In our IP strategy courses we teach about 10 different types of competitors. Depending upon the situation of an enterprise, some types of competitors will be more important than others. In some cases, the primary concern may be direct competitors. In others it may be a potential substitute or upstream competitors on the same problem and solution chain. A study of why this competitor or that gained market space at our expense almost always traces back to vulnerability we left open. Competitors generally are not in the business of making vulnerability – most of the time they can’t. They are in the business of exploiting vulnerability. For example, Under Armour exists as a major sports apparel manufacturer because Nike and other major sports apparel vendors left a door open for compression shirts for too long. Now Under Armour competes with them across sports apparel lines and will continue to do so for as long as its management makes smart decisions.
Of course the flip side can affect you also. Your opportunities often exist because someone else otherwise better positioned left a door open for you. Bezos created Amazon.com despite many other organizations originally better positioned to have taken the online niche. From books, Bezos expanded. Any enterprise like Under Armour and Amazon.com faces a period of heightened vulnerability where doing well by customers only affords the chance to keep playing. Winning, reaching a critical threshold where it’s too late for a competitive enterprise to defeat your inroad without your help, will depend upon whether or not your competitor leaves that door open just a little too long.
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