I was sitting in a meeting just before the New Year with a client who was proud to say that he didn’t have a single competitor. There was just no other company that had his vision, and certainly no company that could build the infrastructure. In his mind, no competition meant that no other companies were pitching to his customers, he could glean high margins, and easily raise his next round of VC funding. This is the perfect place to be, right? This type of thinking, while intuitive, is wrong. Entrepreneurs and young companies should intentionally position themselves against and alongside known companies. Competition actually makes it easier to communicate, to sell, and to grow. Sales prospects will only give you a few minutes before they stop listening. Their minds naturally want to connect dots and draw analogies. They have an existing knowledge base that it can help to tap into in those few precious first-impression moments. Comparing and contrasting to other companies is an easy way to get understood, fast.
In fact, successful early-stage entrepreneurs -- even those in the greenest of fields and whitest of spaces, see their emerging companies as existing in complete ecosystems -- not vacuums. Ecosystems are teeming with other companies. Buyers of many kinds. Competitors (today's and tomorrow's possible ones.) Fast followers. Partners. Tangential companies who connect to solutions upstream and down. Vacuums, on the other hand, are voids. They don't do you any favors.
Once your audience is nodding their heads because they understand you within an ecosystem, then you can move on to selling about how greenfield and whitespace different you are. Now you can explain why the barrier is high to duplicate what you've invented, or why your innovation is better, faster, cheaper, and about to change the world. Get in with a simple comparison. Then you can wow them with your grandiose vision and tell them of your engineering marvel.