There’s no startup like ours…

Every entrepreneur I interact with usually says this as part of their pitch.

My startup is really unique. The problems we are solving and the approach we are taking are very different from the other startups. Essentially, there are no startups that are doing what we are doing. Even if it is being done, maybe in very small parts and unlike what we are doing

I’ve heard this over and over again. Make no mistake – this narrative is an important part for an entrepreneur. She needs to believe that her startup is different from what is out there. She needs to tell herself this narrative to feel good about leading this venture and hiring people and motivating her team. This is an essential part of building the story of startups which grow to become successful businesses.

This can, however, cause other unintended problems when the entrepreneur believes this in its entirety, to the exclusion of any other possibility. I have seen that such entrepreneurs usually close themselves from any learning because they feel that their uniqueness precludes any potential lessons to be learnt from what the market or the consumer thinks of as their competition.

The extreme scenario of this is when an entrepreneur mentions that they have no competitors whatsoever, in the ‘competition’ section of their pitch deck. While this end of the spectrum has reduced in the past 4 years, it is surprising to still come across such startups even now.

In most cases, there will be many other startups doing the same thing but the entrepreneur is simply blind to it. In a few cases where the idea and execution are truly pathbreaking, peeling the layers will reveal that the startup is similar to something that is working or has failed in a different industry / target group / sector / country. Knowing what is out there, and truly being open to understanding it, is the only way to either create something radically different or even to simply leapfrog what is already in the market.

Use the narrative wisely, but don’t let it close your mind.