It can be intimidating to go up against long-established competitors with seemingly almost infinite resources.  The question most newcomers may ask themselves is whether it is possible to take on the big guys in a competitive industry.  In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the ways fledgling startups can use the startup models an effective model to compete against well-established brands.


What small companies can offer that larger companies reliably miss out on is offering negotiable services/products that big companies tend to ignore—or simply can’t handle.  This is mostly because large companies tend to standardise their products and services for mass consumption, missing out on the flexible tastes and demands of consumers.  Often, this “one-size-fits-all” approach is what puts off most consumers, so it’s in a startup’s best interest to take advantage of consumers’ a la carte needs.

For your business, take a look at what the larger competition offers, and ask yourself what your company can specifically tailor to suit on a client-by-client basis.  Not only will this give you business, but it will also provide you with invaluable insight into what your industry’s target market really wants.


Consider your position to be a David and Goliath battle, with your startup positioned as the diminutive David. Smaller businesses have the advantage of speed, being able to make quick and efficient decisions without being hampered with lumbering bureaucracy (ie. shareholders, hierarchy, customer base).  Especially as technology is always changing, today’s tried-and-true becomes tomorrow’s passe.  Startups are essentially formless in their early days, being able to judge the zeitgeist and head in the most fruitful direction.  Being a newcomer gives you the advantage to judge the marketplace in a fresh light.

Less is more, and no finer example exists in then-startup Facebook’s speedy undoing of social media dinosaur Myspace’s market share of consumers, being able take down the bloated company that overextended its reach. Use speed to your advantage to seize the ever-changing tastes of your industry.

Concentrate Your Focus

While it may be intimidating to see a large competitor’s massive scale, the truth is replicating their entire business model isn’t necessary.  If your company offers a service, perhaps an unbundled feature of your competitor’s offerings, your company’s has the advantage of focus.  Instead of being a jack of all trades, concentrate on the few services that have the largest and most immediate impact.  If you need a good example, think of how the startup Snapchat created a messaging app that circumvents current social media giant Facebook’s two overlooked features: the permanence of the internet and the frivolous youth market.  Facebook’s copycat “Poke” application and subsequent attempts at buyouts proved to show that the then-little guy’s focus was Snapchat’s greatest asset.

Target the Niche Markets

Tied in with focus, it is easier to be a big fish in a small pond than a little fish in a big pond.  In other words, being able to target a niche (the small pond) and become the industry standard requires less resources and know-how than to beat out all the competition in a broad field.  Judge your competition and see what niches they ignore; those Achilles heels are your startup’s keys to success.  Specialisation goes a long way by making your target market more appreciative of your personalised touch and offering exactly what niche customers want.

Get on the Customer’s Good Side

‘I never get the accountants in before I start up a business. It’s done on gut feeling, especially if I can see that they are taking the mickey out of the consumer.’ 

– Richard Branson

One of the biggest frustrations as a consumer is dealing with the monolithic nature of well-established businesses.  It almost seems (and usually is) that the company puts hurdles in the way to make customers throw their hands in the air and forfeit their inquiries, feeling defeated.  For your startup, be the opposite and give individual attention to the areas where other companies fail.  Making yourself available, or at least open, to customer’s complaints may seem counter-intuitive for a business to scale, but will allow you to get on their good side while you establish yourself.

Better Brand Awareness

Having the founders and/or CEO be the public face of a company creates a friendlier brand awareness than faceless corporations with a revolving door of CEOs, VP’s, etc.  Customers feel invested in the success, much like the collective cheering for crowdfunding operations, where there’s a real-life drama unfolding before an audience’s eyes.

If you’re the CEO or the public face of your company, think of how you can extend your charismatic personality, much like Drew Houston of Dropbox, during his 2013 MIT commencement speech, or self-help guru/health-supplement peddler Tim Ferriss on his prolific podcasts and TED talks.  Try to imbue your company with your egalitarian approach and spice your message with some of the idiosyncrasies of your unique persona. Create that brand awareness from the beginning, and your business, no matter what the later scale of your success down the road, will resonate.

If you’re interested to see Drew’s acceptance speech or a Tim Ferriss TED Talk check them out below:

Drew Houston’s 2013 MIT acceptance speech:

One of Many Time Ferriss videos:


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