Over at 9rules we are working on a couple of new things that we haven’t done before and that required us to go out and see how competitors in the field do things. Just like in eating your own dog food using your competitors’ products can either be a humbling experience or comedic gold. I have yet to understand how people can build something and leave it at that without having the itch to make it better or knowing what it takes to make things better.
Admittedly there are some things that I like that the competition does and either we will implement them in our own way or completely reinvent how they are done. What’s interesting about this method is that I am finding that many of the ways we are handling things is the complete opposite of how others do it. In some cases doing things better simply means not doing them at all.
For example, if you go back one or two years and look at blog networks, everyone seemed to be starting one. Each network owned their sites and in principle you couldn’t tell one apart from the other. On a site-by-site basis you could definitely see the differences, but describing how your network functioned sounded just like the next person’s network. At 9rules we took the complete opposite approach and owned none of the sites with the exception of our own personal ones. When Networks were throwing complicated Member Agreements at people, we gave our Members a simple one.
We didn’t look for revenue sharing between the sites, we just wanted great content. We knew there was a chance we would become one of the largest entities of independent content on the web (wow did I just that? sorry), but that wasn’t what we were striving for. In the blog network game you needed either a couple major homerun sites (Gawker, Engadget and Joystiq to name a few) or you needed a lot of mediocre sites to make a name for yourself. We just went for the best content that came across our path because we wanted that to be what set us apart.
Before we started 9rules I admit to sitting down thinking I could create something bigger than Gawker and Weblogs, Inc., but in reality there was no way I could compete on their level. What I mean is that I wasn’t willing to write 20 entries a day on a site 6 days a week and to compete against them that is one thing you need. So I figured I would start something that nobody else in their right mind would want to do because they couldn’t see immediate financial success from it. That was our competitive edge as twisted as that sounds.
Now we are moving forward and I’m back to looking at the playing field and it is pretty fun. You get to ask a lot of questions and try to find the answers.
- Why did they design it this way?
- Why did they give people this choice?
- Why are they allowing people to do this?
- They do the same thing as this site, but have more people, why?
In doing so I find that I’m not creating a list of things that we must do better, but things that I do not want us to do at all. The Japanese didn’t compete with US automakers in the 70’s by creating huge ass cars. Linux didn’t compete with Microsoft by closing everything up. Apple doesn’t dominate the mp3 industry by out-featuring its competition.
When playing with the competition, decide if you want to be them or be your own company. You may think that you are already your own company because you do X better, but that probably doesn’t separate you at all. More than likely you are just like the rest of them and somewhere someone is playing with you while getting ready to do things in a completely different way. No worries though, once they are finished you won’t even realized you’ve been displaced on the food chain and you can go back to wondering what happened.