You have an idea for a startup. Maybe you have built a minimally viable product and have your first few customers. You know you have some competitors who have different features than you have.
How will you ensure that customers come to you instead of your competition?
A natural reaction might be to analyze what features your competitors have, add them to your product roadmap, and start building.
If you take this approach, you will end up building your competitor’s product!
1. Focus on understanding a customer problem
A better approach is to first gain a deep understanding of the problems your customers are facing. Spend time with your customers. Interview them. Observe them performing tasks related to your product.
If you spend time with enough customers (or potential customers) and they all face similar problems, then this likely means that your company or the competition is not adequately addressing these problems.
2. Solve a customer problem
Then, build a solution which really solves one of those problems. If you already have a product, then this might mean making enhancements to your product. If you don’t, then this might mean building a new product.
3. Focus on what competition is not doing well
Once you are confident you are solving a previously unsolved problem for your customers, then, you can turn to your competition to see what they are doing similar.
What are they doing well?
Early on, it might not be advisable to attempt to directly compete with them on features that they are doing well.
What are they doing poorly?
A startup has a great opportunity to solve problems better than the competition. For example, early on, Uber was able to provide rides on-demand better than any of their taxi competitors. Uber built a product which enabled convenient and relative safe access to transportation. They did not simply build another Taxi company.