We are in what feels like an unprecedented age of innovation. Many companies being formed. Many products being built.
You cannot possibly know about every startup out there working on what you’re working on. You cannot know every big company’s product roadmap.
2 guys in Palo Alto, or better yet, New Jersey, could be building a product that eats your lunch. Facebook could release your “company” as a new feature.
How do you find out what companies are your competition?
Read tech blogs obsessively, so you will know any competitor that has launched publicly
Network heavily, so you’ll have your ear to the ground on potential upstarts
Google the hell out of keywords that could lead to your competition
Best case scenario: you find out about a slice of the companies you’re up against. Worst case scenario: you waste a bunch of time and remain in the dark about who may beat you.
But none of these tactics contribute to product development. Therefore, researching competition only stalls building product — the one weapon you have against the very competition you were trying to stave off.
People think building a product for which there are no competitors means it will be easier to sell. Because you won’t have to steal business away from that competitor, or be the 2nd or 3rd pitch to that prospect. But it’s much harder to convince someone to pay for something that they never paid for in the first place.
And consumer applications competing for users who aren’t paying? You, too, are much better off getting consumers off of a platform than making someone begin a behavior that they never did before.
Make no mistake about it. Google took eyeballs away from Lycos, AltaVista, and Yahoo. Facebook got people who already had Friendster and MySpace accounts. Mint came after Wesabe and competed against Quickbooks (the differences may seem more apparent now with the benefit of hindsight, but they were competitors, no doubt). And Instagram took users away from using the native iPhone application.
So do yourself a favor: stop doing “competitive analysis” that feeds into a confirmation bias and a blackhole of reasons not to compete.