This article is part of the “Unbullshit-able” series – a series of articles around questions that entrepreneurs are asked that are bullshit-proof. Today’s question is “What makes you the best at what you do?”
Talking about what makes your startup bullet-proof – or clone-proof, or Google-proof, for that matter – is never easy. Sometimes the right answer is “I’ve been doing this for 15 years,” sometimes it isn’t. Usually, what the asker of the question – whether it be a potential employee, investor, or a journalist – is looking for is a reason beyond novelty to like you.
For Algolia, it was the fact that the two cofounders have a combined 15+ years experience in Search (pretty apt for a Search-as-a-service).
For Bunkr, it was the fact that the cofounders worked in an agency where they were creating powerpoints everyday. Talk about knowing your problem
Every problem is different, and there are multiple correct answers to the question for each startup; however, here are some wrong answers that I’ve heard far too often:
“We’re focused on Community”
Ah, the old “community” line. A euphemism for “we’re smaller than our competitor, who is dominating the market today,” the best you can hope for with this answer is that I follow up with “how do you plan on focusing on community when you have 10 Million users like Competitor X? The worst is that I say “oh cool,” and silently write you off as someone who hasn’t figured it out yet.
“We’re a passionate group of people.”
When followed by “…who have a combined 25 years experience with the problem,” this can be a great answer; however, without it, it tells me that you’re so early on in your startup venture that you haven’t yet hit that point where running your company ceases to be a game, and becomes work. Passion is great. It will keep you going when times are tough; however, it will keep your competitor going. And so will the large amounts of cash they have.
“We’ve developed X Feature”
So, you’ve only been around for six months, but you’ve developed a feature that you think is uncloneable? On the one hand, you might be the next Snapchat – disappearing videos, or a pick-up and delivery dry cleaning service – on the other hand, if your feature gains traction, the real question becomes “will your feature be so well associated with your brand that people won’t go back to Facebook when they imitate it?”
SnapChat is a great counter-example to this; they are essentially a messaging app with a novel feature – however, if you’re going to compare yourself to SnapChat, be ready for disbelief. Most people don’t even believe in SnapChat.
“We know [Local Market Y] Better”
I’ve heard many local players refer to themselves as “X for Market Y” – to which I often reply “Oh cool, so like Xing, Viadeo, Copains d’Avant, Morning Croissant, and Chauffeur Privé?” Here’s the thing about knowing a market – you’re not the only one, and your competitor, who’s currently operating in 25 markets, likely knows a thing or two about paying someone more than the current valuation of your company in order to make sure they, too, know Market Y.
The Internet is global – you’re not the only one who knows your market, and you won’t be the first market to be colonized by international invaders (commercially speaking).
“We’re doing it different.”
Similar to developing a new feature, developing a different use case often sounds more like “we’re doing it… but different” than actually innovation. If you’re Uber, saying that you’re doing taxis different than Taxis, you might have me there; on the other hand, if you’re a chauffeur app that allows people to see the price of the trip before they order a car, you might just be a solution looking for a problem.
…. The Right Answers.
As I said before, there is no one right answer. The question is more about getting a feel for a founder’s grasp of the space he’s operating in than discovering what their “secret sauce” is. For me, this question is often about differentiating between someone who’s starting a startup because they saw Ashton Kutcher play Steve Jobs or think startups are ‘cool,’ Nonetheless, in addition to the above examples (Algolia, Bunkr), here are a few great answers I’ve heard to this question:
“I’ve spent 10+ years writing about this space”
“We were doing this for 10 years, and then it became a trend, so we re-branded and brought our existing community into X Space”
“I was working at [Main Competitor in Space] before, and I realized they weren’t going to do this, so I quit to build it.”
If someone’s asking you a question, they likely aren’t looking for a stock answer; they may, however, be looking to see if you’ve asked yourself the same question, and what conclusion you’ve come to.