One of the most elevating discussions in business strategies for startups came from Tom Brady’s published SI interview with Peter King on the 4th Quarter. http://mmqb.si.com/2015/02/09/tom-brady-super-bowl-49-nfl/. Brady stated that he studied every film on his opponent, the Seahawks. The notable Seahawks had the most daunting defense in football. There was no point in challenging their strengths, as last year’s defeat for the Broncos demonstrated. However, he pointed out that for every opponent there is a weakness. He identified that the predominant weakness in what he called the soft spots – the short throws, etc. He studied every film where Seahawks handily defeated their opponents. It didn’t matter if the ball only travelled 4 yards, as long as it was completed. Add 4 yards and then add 3, then you hit your milestone, over 10 yards.
Why do I believe that his football remarks reflect business strategies? Any startup faces competition. Recently, I heard from a startup CEO, that he had no competitors! Wrong. Every company has some kind of competition. You just have to do research and then find out who they are and what resulted in their successes. That is why one develops strategy for your startup prior to execution.
Once you find their strength, you position your company to attack their weaknesses. Never go against their strengths. As Brady explained, that is why previous football opponents lost to the Seahawks – confronting the Seahawks’ strengths. Then once you discover your strategy, then it is all about execution – little by little, yard by yard, then faster. Because the clock, just like football games, keeps ticking for any startup – as they have limited capital, smaller teams.
Now, as an example, I am working on a medical startup dealing with a medical device for sleep apnea. In the generic space, there are two major, strong competitors: Resmed and Philips. Together they control 70% of the market with over $2 billion in revenues. Because of their established revenues, they have an army of salespeople to sell their products. They approach clinics and doctors, wine and dine them, and pay for their trips to Hawaii. If the startup were to manufacture and market a CPAP product, that represents a death knell for the startup, just like Brady saying that throwing a long ball against the Seahawks would represent a losing proposition.
Then the solution for this medical startup is to sell a product not in direct competition with the giants. In this case it would be to develop a product as an alternative to CPAP. Then, for marketing, explore other means to distribute the product that would not require hiring an army of salespeople. Again, that would mean confronting the giants in the industry.
Yes, companies that earn over $1 billion a year look fearless, but so were the Seahawks. But as Brady explains, every team has a weakness. You just have to find out what it is by careful due diligence and swift execution. Note, it goes back to the definition of strategy: how to outmaneuver the competition and be profitable. Or, as in the case of Brady, win the Lombardi Trophy!