My competition was on Shark Tank and, frankly, it doesn’t matter

A few weeks ago I got a text message from a friend:

Yep. A facsimile of the app I’ve poured my soul into for 4 years showed up on Shark Tank. The founder gave an amazing pitch and courted two billionaire investors. He raised a respectable $600K to supplement his $2.2M stockpile.

Brightwheel (left) and Munchkin Report (right)

I guess I can pack my bags and head home, right? They’ve got cash, employees, nationwide exposure, and a famous billionaire VC with exquisite cowboy shirts. (Huge fan, Chris!)

I‘m a bootstrapper with a day job and three kids. I write code at 2am, do customer support while in line at Stop & Shop, and eek out marketing tasks between weekend ballet classes and bottle-feedings.

“How can you possibly win?” my friend asked worriedly.

Here’s the thing: we’re not even playing the same game.

Competition is validation

My competitor’s Shark Tank appearance is great for Munchkin Report. It’s further validation that we’re making something people want. If we were the only ones building activity tracking software for early education I’d be worried that we weren’t actually solving a real problem.

Brightwheel wasn’t the first to market when they launched in 2015 (though, oddly, they claim to be). People were making money selling similar software before I wrote my first line of code in 2011. There are dozens of us. We’ve even seen an acquisition.

I wouldn’t have created Munchkin Report if I didn’t have evidence of a market, because I like to play on easy mode.

Software markets, by and large, are winner-take-most, so don’t let competition scare you. Salesforce “won” CRM. But Highrise and Nimble and Pipedrive and countless other CRMs are doing fine. There’s plenty of pie to go around!

Of course that’s easy for me to say when I don’t have to return 10X on a VC investment in 5 to 7 years. I’m sure my Shark Tank counterpart feels an obligation to own the market. As David Heinemeier Hansson puts it:

Once you let in the VCs or the private equity folks, there are only three options: implosion, acquisition, or IPO. That’s a sadly narrow band and I believe the world is poorer for it.

Brightwheel wants to build a global brand and hit $20 million in revenue in 2017. I want to fund my kids’ 529 plans and help support BlinkNow, a cause we’re passionate about. I hope we both win our respective races.

Every founder gets to choose whether they want to become Ben and Jerry’s or Amazon. And that choice strongly dictates how you operate and how your product evolves (or devolves).

I love running Munchkin Report as a 5-star restaurant on the web, to steal a metaphor from Peldi at Balsamiq — small, focused, genuinely caring, with a high quality product and happy customers.

I’m happy making a tiny dent in the world. Maybe we’ll grow far beyond our humble little goal, but we don’t have to.