Competition is eternally existential. We compete for love, money, attention, fame, wealth, recognition, and sometimes, we even compete for food. Turns out humans aren’t the only species who must to compete to survive. All living things must do it. Even trees in a deep forest compete for sunlight by growing as quickly as possible forgoing width for height.

What I find most interesting about competition is how we or any being chooses to do it. When a competitor catches us unaware, they usually achieve this through  using some form of subterfuge. Like growing in a smaller segment of the market. Focusing on a neglected geography. And the really smart competitors disguise what they are doing so you don’t even see them coming. A little like Google has done to Microsoft who was overly focused on the ‘desktop’, while the world was moving to web app’s and gathering and storing of information externally.

I noticed this phenomenon first hand recently. My business was moving along swimmingly (which in this case is my tomato plantation). As you can see from the photo below. My Roma’s looked healthy and almost ready for the picking:


But upon closer inspection a competitor had been eating away at my market for quite a long time without me noticing. Once I turned around the tomato to inspect the back side of them – I was devastated to find my competition. They caught me napping and had a very big impact on my market share. As can be seen here:


How did they manage this?

  • The caterpillar was smart enough to attack on the reverse side out of view.
  • His color is exactly the same as the tomato proving an excellent camouflage.
  • He waited till the market was already developed (by me) and the tomatoes had a reasonable size and were worth attacking – in this case risking his life over!
  • In true terrorist fashion he penetrated the market at one entry point and ate it inside out. That is, the caterpillar was so deep inside the market, he was completely out of view.

None of this was by mistake. It has been driven by millennia of evolutionary survival and subsequent genetic coding. Nature is smart.

The implications for startups are many. When we start out to compete, the best thing we can do is replicate what nature does. Stay out of harms way. Stay small and unseen. Try and gain some momentum and size. If we’re lucky will have built our share of the market and be ensconced before anyone notices.

(FYI – I picked the tomatoes, and placed them in another location of the garden to let the caterpillars fight another day – they may just leave some seeds which will flourish next season!)


A few steps forward

I saw this auction sign board while walking in my local village. A real estate agent who has the night light powered by a solar panel. The first I’ve seen of it’s kind.  I was surprised.


It’s not a huge innovation, it may even cost them more than a standard electric powered light does, I’m note sure. What I am sure of is this, it moves them and ‘us’, all a few steps forward. To using better and smarter technology.

I felt good about it, good enough to be writing about it here. So the question is this:

What small things can your startup do to take it’s brand, and us all a few small steps forward?

Technology transfer

Meet Trev.



Trev is small.

Trev doesn’t like going much faster than 120km per hour.

Trev only fits two people and two bags.

Trev can only travel 150km before he needs a recharge.

But Trev is efficient. He only costs 1.1cents to recharge per kilometer. Trev makes petrol look silly.


Here’s the thing. Trev is only possible because of advances in mobile phone battery technology. A classic case of technology transfer. The question entrepreneurs should be asking is what technology can we utilize from industries adjacent to us?


You can read more about it here.

Business bubbles, history & startups

Here’s a list of business bubbles you may / may not have heard of:


Tulip bubble – 1630’s tulip’s sold for more than houses!

South Sea Bubble – 1720

Bull market of 1920’s – resulted in the great depression

Japanese asset price bubble – Commercial real estate selling for US$1.5m per square meter!

Real estate bubble every 10 years or so… You’ve just lived through one!

Tech wreck (dot com)– Companies with negative cash flow valued over 1 billion!

Sub prime / hedge fund bubble 2008 – We’re yet to see all of this…

Green Marketing bubble ? – This one’s coming watch out!


Many business bubbles are focused in new industries where startups are abound.


Here’s when to get nervous. When you hear the words ’it’s different this time’, or people are overly focused on industry growth and the so called – revolution.


Here’s when there is no need to get nervous. When your business model based on basic business fundamentals like cashflow and growth in your net cash position. Startups take heed.


For 1000’s of years business and industries never grown much over 10% p.a. once compounded. Yes, there’ll be exceptions like Microsoft in the early 1980’s. But generally speaking when things are predicted to grow at rates above 20%, and valuations are more than 20 time earnings….get suspicious, very suspicious.

Game Changing

Often a certain product market or category has a definite paradigm. Take eco friendly or hybrid electric vehicles. They always look like quirky space mobiles.


 (Toyota Pruis)


Elon Musk, one of the entrepreneurs of our time – has decided to be game changing instead. His new all electric Tesla Roadtster is anything but quirky and weird.



(Tesla Roadster)

Surely this design will get the blood pumping in any car enthusiast.


If you want your start up to be a game changer – ignore existing category expectations.