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Pick a fight with the incumbent  

WePay founder Rich Aberman, on picking a fight with a big and slow incumbent:

  1. It frames the debate. First, it puts the two companies on the same level: There's PayPal and then there's WePay, the anti-PayPal. It also limits the debate to two players: the incumbent and the alternative.
  2. It puts your product in context. If consumers compare WePay to PayPal, it means they at least get the basics: WePay is an online payments company. If they add a qualifier: WePay is a consumer-friendly PayPal, then we win.
  3. It helps you develop your own ethos and culture. I'm definitely not saying that a startup should copy (or even do the opposite) of the 800 pound gorilla, just that the 800 pound gorilla can anchor the culture context. Startups have the advantage of witnessing and learning from the incumbent's mistakes. By calling ourselves the anti-PayPal, for example, WePay is making a hefty promise - namely, that we'll put our customers first. We try extra hard to treat our customers well and promote projects that keep us focused on the right things.
  4. It makes you the good guy. Since the incumbent is ill-perceived by consumers, it's easy to put on some shining armor and ride in on your white horse. If the incumbent is not ill-perceived, picking a fight is not the right strategy.

Rich also argues that you shouldn't worry about "waking up a sleeping giant" - that just doesn't happen.

More from the library:
Even Steve Jobs does it
What should you bring a "business guy" on for?
Stealth mode startups