Five ways startups can challenge the Goliaths of the tech world

Building a business from the ground up is not an easy task. Entrepreneurs face many challenges, from getting their products to market as quickly as possible, to developing the vision necessary to bring them ten years into the future, to innovating to stay ahead in a competitive market. They will also have to take on their share of competitors, small and large.

Coming to face to face with a major players can be a good thing – their presence validates your vision and product, and will teach you valuable lessons about how to win. The following are a few strategies I’ve learned from going up against some of the biggest players in enterprise software, which may help you overcome Goliaths in your industry.

Overcome your fears

When an established giant enters your market, fear is the natural first reaction. But you shouldn't let it paralyse you. Instead, it should lead to a feeling of validation and achievement that propels you forward.

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For example, when Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff announced that Salesforce was building an Okta competitor, it was more satisfying than terrifying for Okta.

One of the most important cloud companies saw the value of our solution, and two years later, Microsoft – the biggest software company in the world – debuted its Enterprise Mobility Suite, a bundle of services that compete directly with Okta. When you get the attention of the big guys, you're clearly doing something right and you should keep going.

Be laser-focused

Just as David took down Goliath with one effectively delivered stone at the centre of his forehead, focusing on offering one superior offering will enable you to take down the giant.

Whereas larger companies tend to offer an array of products and cannot devote extensive resources to just one, smaller companies can concentrate on providing one powerful product. Okta, Box, Workday, ServiceNow – we’re all going up against bigger players by aiming at one section of the market with intense precision.

Put your customers first: Since larger companies have so many products, they will often sell customers on one and stick them with another, showing that they care more about their numbers than customers’ success.

When competing with an established giant, smaller businesses have to differentiate themselves. The key is to put customer success – the belief that if customers are successful, so are you – at the centre of your company. By putting customers first, your competition will fall behind.

Be nimble

While large companies may be strong, their weakness is that they’re usually rooted in their existing practices and products. When they make moves, they do so slowly. Smaller challengers don’t have the same kind of restraints.

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They can think and act quickly. Just like Apple – which pursued new offerings while IBM kept producing PC boxes – and Netflix – which bet on streaming video while Blockbuster kept investing in stores – smaller companies are nimble.

They go to market as soon as their product is ready, pivot as necessary, acquire when they need to, and are always open to evolving their offerings.

Learn from your mistakes

Facing a fierce competitor should be a valuable learning experience. By going up against the giants, you’ll be pushed to better everything you do simply by competing for your customers.

You'll learn about your market, your product and your opportunity and you’ll get to know the ins-and-outs of your competitors offering, how they advertise and why they win. This will help you to make your own products, services and marketing stand out – ultimately making you a stronger adversary.

Sourced from Todd McKinnon, CEO and Co-founder, Okta

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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