Every startup founder, eventually, wants to go head to head with the big dogs in his or her industry--and win. But in the beginning, it's crucial not to compare yourself to the biggest competitors in your field, says best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell. Instead, think of yourself as a big fish in a small pond.

"Our sense of our own self-worth and our own self-confidence is derived from judgments about our peer group," says Gladwell, whose most recent book, "David and Goliath," tackles the subject of why some underdogs succeed and some don't. "So if you put someone in a very highly competitive pond, they are going to reach very different conclusions about who they are and what they’re capable of than if you put them in a less selective, smaller pond."

The big-fish-in-a-little-pond thought experiment, Gladwell says, can help you build the self-confidence you need to persevere through all the startup challenges you face. Unfortunately, maintaining that attitude is easier said than done: humans naturally want to compare themselves to their competitors.

"It can be quite dangerous and damaging to be in a situation where you compare yourself only to the best of the best," he says. "You can wrongly think that you're dumb."

One example Gladwell points to is that of a "brilliant" friend who went to the most academically elite high school in Toronto, where the competitive nature of her classmates had a negative impact on her self-confidence.

"She thought she was a mediocre student," he says. "She had the misfortune [of] being a small fish in an exceedingly large and competitive pond."

To hear more from the conversation, watch the video below.