I woke up this morning and saw this Tweet from Paul Graham, the co-founder of Y-Combinator:
In 99% of startups, failing to execute is a much bigger danger than being copied. So it’s a mistake to risk the former in order to avoid the latter.
I’ve been immersed in the Silicon Valley startup world for my entire career. I’ve worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs through my teaching at Stanford and my work with two startup accelerators. This one Tweet sums-up the most important advice I could give any entrepreneur.
Startups rarely fail because of competition. The fail because their product doesn’t meet market needs, they fail from bad financial management, they fail because the unit economics are upside down. In short, 90% of them fail because the team doesn’t execute. The data is clear on this.
As I tell my Stanford students: Ideas are cheap; execution is hard. Someone else with the same idea ain’t what kills startups.
I have a former student who has been working on his startup for two years. He’s in “stealth mode” because he doesn’t want anyone to steal his idea. Every time I check in on him he tells me all about what the competitors are doing. He’s spent two years obsessing about competitors instead of talking to actual prospective customers. At this point I’d estimate that he has an approximately 100% chance of failure.
“If you’re competitor-focused, you have to wait until there is a competitor doing something. Being customer-focused allows you to be more pioneering.” — Jeff Bezos
So do your competitive analysis, for sure. Create a nice slide for your pitch deck about the landscape of competitors and alternatives. That’s important stuff.
But then get back to executing on your startup and pursuing a vision guided by an obsession with customers, not competitors.
Bret Waters teaches entrepreneurship at Stanford and runs the 4thly Startup Accelerator.