Want to see me cringe? Be a start-up founder and tell me you don’t have any competition.
Every company and every product has competitors. They may not have offices, there may not be a product, and your prospects may not know they are using your competition. But everyone has competition and it can come from very unexpected sources.
Even Google has tangent barriers.
Google’s Android mobile operating system is the most popular on the planet, especially in China where they appear on 90% of smartphones. The competition is not the hodge podge of OSs in the other 10%. Nor is it the gaggle of Chinese knock-off companies that wish Google would release the source code to new Android versions more quickly so they could create near-real-time Android clones. The new competitive threat is the Chinese government.
Mao’s mavens are not entering the smartphone market. These control freaks simply don’t like anyone else having that much control. At least that is the opinion of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (a department name that indicates exactly how important IT is to China’s future plans). In particular the Capitalist Commies fret that “The core [Android] technology and technology roadmap is strictly controlled by Google.” China’s geek ministry also indicated that their country could develop their own mobile OS.
They probably will, because it is tough to battle the American Capitalist Empire when your people gleefully buy directly from the source.
The new competition Google will likely face in China is not a mobile OS but crippling regulations and restriction by the Chinese government. In order to encourage a home-grown mobile OS, through which they can control advertising and other propaganda, as well as perfectly monitor citizens of both classes [elites and slaves], China needs to both develop product and restrict competition. Hence, even without a product competitor, Google will receive market penetration competition from the government.
(The best way to win market share is to get the government to hobble your competitors, which explains why interstate sales of health insurance has been illegal in the U.S. since the 1940s)
Everybody has competition, and sometimes it is simple inertia. When Quicken was first unleashed, sales were slow. People did not see a huge need to duplicate their check book register into a computer. The inertia of “how we do it now is Good Enough” kept people from adopting Quicken. However, once Intuit started facilitating the printing of checks (remember those, and the postage stamps required to mail them), sales grew mightily. Quicken’s competition was the status quo, and they had to invent new capabilities to make the old way appear to be the dumb way of paying bills.
For anyone in marketing, or any founder at a start-up, you need to thoroughly investigate how your prospects do business. Your competition might be the regulations they face, organizational resistance, severe price sensitivity, or a million other things that compete for your market share without being a product. If you don’t do this, you may face invisible yet impenetrable barriers.