Learn the system before learning who your competitors are.
As a start-up, small or DYI business owner it is highly probable that struggle is your life. And not because you lack passion, hard work or enthusiasm.
On top of that, the odds are not in our favour. Everywhere in the world fewer than 80% of small businesses survive their first year, and at five years, the survival rate drops below 50%. With insignificant variations, this is a pretty general reality.
With my first business I survived about 5 years and another 10 years I cleaned the mess after it. An inertia I could not escape from faster, no matter how much I tried.
You work hard for years, something or someone bad happens overnight or against the law, and then here you are in a network of cages living an adventure with unknown finale. If you also look over the stats or just look around, you’ll see that very few rise above the adversities after such a hit. So, you better don’t, if you want to keep your hope and reason to act above water. Just follow your flow and focus on your upgrading.
The new context may seem impossible to conquer, but that’s only because at the time of your evaluation who you are is less than who you will become by upgrading you, less than who you are later today or tomorrow. The better and more you become, the less impossible to conquer it will seem.
I guess I’ve beaten some of the odds. After the hell opened its gates to welcome me, during the ten messy years I’ve been paying debts, did all sorts of jobs, and learned continuously to reinvent myself. In the first phase it was extremely painful, I was losing motivation 10 times a minute and I had no clue if I ever get out of that mess. Life is pretty complicated when you can’t see the horizon for so many years in raw. But I had a vision, an inner and deeper vision, and that vision had curiosity in its seeds. I was constantly curious to see how far can I get, how many odds I can beat. Gradually, it became more like a game and a self-challenge.
Having so many past debts to cover at the same time with covering current expenses and small investments in future, I had to train myself to not care about the money because I wasn’t going to keep any penny for a very long time. I had to create motivation, to invent it, to imagine it.
Walking on this path, I realized that notions like purpose and motivation are very much products of our design, because we might not have them from the beginning or because traumas and other adversities might have killed them on the way.
On this pathway, a shift happens in you and bad is no longer bad, it’s just hard. The pain disappears, and so does anxiety, fear and despair. It’s a practice, a daily exercise until it becomes your nature. You practically change your reflexes, the inertia of your human nature.
Now, I am on the edge of the exit from that cycle, the most of it it’s gone and I am preparing myself for the opening of the second business. The Bounce Back camp story.
I don’t have all the resources needed, but I have me as the main resource and I’ve done miracles with that over these years, thing that gives me the self-confidence needed to pursue this new journey and to push further. I don’t know how I know, but I know that one way or another I will find the ways and everything will fall together. My entire mechanism is set to execute.
I play with the ‘Rubick cube’ continuously, I think of it in a variety of ways, I do a lot of research, and each time I attach emotionally to a scenario of it, I let it go to regain my objectivity. Alternatively, I make a step aside and work at my passions to clear my thoughts, to allow my mind to process and to reorganize itself.
I realized that if you play with the Rubick long enough, you might find out that it is not resources that you really need, but a certain business model, certain people with certain skills and an intelligent use of your creativity.
I write this now because it would have been very helpful to me to see this kind of struggle in real-time, and not after people got where they wanted, not after they were sure, but when they doubted the most. Not in the “sharing the good side of the story” phase. It would have helped me much more because I knew that in particular second I was not alone in my struggle, that there is someone who just like me is looking for ways out. It matters so much, because trauma and crisis pushes you in a very isolated place, far away from life and from world. I needed to see people taking full ownership also for the failure possibility.
It’s very easy to come and talk about how hard it was and how well it is now. You don’t make a fool of yourself and people don’t have much left to judge. It’s the missing part that holds the most value.
If you failed at something at least once, especially if you are an entrepreneur, you know exactly what I am talking about.
At this point of my journey, I also know a few things that, if put together, they can turn into a map to better places. Things about strategy, leadership, management and culture. My jobs and probably also my nature in the meantime. Being also awarded for my “Patterns for Success” canvas for start-ups, DIY and small business owners, let’s say I am not just talking about it from theories, I learned from my lessons, or at least I have a point of view validated by enough awards, people and experience.
In this post I’ll just mention why knowing the competitors is not the best advice to start from, if business is what you are going to do, no matter if it’s smaller or bigger, but especially if it’s a small one because your resources are by default small or limited, so you cannot afford to pay lawyers and consultants at all stages of your business.
