Competing with U2

Salesforce just had their annual conference this week called Dreamforce where around 150,000 people show up to see new feature releases and listen to U2. Literally. U2 performed.

So how on earth can Highrise, a six person company, compete with U2?

I recently began exploring that question in a video about how Zara, a juggernaut in the fashion industry is killing department stores and retailers like The Gap. Where the Gap might take 15 months to design and develop a new product, Zara takes a couple weeks. Where Macy’s might take 9 months to replenish a hot item that sold out, Zara can get it back on racks in a week.

Zara is killing the competition with their speed and agility.

I also mentioned how well that strategy worked for me with Draft. I had little capital and me as the only employee, and my main competitor had over a million in funding, tons of connections, dozens of employees, and press mention upon press mention. They went out of business. Why? They would take weeks and months to launch a single new feature. I launched 3 important features every 3 weeks. I focused on agility not perfection. Things shipped fast. I deeply thought about things I needed as a writer, but I didn’t debate or spend much time second guessing my gut designs. If I didn’t get it quite right, I quickly shipped changes.

Khalid Saleh asked in the comments:

Excellent and insightful Nathan- so is that the way you compete with salesforce? How much do you think about them and how much of your business strategy is driven by competitors?

Great questions that I expounded on in a YouTube comment I’m reposting with edits:

1) Yes, that’s a big way in how we compete here at Highrise. We move very quickly to get stuff customers want. Of course some projects take a long time. We’re working on iOS and Android apps right now and it’s taking a big chunk of time. So we make sure we’re careful scheduling a lot of very quick projects. We make sure we “time diversify” so all our folks aren’t all on long term things. Have to keep the company shipping.

But that isn’t the only ingredient. We also focus on simplicity and clarity. We make a huge effort to edit ourselves and not throw the kitchen sink of possible features at all our users. You’d be amazed at how many people come back to Highrise after shifting over to Salesforce or more feature packed solutions. Every feature you can ask for glitters at first, but when you find yourself actually using those products you realize how all that extra stuff turns into friction to getting what you need done.

There’s a lot more to this question than this answer is going to cover, but yes, speed is at the top of my list of tools I use to compete.

2) I rarely think of competition. It’s just not that useful. I already hear from customers that might mention “so and so” is doing something and I want you to be doing it. But instead of looking at so and so, we’ll dig into where that request is coming from. What’s the true source of the pain. And we’ll explore solving it with our own minds. Sure, often, we’re coming up with similar solutions to competitors through that process, but that also means we have a clear understanding of why every bit exists in our application. And so we can make some very smart choices about improvements. If we watch our competitors and move when we see them move, we really won’t understand why they did those things. And then we’ll be just a half-assed step behind them.

If you’re listening often enough to people using your product, there really isn’t that much reason to spend time watching your competitors. It’s better spent talking to more users.

So very little is driven from competitors. All that being said, I do catch wind of things. I’ll see an article, or someone will pitch something novel a competitor is doing that makes me think if we’re serving our customers right in a certain area.

I get more insight from other applications too. How can we be inspired by companies like Cards against Humanity who sells games, or Etsy selling physical goods. There’s a lot more interesting things I think there if you want to spend much time watching other people to come up with business strategy. Borrow and get inspired from other industries.

Of course, this a deep question and I’ll have plenty more to say about it here and on YouTube. And, Bono, you better watch out. 😉

P.S. You should follow my YouTube channel, where I share more about how history, psychology, and science can help us create better businesses. And if you find yourself overwhelmed while starting your own small business or handling customer support, check out how Highrise can help!