The Startup’s Arch Enemy

Earlier today I was talking to an entrepreneur and we were debating the value of having an arch enemy in a startup (that is, another startup that’s the main competition and deeply disliked). In the college sports world, Duke and Carolina are arch enemies, resulting in both schools raising the quality of their game and level of competition (both schools have 5 national titles).

Here are a few thoughts on having an arch enemy in a startup:

  • Having an arch enemy is a good thing as that means someone else believes strongly in the same market (competition is important as it helps validate the market)
  • Remember to stay close to the customer and don’t get caught up in a feature arms-race with the arch enemy
  • Build a program where you celebrate victories over the arch enemy in head-to-head deals (at Pardot, we gave out kill stickers, like football players have on their helmets, every time a sales rep won a head-to-head deal, to be displayed at their desk)
  • Don’t make an arch enemy just to say you have one (it should be your main competitor that you see in a meaningful percentage of competitive opportunities)
  • If you don’t have an arch enemy, that might mean you’re too early to the market, or aren’t getting in front of enough prospects

Competition is healthy. An arch enemy can be healthy, but don’t lose sight of the most important thing: the customer.

What else? What are some more thoughts on an arch enemy of a startup?

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