Breaking into an established industry requires a strategy unencumbered by the traditional mindset of industry players.

You can't feel compelled to do something because that's the way it's always been done. If something doesn't make sense to you, don't do it. If it seems like a good idea, follow through.

Do what feels right for your company and your customers regardless of the norm.

Trusting yourself and having the right attitude is incredibly powerful when it comes to creating something new. But there's more to it than that.

Here's what to keep in mind when going toe to toe with established industry players.

1. Do your research, but be ready for surprises.

It doesn't matter how much time you spend on research or how well you think you know the industry--there will always be surprises.

Most entrepreneurs building a product start off with a fairly good idea of what they need to do. Go to China, pitch their idea, get a manufacturer to make it for them--how hard could it be?

But then they find out many manufacturers don't index on Google. Some don't even have websites. And it's impossible to know their true quality without sampling the product and visiting the factory.

The fact is, you won't be able to anticipate everything. Do as much research as you can to make sure there's really an opportunity in the industry. But after that, understand your journey is going to include surprises.

2. Build a brand to pitch your product.

Here's a little secret about the investors and potential partners you'll be meeting with: Most of them won't want to work with you.

You likely don't have a product yet. But if you also don't have a brand, there's nothing for them to look at. They'll view you as a little fish in a big pond, and they won't see why they should bother.

In the lingerie industry, it's an investment for a manufacturer to bring on a new partner. There's a lot of sampling, onboarding, and upfront work that has to occur. Even then, they know most new brands aren't going to be successful.

Pitching manufacturers can be more difficult than pitching VCs in the early days. When ThirdLove was getting started, we talked to about 30 manufacturers to find one that would work with us.

But if you put in the branding legwork beforehand, you can give a strong pitch.

3. Leverage new technology.

New technology is something every startup should be carefully considering. Especially channels like Facebook that allow smaller companies access to consumers for a fraction of the price of traditional marketing methods.

When ThirdLove started in 2012, Facebook marketing hadn't quite taken off yet. We ended up reaping the benefits of using Facebook and other emerging digital channels to get the word out about our products.

Understanding and successfully leveraging newer marketing channels will help you scale and gain a foothold in the market when you need it most.  

4. Build a better product--and spend money on it.

You can market your product all you want, but at the end of the day, it's the quality that matters. The truth is, no one will come back to buy your product if the quality isn't there.

You have to be obsessed with building a better product than your competitors. It's a time-consuming process that requires you to put blood, sweat, and tears into your design.

At ThirdLove, we looked at the outdated industry methods and made an improvement. We got rid of bra hook tags and instead printed on the product itself. It's more expensive to do that, but we were dead set on making a better bra--and eliminating the tag was part of that process.

Small costs are insignificant if your customers love your product.

5. Be scrappy.

You'll never win out against an incumbent by doing the same things they do. You have to figure out how to make more with less.

Back when ThirdLove was four people and an idea, we were invited to go to LA and visit the set of Shark Tank. Flights from San Francisco to LA aren't very expensive, and they probably take 40 minutes. But at that point, we had little to spend.

So, the four of us piled into a car at 3am and drove six hours to LA in order to save money.

And as we got out of the car to hand it off to the valet, Dave, my husband and co-founder, said, "If anyone asks, we flew here."

I could tell you 100 more stories like that. But the point is, all of those little decisions eventually add up and make a difference. You won't have the massive budget or resources of an industry titan, but that doesn't mean you can't compete.

Published on: May 15, 2018
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