Your competition helps explain who you are

“Where there is no competition, there is no market. This is why start-ups who “have no competition” have trouble engaging partners and making sales.” – Geoffrey Moore, Escape Velocity

Open source projects often shy away from competition. They value collaboration and leveraging existing solutions. But competition is good for more than making you run faster. Competition helps define who you are.

This is why the Nike iPod sensor had such a hard time when it came out. There was nothing to compare it to except pedometers. In contrast, Fitbit and Jawbone’s Up have met with a lot more initial success. And just about every article about them compares them to each other. (Interestingly, Nike has a new, similar product called Fuel Band that is mentioned in very few of the articles.)

GNOME and KDE defined each other by competing in the Linux desktop space. Without an option between KDE and GNOME, very few Linux desktop users would know what a “desktop” was or what part of the Linux desktop was created by GNOME or KDE. By defining each other as competition, they helped explain who they were and what problem they were trying to solve. They also constrained themselves to the Linux desktop. That was good as it let them shine in a defined space, but if they want to move to new markets – like mobile, they’ll have to be careful to define new competition to explain to partners and users who they want to be.

Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, Opera and Chrome have a long history of competing. They’ve helped define each other and the web.

So don’t be afraid of the competition. Choose your competitors wisely and let them help explain your story.


3 Replies to “Your competition helps explain who you are”

  1. The point you make in the headline is a very good one, and your closing paragraph great advice.

    Small nit, and realization spurred by above:

    I don’t understand the GNOME/KDE example. Linux users knew what a desktop was before GNOME or KDE existed. It isn’t clear even now without lots of investigation what parts of the Linux desktop were created by GNOME, KDE, or elsewhere.

    As you pointed out 4 years ago on this blog, their competitor is “the non-free desktops of the world.”

    Perhaps that was the wrong choice of definition of competitors — nearly all consumers choose a device, perhaps an OS, not a desktop environment.

    1. I did say GNOME and KDE’s competitor was Windows (and I think that’s what it should have been) but I think the projects behave in large part like they are each other’s competition.

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