence and done your research on all of the competition, find where you're lacking and how your competition could provide that solution. Think about something that can add to your efforts or nicely compliment you. Then begin the conversation, start to form a relationship by being very open and honest. Come prepared with stats and data about both startups so you can show how it's a win-win, beneficial situation for everyone involved. Then you can begin talking about your mutual vision and initiatives.

Saturated markets are the strongest and the most profitable. If you can survive in the startup-infested jungle, you've made it and it's all smooth sailing from there. These are practices that will give you huge advantages to get you through the hard times in a highly penetrated market.

After all, we'd much rather have more new friends than an army of enemies, right?

Related: Turn Your Competitors Into Allies

Yoav Vilner

Entrepreneur, thought leader and startup mentor

Yoav Vilner has founded several companies, and is currently CEO at Walnut. He is also a startup mentor in accelerators associated with Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and the U.N.

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