The media is obsessed with Facebook's rollout of Snapchat-like features, and what they mean for the two companies. It's easy to see why--competition creates drama, and drama commands attention.
Every business is a target for disruption. Right now, someone's coding a product or service that may fundamentally change the way you do business.
In my decades of experience in the tech industry, I've come away with a better understanding of why businesses go after each other, and what it takes to survive as either the champion or contender.
Underdog Contenders Steal the Title With:
In the early years of my company, Wattpad, my co-founder, Ivan Yuen, and I only made enough ad revenue a month to buy a single cup of coffee. Most entrepreneurs might have cut their losses and walked away, but a deeply rooted belief in our company's vision kept us in the game.
We believed our product would revolutionize how people discover, share, and connect through stories. Meaningful companies are built upon a strong, timeless vision.
If a problem exists in the market that your product or service can solve, don't expect it to exist forever. Competition in business is time sensitive. In almost all cases, there is an extremely small window of opportunity to win.
Google solved the problem of search and became the portal to the internet. Snapchat pioneered ephemeral visual communication, then moved quickly to capture the market. Speed is one of the best assets for a growing company. Make decisions quickly and execute with purpose.
In 1993, I left an unexciting job at IBM to join a startup called Delrina. When I joined the company, it had just over 100 employees. Two years later, the company employed more than 700 people and was acquired by Symantec.
Riding that rocket ship was a life-changing experience. There I learned to be ambitious enough to aim for global scale and fearless enough to take on the toughest competitors. If you build an amazing product for a global market, the sky's the limit. Aim high and find excitement in the prospect of building a world-class company.
Champions Create a Winning Legacy Through:
Delrina's flagship product, WinFax, a fax software program for Windows, took almost 100 percent of the market. Every single one of our competitors either discontinued its products or went out of business. Even with the market cornered, Delrina would eventually have had to take on new contenders--email, SMS, social networks, and eventually messaging apps--had it not been acquired.
Even legacy brand Procter & Gamble--a 178-year-old company with huge market share--goes through a major transformation every decade or so. If you don't disrupt yourself, someone will do it for you.
Playing to their strengths
If you think the startup clone wars of today are dramatic, look back a few decades to the browser wars. In 1995, Microsoft launched Internet Explorer 1.0 to take on the market leader at the time, Netscape. If you're unfamiliar with Netscape, you've just proved my point: For any company, it's critical to stay aware of trends and prepared for competition.
The game winner for Microsoft was scale. The company included Internet Explorer 1.0 as the default browser for its operating system and pushed improvements much faster than Netscape. Today, Facebook is leveraging a few advantages against Snapchat. Scale, access to resources, and experience working with Instagram's camera-centric audience are all reasons why Facebook is siphoning eyes from Snapchat.
Being the market leader means that you're in the best position to monitor and act on trends that affect your business.
If You Rise to the Challenge, You'll Learn to Love Disruption
It's often said that "you need to skate to where the puck is going." Learn to love disruption and you'll never get tired of that puck chase.
The cloning of features by competing companies is nothing new. After releasing Instagram's version of Snapchat-style stories, Instagram's CEO made this statement in an interview with TechCrunch:
"Gmail was not the first email client. Google Maps was certainly not the first map. The iPhone was definitely not the first phone. The question is, what do you do with that format? What do you do with that idea? Do you build on it? Do you add new things? Are you trying to bring it in a new direction?"
In other words, your mindset, approach, and creativity will determine how well you do against the competition. Each industry faces its own disruptive trends. Smart businesses stay ahead of their own disruption by monitoring trends in the marketplace and placing their bets accordingly.
At Wattpad, we actively monitor shifts in consumer behavior and trends in the entertainment space. We know people will continue to crave entertainment, but we understand that every few years how they want to be entertained will be drastically different. It's this understanding that led us to release Tap by Wattpad, a new app for short, chat-style stories.
We observed various trends in messaging and understood behavior related to social storytelling. We applied that to the development of Tap to stay ahead of the curve.
Continuous reinvention sets a standard for us. It a creates a focus on perpetual growth. Disney started out in animation, and then grew to be an entertainment giant. Facebook started out as a site to connect college kids, and then became the largest social media network of all time.
The battle for attention between Facebook and Snapchat is far from over. The clear vision of Snapchat combined with its proven speed of execution makes it a contender. The scale and resources at Facebook are what make it a formidable opponent.
Will Facebook successfully stunt Snapchat's growth, or will Snapchat usher in an era of cultural supremacy for the camera? As always, only time will tell.