We innovators like to think of ourselves as underdogs. Little guys standing up to the establishment and its battalions of beige cubicles.
While our entrepreneurial desire to disrupt the status quo is usually healthy, I've come to believe that disruption as an end unto itself is not terribly... constructive. It's easy to diminish big, established companies as sleepy, lumbering Goliaths just waiting to be taken out by you and your bleeding-edge Software-as-a-Service slingshot, but that'd be a mistake.
Most big incumbents started out as small, scrappy outfits like yours. While they may lack your business' agility, moxie and youthful good looks, the fact is that they've likely forgotten more than you've begun to learn about your shared goal: Profitable, sustainable growth.
Here are just a few of the nuggets of wisdom that Goliath would love to share with David, if only he'd put down that slingshot and respect his elders for a change.
1. Insights Matter More than Ideas
Big companies know that clever new ideas are a dime a dozen. Corporate halls are littered with tried-and-failed "idea contests". There's no shortage of newfangled, super-shiny stuff you could be doing at this very second.
Goliath knows that the real rocket fuel, it turns out, is in customer insights. Are you obsessed with your idea-du-jour, or with more fully understanding your customers' unmet needs?
A clever new concept will get you going, but customer relevance will get you growing.
2. Superheroes Don't Scale
Congratulations: You're an exceptional entrepreneur. One in a million. A can't miss mix of "work harder and smarter". As you go about hiring, you look to bring on like-minded souls, like you, who are singular, visionary talents. Then the boggle hits: There aren't too many superheroes out there, and the few you dig up are awfully expensive.
Goliath doesn't hire superheroes, because he knows that exceptionally conceived strategies, processes, and technologies can help regular employees achieve exceptional team results.
I can't tell you how many hours I've spent in search of 10x software wizards when I should have instead been designing a 10x team around readily available, raring-to-go muggles.
3. Constraints Will Set You Free
Entrepreneurial ADD. You've certainly experienced it, even if you've never called it by that name. In our efforts to stay flexible and open to opportunity, we spread ourselves too thin at the expense of sound strategy. We say yes to customer requests that dilute our core mission.
Goliath despises distractions. He's built for predictability, not possibility. He excels at saying "No".
Michael Porter famously said that "The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do." Established companies have a knack for recognizing their knitting, and sticking to it. A little of that virtue goes a very long way with entrepreneurs.
In summary: The next time you find yourself tempted to badmouth some old-school market incumbent or another, put down your slingshot, and remember that the company you're out to disrupt might actually be more useful to you as a partner than a punching bag.
But you should probably still get off their lawn.