Picture this: a kid sits behind a homemade lemonade stand, perched by the sidewalk on a hot day. Directly across the street with a competitive scowl on her face, sits another kid behind a very similar lemonade stand, ready to wage war. This is how businesses compete. This is how markets work. This is capitalism. Who’s having fun?
Depending on your personality type, this level of competition can feel anything from exciting to embarrassing, alluring to ugly. Whatever the emotion you’re sensing right now, it’s ok. The competition is as real as the feelings they stir. We’re not getting out of it that easily. Perceived conflict is complex. Such are the challenges of life and the world.
If there’s even the slightest lump in your throat thinking of the lemonade stands, there’s good news. Identical companies fighting over undifferentiated passerby is largely avoidable. Nobody wants a middle school bloodbath (nor should you). The trap comes from thinking exclusively about who we’re competing against instead of what we’re competing for.
Don’t confuse a puddle for an ocean.
Just because somebody already does what we want to do doesn’t mean there’s not room for us to do our version of it too. Just because somebody else is copying our shtick doesn’t mean we can’t still do our shtick. Pre-Internet the world was small. You could only sell lemonade to passerby on your block. Post-Internet, post-smartphone, maybe even post-pandemic, your potential audience is bigger than you can possibly imagine.
We need to raise our eyes up off of the puddle and set them on the ocean. The opportunity set is as wide and deep as the waters we choose to fish in. Let the people who are stuck on being king of the puddle have it. Catch your fish in the ocean. The fish in barrels you hear about others shooting? Trade secret: they’re wild caught, and not from puddles.
Look to the horizon, look to wherever all of the potential customers exist. We don’t need to catch them all, just the right ones. Once we know what differentiates our offering, our job is to get it seem, heard, and talked about. Our opportunity is in the ocean, not the puddle. Go fishing.
Ps. Yes, we are all in some form of competition for our products, services, ideas, etc. No, there can’t only be one. So, if you pass two dueling lemonade stands, tell them about this concept.