Copycats are not competitors.
They are simply people who either don't truly trust their own vision or don't know how to uncover and articulate their niche. Far too often budding entrepreneurs sidestep their brilliance to double-down on the things that just don't matter.
Competition is an essential component to business, but in this day and age it is becoming harder and harder to identify what real competition looks like. When entrepreneurs become entangled in the trap of envy masked as competition, they find themselves constantly assessing their next step through the rear view mirror and not paying attention to the road ahead. That is a dangerous place to be in.
The phrase "run your own race" is probably the most important and relevant cliche ever applied to entrepreneurship. Running your own race is an IMPERATIVE if you want to succeed. First, everything that glitters ain't gold. Replicating another companies model is the quickest way to loose relevancy in the minds of your core market. You have to have an advantage that is competitive. Strong companies and founders focus on defining the needs and desires of a core audience, not responding to the changes and features of the competition. When companies focus on the former over the latter, they are guaranteed to be two steps ahead of the competition at all times.
Being smart about the "competition" often requires a lesson in discernment. Nowhere is this more evident than in the "friction" that exists between the giant that is Facebook and Snap, formerly Snapchat, the rising star of the social media world. Snap's "stickiness" lays in the playful "anonymity" it falsely offers a generation born into a very digital world (Gen Z). It is easy to understand why the youthful and engaging nature of Snap would attract Facebook's interest. But following Facebook's failure to acquire Snap in 2013, the tech giant has literally pulled out all the stops to either crush or copy its nemesis at all cost.
Even in the face of such a massive threat, Snap's founder and CEO, Evan Spiegel, appears to be more focused than ever. To be prominently on the radar of the world's largest social network is both scary and flattering. Spiegel is clearly confident in the vision and position of Snap, even in the shadow of a monster. This unabashed confidence was clearly on display during Snap's first earnings call as a public company on Tuesday. When questioned about the competitive threat that Facebook poses, Spiegel quickly laid the topic to rest - at least for the time being.
"If you want to be a creative company, you have got to be comfortable with and basically enjoy the fact that people copy your stuff...we believe that everyone is going to develop a camera strategy. Just because Yahoo has a search box doesn't mean they're Google."
Spiegel's response was full of shade and insight.
First, if you are doing anything right, imitators will soon follow. Get comfortable with that now.
Second, know what is ownable and what is not. Live under the expectation that whatever is not ownable will be soon copied.
Finally, just because you are replicating the body doesn't mean you understand what's under the hood. Knowing how to build the engine is critical. This is why strategy will always win.
It's too early to say whether or not Spiegel's confidence is based on sound strategy or unfounded arrogance, but his message is clear. Stay focused.