Helping Competitors for Fun and Profit

Daryl HattonEntrepreneurship

I spent 90 minutes today helping a competitor with his business and I feel really good about it.

We discussed challenges, strategies and market opportunities. Afterwards I made some introductions to people I think might be good to add to his team. I also introduced him to two customers we tried to sell on our solution but came up short.

Many rational people would say, “What??? Why???”

I asked myself the same questions. The answers that came back highlight some of my core philosophy and are worth sharing.

  • Doing the right thing to help someone when you can is rarely if ever the wrong thing to do.  Making the world a better place for someone is never a bad thing in my book because it makes all of us richer and safer. I could help him. It was the right thing to do so I did it.
  • There is more than enough business to go around. Helping him is therefore not actually hurting me – even though we are competitors. Our solution in that niche market isn’t yet a good fit for most customers. His is slightly better but still not a killer value proposition. There is lots of potential in the market but neither of us is really unleashing it yet. If I truly care about the customers (which I do) then my highest ideal would be for at least one of us to evolve the solution so that it works for them. It would be good if it was mine but if it was his it is a better result than if it wasn’t anyone’s.
  • Having it all is a waste. Working on having the right things is WAY better than trying to have everything. Giving away what is marginal business makes room for really good business to fill the space. We only have so much time and energy. Wasting it on stuff that is not quite ‘right’ in order to try to have everything dilutes the result badly. Saying ‘no’ to the marginal stuff makes me richer because, based on the point above, there is more than enough good stuff in in the pipeline if I just have the time to go get it.
  • A little friendly but competent competition raises the quality of play for both participants. I think some of my best work comes out when I’m actively competing with someone. When they play well it makes me try even harder. The results for both of us are frequently better. So finding a good competitor to play against is a good thing for me.
  • If you can help a customer do it – if not, help them find someone who can help. If I go into a store looking for an item and they don’t have it but recommend a place where I can get it, I almost always find myself back at the first store the next time I’m looking for something. Helping customers find the right solution frequently brings them back to you in the future when what you have to offer might match what they need.
  • Paying goodwill forward without expectation of payoff counter-intuitively always has a benefit. I have no idea if what I did will ever benefit me directly. However, I’m absolutely clear (as a faith-based position) that it has a huge indirect benefit for me because it has a direct benefit for someone else in the closed ecosystem called Planet Earth. This is probably another way of thinking about my first point to some but I think it is worth highlighting that this concept works because I DON’T expect a specific return, not vice versa.

This is longer than I thought it would be but it is because the event was very rich for me.

Hopefully this provokes you to consider giving away a bit more time/energy/help so you can become even richer in these same things.