Competition Is Not A Dirty Word

Last week, Divshot, a web app hosting company, got picked up by Firebase. I have no idea what the outcome looked like for the investors and Divshot team, but hearty congratulations were passed all around the Internet for a job well done, and I too was genuinely happy for them.

Like Divshot, we (Aerobatic) started out at roughly the same time, providing web app hosting services, so I have a better idea than most of just how damn tough it is to provide a service to developers that they’ll actually pay for.

So yeah, I respected what they were up to, and a tip of the hat to them for joining forces with Firebase. As part of that deal, the Divshot service is closing down December 14th. In other words, in 60 days, their customers have a choice to make, and that’s a potential opportunity for competitors like Aerobatic.

I emphasize the word “competitor” because we offer similar services to developers and they’re free to choose one service over the other (and you can bet your ass that we’d love the opportunity to make as many of their customers as happy as possible by switching to Aerobatic). Why be bashful about it?

A couple of days after the announcement, another, smaller competitor, called Surge, wrote a blog post that suggested they’ve transcended competition and now we’re all just peers, but if by chance you want to migrate from Divshot to Surge, here’s the migration path.

“We’re better off considering anyone improving open web publishing as peers”

Surge is a good service and has a solid team behind it, and I’m reluctant to pick on them for this one example, but c’mon?! Peers? Are we now to eschew the word competition? Competition is healthy. It pushes us to be better, to focus, to get up every day and work hard, to stay up late and finish that feature or blog post. Consumers (developers) have lots of choices and they ultimately benefit from C-O-M-P-E-T-I-T-I-O-N! Peers? Isn’t that what OPEC is? A group of fat cats divvying up the spoils of a rotten market, sipping on expensive cognac, where competition is beneath them and consumers have no choice.

Up here in the Pacific Northwest, we’re a nice lot, not too quick to confront. However, the flip-side of that trait is a tendency to be passive-aggressive where we try and get overly cute about our intentions — let’s deliver it in a shit sandwich, the way you’d offer criticism to your 5 year old, e.g. platitude — criticism — platitude. Most other places, they’d just cut to the chase and say what they mean.

When you take the shit sandwich approach, the risk is that your audience can feel patronized, like they know they’re being played. It being the PNW though, they’ll likely just sigh, mutter “bummer,” and move on.

Be respectful, no gratuitous trash-talking, or underhanded tactics. Would I be comfortable telling my kids how their dad is trying to grow the business? That’s my line. Other than that though, let’s compete and be open about it!

In the early days of Aerobatic, we met with a couple of execs from Heroku, and one piece of advice from Adam Seligman, the SVP of Dev Relations at Salesforce, stuck with me, which was to be vocal about articulating our opinionated view on how web dev was changing (in our case, the shift to single page apps and static hosting). It wasn’t that we didn’t have one, it was just that we were too shy about expressing it and risk drawing criticism.

Competition. Acknowledge it. Embrace it. Live it. It’s not a dirty word, and maybe your customers will respect you more for knowing that you’re out there every day competing, trying to provide the best product & service out there.