Dominating in your industry is all about competitive advantage–offering customers better prices, service or products while anticipating how the market is evolving. But while you're keeping a close eye on rivals it's vital to get a few things right. That's according to Devin O'Brien, head of strategic marketing for Zumper, a search engine for rental properties. In the three years the company has been making a play to reign the apartment and home rental space, the website has grown to attracting around 1.5 million visits a month while offering a mobile app that users have downloaded hundreds of thousands of times. Here's his advice on the smartest strategies for leaving the competition in the dust.

Follow fundamentals not vanity.

It can be easy to get ruffled when a competitor comes out with a new flashy offering or marketing campaign but often if you analyze the fundamentals of what's adding value to the opponent's business you'll find there's not really much there. Unless a company builds a solid customer base within the confines of its burn rate, they don't have a business you need to worry about, regardless of any buzz or hype it may be getting. "So it's super important to not look at vanity but really think about the actual numbers and fundamentals of whether you're growing the bottom line of your business," he says.

Test everything and iterate quickly.

Instead of going all-in on a few initiatives, test many things at a shallow level, scale what's working and get rid of what isn't. Apply this strategy to anything from product changes to marketing channels.

Plan less and do more.

As a small business your strength lies in your ability to be nimble. Follow an 80-20 rule that allows you to get things done at a good level instead of aiming for 100 percent perfection, which will help you innovate quickly. "The big guys take forever to get stuff going because they have to plan and they have to get approval, whereas we say 'Screw it, we're going to do it right now,'" he says.

Remain introspective.

Obviously you need to look at what competitors are doing and replicate and improve upon whatever works for them. But the individual strengths of your team members are your real competitive advantage and what will allow you to be innovative. "In order to become a leader you have to come up with your own ideas," he says. "And I think being introspective is the way to do that. That's how you think about the next big thing on top of what your competitor's already doing."

Published on: Aug 17, 2015