It’s quite fundamental, but because this piece of advice is everywhere, many entrepreneurs start from the wrong premise.
Think about it.
Your competitors play the game in an arena. The system. The mechanism of things. That exact location is where you have to handle it.
My life as an entrepreneur was much easier (now when I look back) when that system was local/national, before the digital revolution changed everything. Now, also the technological revolution challenges us once again by generating exponential change everywhere.
Your competitors are no longer the ones in your proximity, they are everyone from everywhere doing or selling the thing you want to do or sell. Or unseen competitors may turn into savage ones once they smell there’s an opportunity where you are trying.
The piece of advice “know your competitors first” is quite hard to follow today, if not quite outdated.
The thing is that if you give the same amount of money to 10 people and if you create equal premises for all, in the happiest scenario one will break through while the others won’t. It is your unique set of skills and your mindset that will make it or break it. Your unique personal culture.
Learning the arena, its boundaries, its grey and red zones it’s much more relevant for your success than knowing your competitors. It automatically involves learning also about yourself. You can and should learn about them in the next phases. Some of them might also disappear in the meantime, so more study cases to follow when it comes to “this is how you should not do it”.
In the meantime you need to learn how to play the game during both peace and war.
Yesterday, my accountant told me about a local entrepreneur (a former journalist willing to go on his own) who won a pitch contest in start-up accelerator and $70,000 seed money to start-up his caravan factory business. He almost was over with the prototype when a material supplier screw him and so he lost half of the money being put in the place to stop everything. Instead of going to court, he chose to give up. Now, my accountant wanted me to meet him and do some business together. I said no. I don’t meet and I don’t do any business with people who give up without a fight at money that is not theirs. This is simply not the champions mentality. Business life is jungle, bad things happen all the time and many times not because you did something wrong, but because other people do something wrong.
You need to learn how to fight and win and how to play and win. You are morally obliged to do so when the money is not yours. Because if you were the investor, you would have wanted to see the one you put your trust in fighting for your interest and for the support you offered. You need to see a bit of loyalty, courage and strength. Fundamentally, you need to see responsibility.
When one gives up so easily during the first breeze of storm, he will give up in general. He is a natural-born loser and his chances to success are under zero. It’s simply an algorithm. I haven’t met any exceptions and I turn 39 this spring and met thousands of people in my working life.
If you want to have at least one chance to success, you need to surround yourself with champions. Champions are not those from Fortune 500 or inheritance rich beneficiaries, those are the privileged ones. Champions are the ordinary people who beat extraordinary odds and do extraordinary things, people who didn’t give up their principles and values, who didn’t betrayed themselves when they had all the reasons to do so, people who do their best to rise above the adversities and challenges of life. This is the most beautiful part of life and of humanity. The most beautiful stories worth sharing.
Learning the arena means to train yourself patience and consistency with reading the laws, the bureaucratic rules, to understand how things work, to know your rights, to know the judicial mechanism, because once something goes wrong with one of your clients or partners or even the government (and sooner or later they will), that is the only battle field. The winner will always be the one who knows the field better, who better understands the mechanisms of things and in many occasions, also the mechanisms of human nature. You won’t learn it in a few days, it takes years. But there’s the basics and then there’s the continuous learning.
You may think that lawyers or consultants know it the best, or that the one who has more money and resources wins automatically. Truth may be on your side, but not till the end. Lawyers often check things from their ground, they are specialists. The better prepared and diverse in knowledge you are, the better your questions will be and the better your strategies. You can’t put your faith in the hands of one specialist. At its best, he should be your teammate.
At least, this is how I managed to defeat the odds and opponents way bigger than me in the court of law. It worked for me. Whoever bet against me, lost his cents.
Of course, it would have worked even better, if I knew all these things from the start, if I was enough educated or at least guided in one way or another. I was not, but I am now and I can share it forward.
Learn the arena before learning who your competitors are. That is where the game happens and if crisis hits, that is also what will make it or break it for you. It is what will help you bounce back faster and even better than others or than you in the past.
Set yourself to “execute” and to “continuous learning” modes. Do so and you are already ahead of the most of the people.