This is another post in my Startup Lessons series, where I share a (very) personal insight on not only running a company but on “running” my own life – setting goals and achieving them.
Looking back to when I began my entrepreneurial path 4 years ago by launching My It Things (the first user-generated online fashion magazine), I must admit I spent a lot of time (or more than I should have) on researching and analyzing my competition, and sometimes feeling envy. Sometimes I couldn’t explain why site X gets more traffic than our site – “users envy”– although we had better quality content, prettier design and lots of fun contests going on. Then there was “features envy” – every time a competitor would release a new feature, we would jump to develop something similar, or simply get frustrated that we can’t afford to do it right now. We would get “buzz envy” on every big press feature our competitors would be mentioned at (“How come we weren’t quoted in this article??”). And maybe the biggest of them all – “money envy”. Every time someone in our space would raise a round of financing, I would think how is company X better than ours and ask myself why I failed to raise the same (note: besides a nice sum we raised early from angel investors, we failed to attract institutional round. Blame it on the post recession year (2008), or on the lack of VCs interest in the fashion space back then, but it’s still a fact).
At some point, through my personal development and few unpleasant lessons that happened on the way, I started realizing that those feelings of envy are hurting my company and my ability to move forward. While being aware of your competition is definitely a must for any company, there is a fine line between being aware and reacting with the feelings of envy. It took a while to analyze those feelings, break them to pieces and get rid of each piece separately, so I could move on to my next venture without any “baggage”. I found those feelings of envy being dangerous from multiple reasons:
When you envy someone you focus your energy on glorifying the other person or company, and criticizing yourself. Let’s break it into two parts and think about each. The first one basically says that you spend significant amount of time, energy and focus on thinking that competitor X rocks. By doing that, you are basically helping them to rock even more. Wouldn’t you want to direct this energy into your own company instead? Now the most amusing part for me was realizing that when I envy someone I basically criticize myself at the same time. It literally means that I think competitor X is better/ smarter/ luckier than I am. Why would I direct such negative energy towards myself and my company? The answer for many of us lays back in the past – perhaps if you were raised as over-achiever (as I was), or your parents doubted your every move? Whatever it is, get rid of it ASAP, because it will hurt more as you grow, and your company grows.
When you envy someone you think they chose a better path, therefore you are being distracted from your own. Are you familiar with “could have/ should have”? Yes, you could have released that feature before your competition and win the race. Or not… Here is the thing – each one of us has our own path, our own circumstances and conditions. We progress based on our inner clock, not on someone else’s. Some people become millionaires at their 20s and then they go through different life lessons, and some never do, yet they die accomplished. Many times I felt startup companies have an expected path, and if you don’t progress according to the “rules”, you are a failure. What do I mean by that? You are expected to develop a product idea, find a perfect co-founder, raise seed round, launch on TechCrunch, get tons of users, raise another round, re-launch on TechCrunch, get an acquisition offer from some established company, consider that offer publicly by having The Business Insider weighing in for you on whether you should take it or not, make an exit, take a year long vacation somewhere far away in Asia, and get ready for your second venture. While I’ve seen many company founders following this path and achieving success and recognition, this path is very rigid and not suitable for everyone. Sometimes it feels like it’s the only way to go, which eliminates lots of other ways to achieve the same.
Speaking from a personal experience, I never followed “the path”, and despite that after years of trying it “my own way” found myself actually running a profitable startup company in NYC. I even stopped using the word “startup” in recent conversations, now I simply say a “company” when referring to Style Coalition. It was never mentioned in TechCrunch, yet we managed to strike a business deal with one of the top publishing companies in the world. I don’t know if this would have happened if I followed the “rules” and took the “official” path to success.
So next time you find yourself with the feelings of envy towards anyone’s path, their press buzz, their traffic, their money or anything else you don’t have, try to analyze those feelings and if any of these points are very important to you to have as well, set a plan on how to achieve them, instead of chasing someone elses success.
That’s perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned as an entrepreneur in the last few years. NYC startups scene is a crowded space, very competitive and somewhat distracting when it comes to business goals. While I love the community and the people, sometimes I feel the hype around certain companies gives all of us a false hope. At the end of the day you have to focus on your own company, and build it your way, even if this way goes against any startup 101 rules you ever read on Fred Wilson’s blog.