The story of David and Goliath has captivated the imagination of people since biblical times. It’s used as a metaphor of how a small, under-resourced competitor managed to defeat a significantly bigger and stronger rival. We often use it in sports, business, and politics, to list just a few.
In my career, on more than one occasion I had to compete against a much larger, wealthier, and established rival. In all occasions, we won.
And yet, people still consider the larger opponent as the favorite to win. It’s the safe bet. How can a small company win against much larger competitors?
The Advantages of a Small Company
My answer is: yes it can. It will need to leverage the advantages of a smaller, lighter, and fearless company.
Focus. Pick the one thing you will be best in the world in; do better than anyone. For a smaller company, it’s much easier to get everyone to focus on one or a few targets. A large company tends to have multiple businesses, multiple goals, and multiple agendas.
For example, while your competitors are going after multiple markets you can decide to focus on only one market segment. Or if they are trying to address PCs, mobile devices, and accessories, you can focus only on smartphones.
Expertise. This is a great by-product of focus. By focusing on one market segment, or one application, you can develop a much deeper understanding of your customers, their needs, challenges, and aspirations. This knowledge leads to a much better definition of the product requirements and feature sets. You can determine which features are truly valuable to the customer, and which you can eliminate completely. Moreover, by doing fewer things, you can develop the necessary expertise to become the best at them.
For example, you can develop a more optimal, simpler, better solution that addresses best the key requirements of your customers. While your larger competitors, that cater to a broader audience, will typically end up with a more complicated, expensive product.
Lean. Small should also mean lean. Lean in all aspects of the company, including organization, processes, product development. It should also mean simple and easy to work with. Again that applies to the company, its customer engagements, and products.
This should result in faster time-to-market, lower costs (direct and overhead), and satisfied customers.
Agile. Small, focused, and lean should result in agility. You should move fast, decide fast, respond fast, and iterate (make changes) fast. Think guided missile. That’s one key advantage of a small company over a large one. If you don’t use it you won’t win.
Courage. As a smaller competitor, you must take bold risks. We had a banner in my military unit that read: “only those who dare win”. Also, this means you need to have the courage to fail, to learn fast from your failures and try again. You can’t win against a larger competitor by making small incremental steps. You need to identify opportunities to disrupt, change the game, and leapfrog your rivals.
Lastly, being small should also mean being humble. Don’t think you’re smarter than the others, or can do it all yourself. Seek the advice of your peers, customers, and suppliers. Leverage partners that can complete your value proposition with theirs to create a more valuable solution. Make it easy for people to help you win.
After all, people always root for David.