Competition, Colleagues, or Partners? [en]

[fr] Avec mon projet de démarrage de boîte, je me retrouve à me demander comment exactement l'on définit la concurrence. Qui seront mes concurrents? Quelle genre de relation peut-on avoir avec "la concurrence", surtout lorsque ceux-ci sont des amis ou des connaissances? Est-il possible d'aspirer à un rapport s'approchant de celui de collègues, plutôt qu'une guerre sans merci? Vos idées et expériences sur la question m'intéressent.

In the last ten days I’ve started planning, thinking, and talking about my new company. One of the things I’m struggling with at the moment (besides finding a name which isn’t already taken, isn’t too lame, and won’t get me sued) is how to consider others that are in the field I want to step into (I haven’t told you yet, have I?)

Very obviously, they are competition. My company is going to be doing stuff similar to theirs. But I don’t have the feeling it’s really clear-cut. I mean, look at the “social media consulting” business. Amongst my acquaintances and friends, there are many people who do similar things to me. But they feel more like colleagues than competition.

Is it simply because our skills overlap imperfectly, and our markets are geographically or economically separated?

As I understand it, to be competition, two companies (or people) need to be competing for the same clients/users, and this competition has to be exclusive. By that, I mean that if the client/user decides to go with company A, company B is going to lose his business. I guess this is pretty obvious.

So this is what I’m wondering about. I’m preparing to enter a market which is not totally new. There are already people/companies doing what I want to do. But I’m going to do it in a unique way — mine. Does that still mean the others are “competition”? and in that case — for those of these others who are friends or contacts — does that mean that I will be perceived as a threat, and that any “network benefits” I would have had from those people is to be considered lost? Is it going to have a negative impact on these relationships?

This seems pretty tough. (Maybe it’s just the business world, and I need to toughen up, but I don’t like this side of it, if it is.)

I’m not here to put others out of business. I want to do things better, appeal to a different audience, or “increase the consumption” (horribly way to phrase things, but I don’t have anything better on the tip of my tongue without being more specific) of the current “audience”.

I’m aware I might be coming across as terribly naive to all of you seasoned entrepreneurs and business people out there. But I’d like to believe it’s possible to “play nice” with “competition” — maybe not to the extent that they become partners, but at least something resembling a relationship between colleagues. A relationship where help can be given, contacts shared, advice and lessons learned dispensed. Even if I wouldn’t go so far as to expect partnership.

What about partners, then? Can they be involved with the competition? Could they have interests in one’s competition? (That sound like a bad idea, said like that.) Conflicts of interests aren’t good, that’s certain — but can we really be free of them?

I know that without the specifics this may seem a little abstract, but I’d really love to hear what you all think about this.

6 thoughts on “Competition, Colleagues, or Partners? [en]

  1. There was a great book written about ‘98 called Co-opetition that looked at the issue of competitors co-operating for mutual benefit. Very far sighted and useful

    A lot depends on the management of companies in the field you’re interested in. If they are strategic they can be very easy to work with – but don’t get too comfortable – because they’re likely co-operating to exclude another party from the market you’re taking – possibly with the long term hope of taking it from you.

    That gets to the core of business co-operation – as soon as you’ve chosen one partner you automatically exclude other partnerships, and just because you’re a partner now doesn’t mean you won’t be competitors later.

    Good luck on your business.

  2. It’s good to see you talking about this in the open, Steph, because I think this is an aspect of going into business that most peole feel too scared to broach. As Peter said, there are many examples of “co-opetition”, where companies co-operate despite also being in competition. I would like to think that more enlightened companies would consider such a move, but experience also tells me to be wary both when you are approached, and when you decide to approach. Co-opetition can be a great thing, so long as everyone is open, honest, and transparent.

    Your new business is going to have an impact on your network – some people will undoubtedly feel unhappy or slighted somehow, but you’ll attract other people who are interested in your work. It will even itself out. If you continue to be as positive and open as you normally are, though, I think you’ll do just fine.

  3. That remembers me a book titled Competitive advantage by Michael Porter. I think that there isn’t a unique response. It depends of the market and the number of competitors. I know a market, very close, where all competitors share their business according to their capacity : all invitations to tender are biased !

    You will probably loose friends because they will see you only as a competitor but I think that if the market is big enough, you will mainly see each other as colleagues. On some big projects you will probably have to work together.

    If you want, I can send you by mail a draft of everything an officer has to think of.

  4. Conflicts are fatal. If you are going to open your own company, you need to be prepared for everything.

  5. Sally — I don’t agree that conflicts are fatal. Conflicts can be resolved. And when they are, you usually find out that you’ve learnt a great deal.

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