Which Game Is Your Startup Playing?


Over the years, when I was a founder, I used to joke with Abhishek Nandi, my partner in crime, that we needed to play a different game than our competitors. We knew we could not play the same game a market leader is playing. You can't beat Google, Facebook, or Apple by trying to outdo what they do best. You had to play a different game or play in a different arena. You want to create new markets.

When we were building PureMetrics, an App Analytics platform, we wanted pricing to be a differentiator, with Odiocast, we wanted the Mobile to be your Podcast creation platform, with NextStep HQ, we wanted to make sure you don't see the same pop up on the website over and over again and personalize each popup. In all the attempts the goal was to launch a "new" idea. We disliked "ideas" others were already working on.

But then 2018, I had a newfound respect for a different game that startups could play, that of market capture. This is where the goal is not to overthrow the incumbent, but to serve, ideally profitably, a section of the market the incumbent will not. Unique ideas are not as valuable as ideas that can generate revenue. If there is value to be captured competition will follow. Being first rarely gives you an advantage, Slack is a great example of this. Here you want to capture your niche in a given market and capture value. This is what Privacy-Focused analytics players like Plausible and Fathom are doing.

So which game Is your startup playing? A market creator game or a market value capture game?