How underdogs defeat giants, and what can entrepreneurs learn from it?
Summarising 8 takeaways for small and medium businesses, challenger and startup business on how to defeat large businesses. This is based on the interview with Malcolm Gladwell in the context of his book launch — David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.
Beyond the interview, I have added some perspectives based on my experience working with many SMBs & Start-up businesses. In the end, you have a 40-minute video interview with Malcolm Gladwell
- Don’t play by the rules of the established player- Like in the David Vs. Goliath battle, when fighting large businesses, never play by the rules of the established companies. David did not fight Goliath in a hand and sword battle. If then, he would have been crushed.
- Small firms have to things differently- The rules by which large firms operate cannot make small firms grow.
- Big fish in a small pond- Identify niches. Find underserved segments or audience not served by the established brand. Start in a niche and build from there.
- Intelligent naivety- Approach the market/category with fresh eyes to spot gaps/opportunities which the established businesses have missed. Remember, established companies will always try to protect their investment and, most of the time, will cling on to old ways.
- Find your unique weapons- If you are a small business, you need to look at your unique advantages. Large firms can rarely match the nimbleness, response time, lean cost structure and sometimes low-profit margins that can make a small firm happy. Large firms have high-cost overheads, and they have to satisfy investors.
- Small firms have to punch above their weight- or even people working for them need to be highly resourceful and hardworking than the large firms. Rarely managers who have worked for large firms and who have managed resources can operate well when the resources are scarce. There is a saying in recruitment, recruit people who have come back after the hard knock of life and have had to handle difficult situations. Small firms should be ready to outwork and outsmart the large business, and you will never be able to outspend.
- Generalist or Specialist — In the initial stages, when recruiting, look for good generalists who can quickly learn and adapt. If you require a specialist, bring in a consultant. When the business model is established, hire a specialist.
- Always Day 1, even after achieving goals- When they grow and become big, small firms should behave continuously like challenger firms. You should not let laziness creep in or relax. (Amazon’s Jeff Bezos beautifully sums this idea as ‘ It’s always Day 1 in Amazon’)
Malcolm Gladwell: What Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Underdogs
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If you would like to go deeper into some of the above critical points, check out these ‘how-to’ articles:
Gap spotting :
Looking at the market and resources with fresh eyes: