In this episode, Scott and I will be talking about how to position and grow your business when competing with the corporate giants of your industry. Your competitors have been working on the problem you're trying to solve for years. They have large teams. They have raised millions of dollars. How do you compete with these industry giants? That's going to be the focus of our episode today.
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Robert: In this episode, Scott and I will be talking about how to position and grow your business when competing with the corporate giants of your industry. This is the Stretch Goals Podcast where each week, we’ll share insights and lessons learned based on our experiences as entrepreneurs. We challenge you to create ambitious goals as you start and grow your business. I’m your host, Robert Dickerson. Your competitors have been working on the problem you’re trying to solve for years. They have large teams. They have raised millions of dollars. How do you compete with these industry giants? That’s going to be the focus of our episode today.
Scott, I wanted to talk about in this episode, each of us starting our companies and how we’ve competed with large established players. I know with Mapout, we’re developing essentially a learning management system. There are a ton of competitors out there. This is a pretty large space. Everyday I read about competitors of ours that have raised tens of millions of dollars and they have large teams. Sometimes, it can be really tough to focus on the problems that I am trying to solve when I see all these people raising all this money and they have these huge teams.
I’m really running with a pretty lean small team. I thought it would be good today to talk about the challenges that we face in growing our business because basically, I think of them, and I think you said too is there are opportunities that you have that maybe some of those bigger players don’t.
I think one of the first things, for me at least at Mapout, is I’ve really started out by creating a company that has a value add. What is the niche that I’m trying to carve out and scale? What is the customer base that I’m really focusing on? For Mapout, I really started to focus on mobile and the mobile apps. The reason for that is the existing learning management systems don’t really have a strong focus in the mobile space. If you think about how you learn, the devices that people are carrying everyday. They’re carrying their phones, they’re carrying their tablets.
The value add of Mapout is that we can deliver video training directly to their phone so people can watch it. They can take it with them. They can have the videos offline. Our focus and how we compete with these large companies is that we really focus on a mobile approach and doing that really well. That’s able to differentiate ourselves. Talk a little bit about Mob-X I know with Critical Technologies, you were doing some minor league baseball apps. How did you differentiate those companies from your competitors?
Scott: When I was with Critical Technologies Group, which was a company that I founded, looking back at some of our previous podcasts, it very much started as a side project and grew. Skip in forward into the future a little bit, I realized that there was opportunities and things that I was passionate about, which specifically is sports and more specifically was baseball. I looked at it and I was like, “These teams, they don’t have an app.”
Major league baseball has an app but these individual minor league teams don’t have an app. Minor league baseball was trying to put together some website where you could come in and you could view statistics and videos and scores and schedules. It wasn’t specific to all these individual teams. The individual teams, they live and die of off these promotions and things that get fans in stadium because they’re not a large entity. In a lot of cases, some of these stadiums have less than 3,000 seats. The other ones are larger because they’re in a bigger market. There is a wide array.
I knew that as someone who was passionate about the sport. I just said, “You know what? I’m just going to go to these guys, cold call them. Show up at their door and tell them what I can do for them.” That worked for me. What was great about it is there were some larger companies that were trying to do things but they were creating these complex solutions that really didn’t target what minor league baseball needed, what these smaller sports establishments needed. Keep in mind, when I say small, I mean, they’re still bringing in millions of fans a year so they’re still rather large but they have very specific needs. They very much run like a small business.
I just basically said, “This is an opportunity for me. I can be more flexible than these larger competitors.” I went in and I did that. I did it well. I did everything that I wanted. I met all of their needs. I ended up having market share within a year. I had more than 50% of minor league baseball running my apps with 10 million fans using it everyday. I just went full speed ahead. I steam rolled. For me, there was big competition which was major league baseball and minor league baseball as a whole and some bigger competitors.
I didn’t really look at them as competition. I looked at them as people who were stagnant and didn’t have a good vision. One question I had for you, was mobile your idea from inception? Was that your key differentiator? Was that a part of your business plan from the get-go? That was to target and compete with these other competitors or did that just come organically? Were you building this product and then you were like, “Man, you know what’s going to make me stand out? It’s mobile.” How did that come about for you?
Robert: I think it was organically because I started out doing a lot of research around the existing systems that were out there and trying to think about, “How do I stand out from the existing competition and what’s out there?” A lot of learning management systems have responsive web pages and things like that but they didn’t have a native mobile app. I thought about, “Well, with a native mobile app, you can do things beyond the web page,” like download the videos. You can provide a more seamless experience, people can go download the app from the app store so that’s another marketing channel.
It grew from there and talking to customers and figuring out, “Well, what do you really need in terms of delivering this content?” If you think about millennials and some of the new generation coming into the workforce, they’re more used to using their phone to do a lot of things. Having training behind a VPN that you have to log into and making it really difficult to access, those are barriers for people that actually never use that training.
Companies are focusing a lot of money into growing these huge training courses that no one uses because they’re unable to access it. That was really my focus. With Mapout, I was trying to add that value add in mobile and then going out to companies and pitching them on why they should take their existing courses into the mobile realm. I really try to focus on, I guess maybe a revolutionary approach as opposed to incremental approach. How do I take learning to the next level? How do I weave into the culture of the company more in a revolutionary way as opposed to trying to match feature for feature with existing systems.
Because if I try to go feature by feature, I’m never going to get there because they have larger teams. They’ve been doing this for years. I have to figure out a way to position myself where I’m not directly competing with them, where someone can look at my features and look at their features and say, “Well, you don’t have X, Y, and Z, so I’m just going to go with this guy over here.”
Scott: Yeah. You actually touched on the point that we talked about last week, perfection versus launching. If you sit there and try to perfect your product and match your competitor’s feature for feature, you’re never going to launch your product. Then you’re just going to launch the same thing that your competitors have. Put out something that’s got some bells and whistles that the other guy doesn’t, target niche and is it on line with your vision, and just get it out there. Then add in some features as you go along. That’s great feedback. I was just curious. I’m always interested in what make people choose the decisions that they made and why and when. Thank you.
Robert: Yeah. I think one thing I wanted to touch on too that you were talking about is you identified the opportunity with the critical technology. You identify that major league baseball had this problem. They needed to pull all this stuff together into a mobile app. That’s really similar to what I did with Mapout is I identified, “Hey, there is an opportunity here.” The question I had for you was, what was the pitch when you went into these companies? As you were cold calling these minor league baseball teams, what was the pitch that you were throwing them? Because a lot of times, large companies don’t give small companies the time of day. You really have to hustle and work them. Talk a little bit about what your pitch was and why you had the confidence that they would buy into this.
Scott: Right. That’s a great question. The story of how I ended up starting with minor league baseball is that I was a season ticket holder for the Double A Affiliate of the San Francisco Giants which was the Richmond Flying Squirrels. By the way, there is no flying squirrels in Richmond, Virginia. I was the season ticket holder and it was the first season. They hadn’t had a game yet and I was building mobile apps. I was just like, “Man, they need an app.”
Because I had communication through the front office to buy my tickets, I didn’t have a great relationship but I at least had a contact. I hit up the contact and said, “Hey, can I do a mobile app for you?” I got blown off. A week or two later, there was an article on the newspaper that talked about the community relations manager and the director of baseball operations. I took both of their contacts. I called them both. I emailed them both. It just so happened they were on winter break. This was in December. The season was starting in April and I didn’t get back any calls or anything. I didn’t know that they were on break.
I called them back every week. They were gone for two weeks and their community relations manager was like, “Yeah. We’re super excited. We’ve been talking about it since we got your e-mail. What do we need to do?” Basically, I had met with them. I told them that I didn’t have a product. This was just an idea. Basically I asked them, “Hey, I want to build this but I need your … I’m using you as my star power to get this out there. You’re the brand. I’m just coming up the product. Tell me what you need. I’ll do all that. Then I’m going to throw in a bunch of things that I think you need as fan.” They were onboard. I told them I would do it for free because it was risk for them, it was a risk for me but I just wanted to do it knowing full well, that if it was successful, I would get additional opportunities later.
I did the first iteration. I got all the features in that I wanted. We went back and forth. We got it launched before opening day. It really wasn’t what I wanted to do but with the time crunch, I only had two to three months to get this really robust product ready. It was cutting edge. We had real time statistics and scores from every team and nobody had that. Major league baseball didn’t even have that yet.
It was very cutting edge. What I needed to do is get that into a better vision for myself and scale it up to sell it. When I did that, what I did is I created this new framework and teams started calling me because they saw this, this one app. Teams were calling me. That was great. Don’t get me wrong, I reached out to teams, I e-mailed teams. I called them and was on it too but I had people coming to me because they wanted it. I then went to a couple of trade shows and just myself out there and just had great visuals. I sold people on my passion for baseball, my passion for building mobile apps. This is going to sound bad, they took the bait per say. They were all in on me as I was all in on their product.
It was a natural sale for me. When I called them and when I e-mailed them, it was basically, “Hey, I see you don’t have a mobile app, this is what I’ve done. This is how successful it’s been. I see what your market is. Here is how I can benefit you. Just let me know if we can help. I’d love to have a chat.” If they didn’t respond back, that was fine. I would try again in a couple of months. I had a list, I would just keep going back to them. I’m a persistent person but not nagging because I think there is a differentiation there. You don’t want to nag somebody but you always want them to remember that you’re there.
You plant the seed and then you plant the seed again. Hopefully, you get a whole row of crops at the end of it. That’s basically was my approach was just show them how I was better, show them what I could do, show them why I cared about their fans and about what was important to them. Then that turned up into lots of sales for me.
Robert: Yeah. They were buying into you and to your passion more than a product. I think that’s really important. As you’re starting to sell things, people are buying you. They’re buying your passion. It’s a transaction between people so you really have to think about that. I think the part you brought up about continuously contacting these people, I think about my own e-mail and people e-mailing me, things get buried. You don’t intentionally ignore people.
It’s just people have a lot going on. I think that’s really important is you have to be persistent. You have to keep reaching out to people and call them and show them you’re interested. I think after a while, people start feeling bad that they didn’t respond to you. “Oh, this guy keeps e-mailing me. I should at least send him an e-mail.”
Well, think about how many people historically had called Warren Buffett everyday or called or e-mailed Tim Cook everyday at Apple. Eventually, they get a response. Mostly it’s to shut them up but at the same time, they realize, “Hey, if this guy has the drive to do this, maybe it’s somebody we should work with in some capacities.” I mean, there is some truth to that. Again, there is a fine line. I did it very naturally. “Hey, I just want to talk to you. Let me know if I can help you out.” It worked out well for me. I still do that to this day.
Robert: I went to sales conference I guess about a month or two ago. They were talking about it really takes 7 to 8 touchpoints before you can really set up that meeting. They said most people give up at about 4. If you think about that, that’s a lot of touches. That’s a lot of following up with people, sending them relevant information. Not necessarily through e-mail but phone calls, but your e-mail list, other things. There can be other ways you touch these people too.
Scott: I think there is a key though. I never ever want to approach it as a sales opportunity. I’m not a salesman. I never made it seem like I was that oily snakey car salesman guy trying to sell you a corvette just because you drove to the lot. I was never that guy. I was like, “Hey, man. I love baseball. I love what you’re doing. I love your team. Here is how I can help you. Let me know if you’re interested. If not, have a great season.” It was never a very formal thing.
Every single e-mail wrote was very very individual and targeted. I didn’t send out mail blast. I did everything individually. I knew who they were, how many fans they had last year, what their record was, I knew everything about them. That allowed me to connect with them and ask them questions like, “Hey, you guys are in first place right now. That’s awesome.” So and so hit a home run last night. They connect with that. Whoever your customer is, sports doesn’t have to be the exception. Whoever your customer is, know who they are, why they’re doing what they’re doing.
That allows you to connect. Then it’s a friendship. Then if it turns into something more, that’s great. When they like you and they like that you understand them, they’re going to be more likely to give you business than that other guy who is calling them.
Robert: Yeah. I think showing a genuine interest and passion around what they’re trying to do. I’ve used that a lot as well because I hate when people send me salesy type e-mails and they’re trying to get me to buy something. When I connect with people, I had coffee with a guy the other day, I just reached out them and send them an e-mail and said, “Hey, I’m interested in what you’re doing. Let’s chat.” I think I’m working in the same area. It was a great conversation. There wasn’t a lot of sales there, just, “Hey, let’s see if we can help each other out.” I think that’s really important as you’re growing business is you want to help them out and it’s a mutual relationship there, help each other.
Scott: Yeah. Those people will reach back out to you years down the line. They’ll come back to you and say, “Hey, remember five years ago, we talked about this? Well, now, I’m ready to do something with you.” They remember those conversations and those contexts."
Robert: Yeah. I think sometimes it’s hard though to quantify those relationships and what it means. You just really don’t know. I mean you just have to connect with as many people as you can and treat them like you would want to be treated and see if there is a way you could help. You never know when that relationships going to turn around. You can help them out. They can help you out.
Scott: Yeah. Absolutely.
Robert: I think the other thing is really to carve out a niche. Going back to what you did with minor league baseball, you really focused down on just minor league baseball and helping them with the apps. Then once you’re able to carve out that niche, you were able to iterate over that across all the baseball teams. I think that’s really a great way to start your business because you identified a niche that needed help but then you also had a way to iterate over all the teams once you got one team going, you just needed one, then you could iterate and continue over all the teams. I think that’s a really good way to grow your business.
Scott: Yeah. I also went to other sports after that too because the door was opened. That applies to any product anywhere. It’s the same approach. Once you’re in the door, the sky is the limit.
Robert: Yeah. I think sometimes that’s the hardest part is getting your foot in the door, given that you got to find that person that’s willing to buy into you and give you that opportunity.
Scott: Yeah. That’s where most people stop, they either get cold feet or whatever. Look, I’m not a guy who goes up and talks to the prettiest woman in the room. It’s just not me. I don’t want that rejection. When it comes to being passionate about something, I want to talk about it all day. This is a slight tangent but Rob can tell you, we’ve known each other a long time, Rob knows ho passionate I am about what I do because one day at lunch in high school, I was talking about programming for probably a solid week straight. Then Rob had had enough. Rob basically told me to shut up and talk about something else so we can enjoy our lunch. That’s just how I am though. You remember that, don’t you?
Robert: Yeah. Yeah. I think that passion and that drive is what makes good entrepreneurs is that you have to be passionate. You have to always be thinking about how you clear your business. Your wife might be similar to mine as I talk about businesses all the time, Tracy gets really annoyed with me. I think that’s a benefit for your company, that you have passion, and that you’re willing to really double down and focus on it everyday because I think it really is … Growing a business is a hustle. You have to grind and out work your competitors. You really have to have that mindset because a lot of times, it’s just you or a small team. You’re starting out so you really have to hustle.
Scott: Yeah. It’s funny because when I was at my first trade show, there was other competitors there who were doing mobile apps. They had maybe 7 teams. Feature for feature, they couldn’t compete and I knew that. What I found out is they had come and taken my pamphlet from my booth when I wasn’t there. They were looking at all my pinpoints and trying to then sell people that they could they do these features which they couldn’t. Somebody came by and told me. I just thought it was funny. Instead of launching an attack on them, I was just like, “Man, I don’t need to. I can sell these people on passion all day.”
If somebody came by and asked me, “Hey, why should we choose you over them?” I’m like, “They don’t know baseball.” I’m like, “Just go ask them a question about baseball.” I out hustle them in a very personal way. It wasn’t a feature for feature price point. I didn’t have to change my price and I didn’t have to do anything. I sold them on me like you said.
Robert: Yeah. People are going to copy you. They’re going to see that you’re successful. They’re going to start copying you feature for feature.
Scott: Right. I think there is one thing that we haven’t talked about yet. We kind of touched them but we haven’t really gone into it deep, and that’s being more agile than these larger competitors. Specifically, what I mean is when you’ve got these larger entities, especially if you’re competing with large corporations. They’re not as flexible. They can’t bend their product to match customer need because it’s not in their financial interest because they’ve got large amounts of over head, hundreds of employees, thousands of employees, whatever the case may be. You don’t.
You’ve got lower over head. You’ve got more flexibility. You’ve got more passion. Bend your product to work with these customers. That allows you to tailor your solution to what they need, and then you kill them with this over the top customer service that you also can’t get in these large corporate world. Nobody wants to call and get a help desk. They want to e-mail or text or call you and be like, “Hey, man. I got a problem.” They want to hear you say, “All right. Cool. We’ll take a look at it.” That’s another way that a small business or a solo-preneur, anybody can compete with giants in these areas and far exceed what they’re providing.
That’s why Airbnb and Uber and all these companies are successful because they’re giving you these personal relationships. They can do it better than large taxi unions or large hotel chains. That’s why they’re successful. That’s probably one of the keys for competing against giants in these areas. Obviously, we’ve got pricing. Obviously, you can tweak your pricing. Maybe, Rob, you want to talk how you can make your pricing more competitive.
Robert: Yeah. Just to go back to the tailoring and the service-oriented area of staying competitive, I found that’s really big benefit there is that I can go to customers and I can say, “Hey, we’ve got this product, but we can tailor it to fit your exact problem and really create a solution that will solve it.” A lot of large companies can’t do that because either they don’t have the bandwidth or they’re only focusing on really large customers. Some of these smaller customers, they’re not able to service.
That’s really an area that I focus on is once you have a product, being able to tailor and customize it is a huge advantage because people want something that’s personalized for their customers and for them.
Scott: Yeah. The big companies, they can’t do that. They’ve got too many procedures and processes. They can’t take resources away from these larger initiatives and focus on these things. Financially, it’s not beneficial to them. You hit it on the head. That’s a great way to compete.
Robert: Even their over head for their employees is so large that they can’t compete on price because their hourly rate is so big that customers don’t want to pay that. They don’t want to pay two and three times what the market bears for a developer or what not. That’s an area that as a small company, when I worked for other companies, especially large companies, it always amazed me how much per hour they were charging for developers.
If just thought about, “Hey, if I had another couple of people, I could develop this thing for a quarter of the price.” You got to think about that too is that they’re charging a lot more. When I was developing circuit boards, a large fortune 500 company I worked with wouldn’t take jobs less than a million dollars. That cuts away a ton of work below a million dollars. We were doing in the ten thousand dollar job sometimes. I started taking those jobs that other people wouldn’t even compete against.
Scott: Right. Yeah. Those are great targets. You go out and find these customers that can’t do what you can.
Robert: Just to wrap I think, I think this has been a really good discussion just about identifying opportunities, being confident, really pitching yourself and your passion as a way to difference yourself from large companies. We talked really about focusing on the customer bases that might be ignored and focusing down on that niche that you can then scale into and iterate around. Then you got to hustle. You got to outwork. I think that’s really something you have to focus on is how do you outwork and everyday, just come back and focusing down on that.
Scott: Yeah. The thing is, be yourself. If I tried to be this corporate salesman guy, trying to sell products, I’d never be successful. Well, maybe, I don’t know but I wouldn’t be as successful as I am. I just am what I am. I annoy people. I get on people’s nerve. I make damn good products, man. You know I’m passionate about it. That’s me. That’s how I go out and sell and that’s what you should do.
I’m not saying try to be me. I’m saying be yourself. Whatever it is that works for you, do it. Let that shine through in your product. You can compete with anybody out there. You got to have the hustle. You got to outwork them. You got to have great focus. You got to be adaptable. You get all those things together and you can compete with literally anybody in the market.
Robert: This is making me excited. I’m going to go make some phone calls, man. Stop listening to this episode and go make some phone calls. Go get it done. Hustle. Reach out to us. Let us know how things are going, how you’re competing with giants. We’re always interested to hear those things.
Scott: All right, guys. See you.
Robert Dickerson is the Founder and CEO of Mapout a mobile learning platform that uses video courses to educate customers and train employees. He helps companies develop and launch their products.
Scott Davis is the Founder and CEO of MobX, a mobile development software agency. He has 20 years of experience developing software for Government, Finance, Sports and the Telecommunications industry.