The bogey man called today. The guy you hope isn’t there, though you know he really is but if you just believe hard enough, you may be able to make it back to Kansas (and if you are REALLY lucky, you can make it there without the yappie little dog).
The guy who called wanted to know what we were doing, because he and his team sound like they are doing what we are doing – creating a logistics internet marketplace. He talked the swaggering talk about the heavy hitters on the team, the $3 mil VC round they are about to close, and the “fact” that they are in the “number 3 position in the UK” in this space. He bragged about their focus and the “fact” that they were already getting quotes from software houses and had signed up some big-name clients. He spoke of their total commitment to the idea that if they can’t be the number one or two in the UK, they would pack up and quit. That said, the founders were not logistics heavies, and the team has no technical expertise.
So he wanted to know what we were doing. Giving away far less than he did, I made it clear that we have a different geographical perspective, that we have a cool design that will transcend many of the barriers to entry posed by the realities of the internet in Europe, and that we have some heavy hitters on board as well as a growing band of line staff with all the right stuff. In short, I matched his swagger and I raised him with a brag or two.
He asked whether there might be scope for merging efforts and increasing rate of movement to market. I said, maybe. But he seemed almost as concerned about us (beneath the swagger) as we are about him. I said I would discuss it with my colleagues and we might well talk later in the week.
When I discussed it with my colleagues, they rolled with the punches and said, after some thought, discussion and consideration, “Stuff it – let’s fight ’em. Tom, don’t talk to them at all”. Being deep down a practical soul, I applauded their resolve, but said of course I would talk to them. The bogey man clearly liked to talk about his company and their plans and achievements, so I WILL talk with him, find out what I can and then defer for the time being. If we are still struggling to get money in 6-8 weeks or so, we may open the dialogue. But since they don’t ACTUALLY have the money yet, his claim that they are “about to close the funding deal” may have no more substance than me claiming that we have several VCs clamouring to talk to us. Which we have, but talk, as the saying goes, is cheap.
So. Another player enters the radar. If they stick to the plan described to me, we have a sound opportunity to mop the continent with them. Assuming that we get the money, of course. Otherwise, we just mop the floor with our business plan. There are few prizes for third or fourth best, so we better do better.
Competitors are out there – some under the radar, some above it. We are trying to treat them with great respect – learn about them and listen to them. Of course we are afraid of them – but fear is the thing that makes you keep going as fast and hard as you can. They may actually be better than you – but if you get their target customer first, they have to take YOUR customer away, which is always harder. And if you are doing it right, you may actually be better than them.
We know we are…
* I wrote this in mid 1999, whilst trying to launch a B2B internet logistics marketplace, Translogistica. A few months later, or in internet terms – a lifetime, both my company and the bogey man’s got funding. We ended up doing quite different things and ironically, as neither company exists today, it is difficult to say which “did it right” or even “did it better”. What am I saying – of course we did it better!