Battle for Share of Market Part 4 — Asymmetry

Manu Pillai
4 min readApr 26, 2021

A simple, cohesive, memorable and implementable strategy deployed with focused energy and speed in your entry market is necessary, but not sufficient for victory.

Practical Asymmetry

Thought-out market focus is your #1 Asymmetric Advantage.
We have discussed market entry and focus in other postings, so will not repeat here. Narrowed focus enables faster decision making — with quality — which enables faster product testing, faster contracts and so on.

In contrast most large companies will demand high hurdle rates and market sizes to enter a new space. This forces their product managers to come up with unfocused products and that do everything, slowed down by corporate inertia — Vidya Raman explores this in more detail.

https://medium.com/veenormous/how-to-conquer-your-startups-biggest-enemy-46b9345f9ec7

Speed — with quality — is your #2 Asymmetric Advantage.
Reducing product scope through focus gives you more resources to drive a better quality outcome, and do so faster. Reduced clutter and glitter gives you speed, quality and a higher certainty of outcome.

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels

Your BigCo competitor will naturally focus on their top accounts (the Pareto Rule will most likely apply) and provide FUD about you, should you show up on their radar. The more they do, the more interest they create in you as a valid competitor, while the less they do, the more validation you get, on the basis they have no counter. But timing is everything.

Take out the 3rd and 2nd tier accounts (by value) that they are not protecting first, and the 1st tier naturally lines up when you are ready to meet their needs. This grouping is generally big enough to generate early adopters. The key is not to spend your resources on the 1st tier until you are ready, while BigCo essentially does your marketing for you.

Exceptions:

  • You have a trusted sponsor and relationship with a 1st tier exec.
  • Your product is narrowly defined and easy to adopt, allowing it to “slip under the radar” of the IT department or the purchasing department.

If you go after the 1st tier right away with big budget items, you could run into competitive countermeasures that include bundling, pricing attacks and SLAs that you will be too expensive in time and money to counter in the early stages, while your product is still in development and therefore not yet pristine.

Responding to the needs of the large few — before understanding the needs of larger number of (potential) adopters — can also impair your product management where you fix market segment and product features pre-maturely, and essentially become a “value-added” IT consulting shop or equivalent. While that can pay the bills, it seems to be a rather hard way to go about that goal, and misses the opportunity to create something of lasting value.

  • Side note: I fell for guidance to start off by immediately going after the Tier-1’s with big budget proposals in my past. Since then I’ve seen the same game plan and outcome a few times. In the subset of those still operating, they are no longer focused product companies.

Asymmetry Needs Decision Making in Real-time.
Break your plan into micro-decisions, identify the inputs needed to make a decision, and make the best decisions you can, as quickly as you can.

A key skill is to know what to NOT spend time worrying about. For example, once you know you need to hire or fire, all that is left is the how and when. Or if you have a hard launch date and someone suggests a new feature that impacts that date without significant business gain, it goes into the “future features” bin and you move on, without spending time on meetings, etc. Used well, this can become a major asset. (If you need a lot of meetings to decide if there is major business value gain for a feature, it probably does not.)

Sometime the results may be bad, but remember that you can only control your decisions. It is the speed and quality of decisions over time that matters. There are other factors that are out of you control — like a pandemic or volcano or lawsuit that cripples a key customer and so on. You need to be able to separate decisions from outcomes.

“Thinking in Bets” by Annie Duke is possibly one of the more important books to read. https://www.annieduke.com/thinking-in-bets/

Your advantage starts from knowing what *you* need to get done. Use customer benefit as your guiding light, with customer acquisition, retention and cohort growth as minimumm customer metrics, augmented by key financial metrics. Once you hit a decent run rate, you have other choices you can make.

Good luck!!

--

--

Manu Pillai

Interests: IoT, Climate. Skills: Startups, AgTech, Edge, NPI, Systems, Mfg @manurpillai