When it comes to most start-ups, they perceive innovation as a way to either imitate or adjust already existing concepts. The new ideas are pretty much old ideas rehashed and designed to adapt and belong in the modern era. If there’s ever one constant in the business environment it has to be knowing your customer. In my opinion that will remain unchanged regardless of the number of times start-ups or even large companies get that wrong. In most cases business owners prefer to rely on their narrow worldview to inform customers how and why they should use their service or product.
While data-gathering started from scratch is a tough mountain to climb, the good news is that, with a little bit of research you can pretty much find the data already gathered for you laying in front of you at your disposal. The tough thing to actually do is know where to look, and in most cases, you don’t really need to look far. In some instances, taking a look at your competitors may prove the best option.
1. Unless your start-up is part of a blue ocean environment, you probably already have 10 or more successful competitors that are doing exactly what you’re trying to do as we speak. That’s not necessarily bad news. If you look at it from a different perspective, you can see that there are at least 10 companies out there that have lists of customers that are interested in your product or service. So let’s move on to the borrowing phase then. Take Twitter for example. You can “borrow” a competitor’s followers simply by clicking on the “followers” list of your competitor’s company. With just a few clicks you gain access to an untapped database of potential customers that may consider your product superior to that of your competitor.
However, if you only want to obtain a list of the top influencers of an account, make sure to use this tool to generate the data. Moreover, if you want data that is more comprehensive on your competitors’ followers go ahead and use this tool. I cannot stress enough the importance of making connections with influencers early on so they can become spokespeople for your brand.
Correspondingly, on Google+ you can go check a page and click to see who are the followers of your competition. Linking up with the followers is not rocket science, and once you’re linked, Google+ offers you the possibility to send email notifications to followers so that they can be up to date with your news, products or services.
However, if you decide to do this, make sure you avoid spamming them or telling them your service is better. On the other hand, starting a conversation and determining why they love or hate your competitors is an awesome way to gather that all-important data. You’d be surprised to find out how many people are more than willing to share their experience. They want their voices to be heard and they’ll take advantage of every opportunity that comes their way.
Here’s an interesting article that will help you growth hack Google Plus if you plan on harnessing it to its full potential.
2. Second of all, you could go as far as spying on the feature requests of your competition. How do you make sure you won’t fall into the same trap as your competitors did? Simple. Just check out the feature requests lists and past FAQs to understand what aspects customers found challenging.
Just do this by using a search engine and typing “COMPANY feature request”. In most cases you can improve your business simply by avoiding the mistakes your competitors have made in the past. Also, try to stand out in the crowd by offering features that clients or users are requesting but that have not been developed yet. It’s totally legal and it’s serving the user.
3. The next thing you could do is try to win over your competitors’ haters. I’m not saying it’s something you can do in a matter of minutes, but it’s achievable. By using a new account you only need to write stuff like “I hate (insert name of company)” into Topsy. Sooner rather than later people will respond, thus allowing you to determine who actually hates that company and the reasons behind it. Moreover, this is an awesome way of finding out features that customers hate/prefer/love/want and also incorporating then the gathered info into your own business.
Acquire their Twitter info and offer them your superior service. Tread carefully so that you won’t become their new punching bag.
4. While your competitors may be established in North America for example, their services may not cover Europe, Africa or even Asia. Tap into those markets and find that similar if not identical service performed in a local language. It is niche enough so that your business can actually benefit.
Have you ever heard of Tuenti? Well, Tuenti was launched in Spain, to be the Spanish social network when Facebook only allowed 13-year-old school kids on in the States.
Spain has a population of more than 50 million – more than enough people for the founders of Tuenti to see a solid income. This comes to prove that, if nothing else, your language could be used as your niche.
5. Benefit from their inability to do everything. Mergers or acquisitions? This is another sector where research on the FAQ and feature requests proves to be more than useful.
Create a company that develops features that fulfill the needs of your biggest competitors. Sooner or later they will contact you. By the way, you’ll have the upper-hand, because you can negotiate on your own terms either a partnership, or a buyout.
The example that comes to mind is eBay buying PayPal and iBazar (European online marketplace). Why did eBay do this? Simple. They acquired a payments system and also a continent worth of customers that could potentially become eBay customers.
If you decide to go down this road, you will have to be extremely fast on your feet, just in case the company that wants to buy you is established enough to create a solution itself.
All these things are great and all, but ask yourself the following question: Is there anything I shouldn’t borrow?
Well, to be “inspired by” or simply “adopting features of” your competitors is a common practice nowadays. You probably already know that it’s both expensive and difficult to go to court against someone who takes your idea and runs with it. Come to think of it, patent laws are not equally enforced worldwide. So it’s pretty hard to keep your secret recipe secret on the internet.
Behemoths like Samsung and Apple have had their fair share of controversy. Allegedly, Uber has poached drivers from their competition simply by calling up and canceling the cabs. This way, they were able to get the cab driver’s number and offer them a job that paid better.
Still, how wrong was this? I really cannot say for certain given the fact that marketplace ethics fall into a grey area.