Why you should stop obsessing and comparing yourself to other start-ups

Competitor analysis of like-for-like business is a healthy activity that helps you focus your efforts, but there’s a time and a place for comparing yourself to others.

How do you compare to your competition? It’s a standard question that sits in every business plan and investor deck, or is asked by a shrewd friend. It’s the pinnacle result of that all-important competitor analysis, and is what defines your Unique Selling Point (USP).

But what happens when you compare yourself to other start-ups, and when comparison becomes the main focus of your business? Nothing good, that’s for sure.

Self-awareness vs. self-acceptance

When you start your entrepreneurial journey, you’ll want to see what other businesses have already out there and find a way to differentiate from them with a USP. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, in fact it shows you’re a growth-minded entrepreneur.

This exercise of conducting competitor analysis is worth repeating every few months if you’re in a fast-growing industry, and every couple of years when you’re in a more established and stable space.

It’s great to be self-aware about your company’s Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats (or SWOT), so you can make appropriate adjustments to put you on the path to overall success. What’s more, investors LOVE to see when you’ve done your research and know what else is out there: it demonstrates honesty, integrity, and due diligence.

One of the things that tends to happen when you have a new start-up is that you spend a lot of time in incubation programmes, at entrepreneurial networking events, and naturally, much of this time is spent sharing your entrepreneurial story and listening to others share theirs.

You may hear that someone who founded their company at the same time or age as you – perhaps even in the same industry space – has on-boarded some major new angel investors, built a team bigger than yours, or has secured hundreds of thousands of pounds on crowdfunding platforms.

You want to be happy for your fellow entrepreneurs, you do, but sometimes all their success can feel like a kick in the teeth to all your hard work, with very little rewards to show for it.

It’s natural for founders to feel insecure

The very DNA of a founder is that we’re passionate and tunnel visioned, with loads of confidence to boot. That’s the external impression we like to show the world.

But the internal, rarely discussed side of this façade is self-doubt – and often bucket loads of it at that. In fact, it’s this natural state of anxiety and fear of failure – perhaps with a big pinch of adversity for good measure – that propels us forward and creates our highly-motivated, driven personalities. Our desire to prove parents, friends, and the world wrong, and demonstrate that we can make it on our own, is huge.

Without accepting ourselves the way we are, we rarely reach self-improvement. You need to be okay with who you are, what you are, and what you do.

 Remember that during the business start-up phase, all that is expected of you is to make something good enough that customers will actually pay for or use within the current time and money that you have. That’s it! It’s only once you’ve aced this phase that you need to consider the next step of ensuring what you offer is properly profitable, long-term.

Focus on you, and you alone

We are all on our own journeys. Ask yourself what your journey looks like, and how you are doing. Write it down, if that helps.

The acclaimed entrepreneur and motivational speaker Jack Canfield said that comparison is the root of all unhappiness.

When we first start out on any new unknown, it’s normal to want to follow those who are winning in business and read up on success stories of entrepreneurs we admire. This helps us – to an extent – with our self-belief.

The issue is when this success-following turns into idolisation or obsession. You don’t need to emulate your business heroes and start naming your children after Elven-mathematical equations (Elon Musk ahem) or wear only jeans and a black turtleneck (RIP SteveJobs). Instead, focus on what it is about the entrepreneurs you look up to that inspire you.

Not all businesses need to be multi-million pound empires or the only company that fulfils a particular business gap. The majority of businesses in the UK and the world are small businesses that provide a safe environment and stable income for their staff and a reliable profit for their founders. If you are doing that, we applaud you – you’re already successful.

When you fail, you grow. Business is about challenging yourself, and overcoming challenges in a way that’s best for you in that particular time.

You could be heading straight into a pitch with major investors to find that your exclusivity agreement is no longer well, exclusive. How you handle the challenge and not letting it stop your future plans is actually what success looks like, not the winning over the major investor on that day.

Instead of comparing yourself with other start-ups, think about why someone would want to do business with you, and what barriers there would be in place. If you have a team, you can ask them to do this exercise with you.

It’s perfectly acceptable to borrow processes, approaches and ideas from companies you look up to – including those outside your industry – and build upon them. Just be careful you’re not breaking any copyright laws. 

The grass is not always greener

Social media is brimming with stories of wins and successes and is an absolute minefield for comparison.

The inspiration you look up to tends to only show a business’s good, developed side. It doesn’t show the details of the grit that got them there, the moments they were about to give up, or how they were feeling when their third business venture failed, or when they suffered great loss or illness in their lives.

Social media is a beast for comparison. Our advice? Use social media wisely.

A psychology study entitled Winners Love Winning and Losers Love Money highlights that humans are simply not good losers, because we compare so much. If we win an amount of money, if we see someone has won more than us, the majority of us feel disappointment and a touch of the green-eyed monster!

Even from early childhood, we have a tendency to respond negatively if we perform more poorly compared to peers our age, according to a University of Michigan study.

To counteract this feeling takes practice. Trust us, there is always someone out there who is envious of the life you have.

Way to stop comparing yourself

Start by tracking your own accomplishments, perhaps with a diary or personal video journal, and make a point of looking back in time to see where you’ve come from to where you are now. You might just surprise yourself. The more you focus on your own progress, the less interesting you’ll find other people’s accomplishments.

Your business goals need to be goals that make you tick. We’ve heard many sole traders, for example, take the decision to become limited companies only to realise the added responsibilities that come with the ‘Ltd.’ are not always worth the hassle.

If ever you do find yourself feeling inadequate after reading a social media post or speaking to a successful entrepreneur, ask yourself why, and then consider all the stories that might not have been mentioned. This activity will help you to identify your triggers and give you time to reflect upon perception not always being reality.

Have you ever struggled with comparing yourself to another start-up? How did you handle this? Let us know in the community.