Over the last few weeks I found myself in multiple conversations about the respective competitive advantage of a bunch of startups. The argument often turned to the incredible team and the deep insight this team had about their market as the deciding factor.
I do believe that this is important and, combined with factors such as superior design, makes for a good start — alas it is not enough for sustaining an advantage over a competitor in the long run. Information and insight travel fast. Designs will get copied and approved upon. Talent moves (and as Bill Joy famously quipped “no matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else”).
Which brings us to the forces leading to sustained competitive advantage:
(1) Your ability to learn faster and better than your competition (which means that you have developed superb capabilities in market research and testing/rapid prototyping).
(2) Your ability to understand your customer better than your competitors. This is a continuation of point 1 but also requires a deep level of empathy for your customers.
(3) Your ability to market/communicate more effectively than your competitors. As disruption almost always reaches a tipping point at the go-to-market.
(4) Your ability to play the long-game. As Steve Jobs remarked about the seemingly overnight success of the iPod “Things happen fairly slowly, you know. They do. It takes years.”
Four factors. All not rocket science, but all requiring the willingness to put in the work over the long run.