How Much Should You Worry About Your Competition?

I’m intrigued with Steve Thoeny’s comment earlier this week to my post about market research. Steve quoted Joel Spolsky, Co-founder Stack Exchange, and one of my favorite writers, with this suggestion:

Talk to your customers. Find out what they need. Don’t pay any attention to the competition. They’re not relevant to you.

I love Joel’s (and Steve’s) advice about talking to customers. I couldn’t agree more. That’s right on point and good advice. bait

And I’m intrigued with his take on competition. It reminds me of what Emmett Ramey, founder of Oasis Press, said years ago when we had competing offerings:

The way I see it, we’re standing on a pier, side by side, fishing. I don’t care about the fish sniffing your bait. I’m worried about the ones near mine. And there are plenty of fish for both of us.

That made sense then. We were selling two competing offerings into the same market.

On the other hand, watching for competition is like watching what the fish like. If the fish like salmon eggs and you’re fishing with cheese, get the hint. Sometimes looking at competition is like taking a fresh look at your own business.

What do you think?



  • Charles Robinson says:

    In both the software and chef fields I follow this mantra. If someone comes to me and they want a website built I refer them to someone else because that’s not what I do. If they want me to bake gluten-free bread I refer them to someone else because that’s not what I do.

    However if they want a custom application to do address validation with geocodes that hooks into their existing line of business application, I take their requirements and look around at how other people have solved the problem. Sometimes that gives me ideas for providing features that are useful but didn’t come from the client.

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