Home Engaged Markets workshop: small companies competing against bigcos

Engaged Markets workshop: small companies competing against bigcos

This workshop, moderated by Tara Hunt, split into 4 different groups for discussions.
This format worked well and the group I joined, about little companies competing against
big companies (Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, etc) was an interesting one. The premise: you’re
a startup launching a product, but just as this happens you find out a Google or Apple
releases a similar product. What can you do? The example Tara used in her intro was
30Boxes, whose online calendar product was trumped by Google Calendar soon after it had

A suggestion to begin our group was to leverage the strength of the bigco brands, to
validate the space you’re in. eg konfabulator originally released mac os widgets, then
apple came in with the same product. So Konfabular changed to do windows widgets, but
leveraging Apple’s success in the widgets market. Of course Konfabulator was ultimately
successful in (and led to an acquisition by Yahoo).

Mitch Ratcliffe brought up the metaphor of amoebas vs 800-pound gorillas. But he said
another issue is amoebas vs 70-pound chimps – and the example he used is his own company
vs Technorati.

Other suggestions from the group:

  • Ask the question to users – what do you think of eg google coming into this
    space; what can we (small co) do about it?
  • David Weinberger said: we like the companies that “are on our side” – whether a
    google or a small co (e.g. craig newmark)
  • Look for another gorilla to help you – eg writely with google, to ward off
  • Become best of breed – focus on one thing and be better than the big gorillas at it –
    but don’t try to become a gorilla; “worst case is you [gorilla] buy us”; reason is that
    you do it better – e.g. flickr better than picassa
  • Be authentic – not just communication, but product focus [nb: authenticity was a big
    theme across all 4 groups]
  • Build loyalty – customers, employees, investors

There was an interesting sub-theme that arose due to something Peter Pham from
Photobucket brought up. He said his company started out doing something unique – direct
linking – which didn’t exist a few years ago. Now 3 yrs later they have 18M users. So his
lesson is to pick something that is unique / serves a need. Differentiate was a word the
group used. 

Somewhat controversially Peter then said that Photobucket isn’t going to open
to allow users to export their photos – because they server mainstream users and
see no need to do this. I’ll address that in a future post!

Someone (JP) said that photobucket should listen to “the community element of the
individual”. For example if he’s a Photobucket user, he’ll want to continue to use
photobucket, but not lock out his community of users (who may not use photobucket). So
that was an interesting angle on the lock-in area.

JP: small cos should “solve unknown problems for unknown groups of customers” –
instead of solving known problems for known customers (big cos – y!, aol etc); Big
weapons require big targets. David Weinberger then repeated: people attracted to
companies that are “on our side”; so don’t use their ‘ weapons’ against them!

There was some talk about focusing on real business values, instead of web 2.0
fuzziness. Won’t repeat that here, because it’s all obvious stuff (serve user needs

Distribution qst: big cos have huge advantage; Hans Peter from Plum — his main focus
is solving user problems and distribution; finding the nodes (with shared/competitive
needs) in the game and playing within that system; e.g. co-branding opportunites. Axel
mentioned that word-of-mouth is key here. Robert Scoble had a good quote right at the
start of the workshop which sums that up: “The word-of-mouth networks have become

All in all, an excellent discussion. This post is just a hurried re-cap, so may tidy
it up later on. In the meantime if you have any further tips for small companies (like a
30Boxes) competing with a Google or Microsoft, please feel free to leave a comment

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