Some businesses can be compared to the 100m dash. Few variables, the course is completely predictable, and at the end of the day the strongest/fastest man wins.
Tech start-ups are more like yachts in a sailing race. Many variables, the conditions are unpredictable, and unlike the 100m dash, you can make strategic choices.
Sailing gives you the choice to either chart your own course or copycat, whilst the 100m dash only lets you copycat.
The copycat tactic turns the race into a brutal test of strength. The fastest boat with the nimblest crew wins. If you don’t mind coming second, that’s ok.
If you want to win, copycatting is the sure road to failure.
Chart your own course.
This is trickier. There are many variables, for example: wind speed & direction, ocean current speed & direction, position in relation to other boats. Even more important for the skipper is to predict the future. Will the wind turn? Will a storm arrive? For the first leg should I tack upwind and pray the wind holds for a downwind finish, or race downwind and back myself to build a big enough lead for the upwind tack?
You must take a view of the future and back yourself.
If you’ve ever been in a yacht race you’ll know this is easier said than done. It’s not comforting to watch the fleet racing off with a tail wind whilst you tack against the same wind so as to have a better angle to the finish line. What use is having a better angle if the race is finished by the time you head for the line?
But you also know its pointless following the herd, because they’ll simply bludgeon you to death with sheer strength.
The best skippers can read the weather, predict the future, and most importantly, ignore the fleet.
If you’re a start-up and want to win the race, chart your own course… and ignore the crowd.