Product Development November 6, 2020

Discovering a (popular) competitor :(

Barry Lachapelle @barrylachapelle

We have all been there - you get super excited about a project and start building an MVP only to discover three weeks later someone has already done it. And, usually, has done it quite well.

This happened to me while starting out on Bike Gear Database (BGDB). I convinced myself I had stumbled onto a unique value prop for the bike industry. I started building out the stack and MVP like a madman. About a month in, a friend told me about the wonderful site called 99spokes which was everything that I had in my head for BGDB, and more.

At work, I was learning how to assess the value of websites using various SEO tools. A search at Ahrefs showed me that 99spokes had ranked for almost 75,000 keywords and were generating about 64k organic visitors a month.


I was crushed. How do you compete against that sort of traction? I ended up stopping work on BGDB because of it.

A month or so later, I met a new friend named Alex, that had raised two companies from zero to acquisition. He understood BGDBs value. When I showed him 99spokes in Ahrefs he said, "this is a very good thing".

The moment he said it, my entire mind clicked! Of course, it was a good thing! This meant that the idea was validated and there was a business in it. Also, there was only one other company working on the problem. This got me very excited and I got back to work. I am super thankful for Alex helping me see that.

Now the question is - how do I scale to compete? Is there a possibility for us to even work together? Etc etc. Momentum is picking up and I am having a ton of fun making BGDB.

How about you? Have you ever let discovering a competitor stop you? Motivate you?

  1. 7

    Now the question is - how do I scale to compete?

    I don't know if the first problem you have to solve here is that of scale. What differentiates you from this competitor? What problem do you solve that they don't? Or rather, how do you solve it better? Focus on that first, scale comes later.

    1. 1

      For sure - I should have said 'fill my database with bikes' vs. scale. I already have a few plans on differentiating up my sleeve. Hopefully, they don't steal them ;)

  2. 5

    Also, if you weren't aware of the competitor(s), how are aware are others? Go make your own success, there is certainly room for more than one company in any niche.

    1. 3

      Very true. I think IHers obsess over the competition not realizing that many customers won't do the same amount of research (although a subset will)

    2. 1

      Great point @rosiesherry never thought about it that way.

  3. 3

    They're a great company for doing X, but your app is a better fit if you're a Y type of customer looking to do X.
    Hope that doesn't come off pretentious, but you get my drift. Niche down and choose a specific position in the market.

  4. 3

    100%. The time to be worried is when there is no competition.

  5. 3

    Don't sweat it. There are very few, hardly any, completely original ideas. You can have a similar idea but implement with your own spin -- compete in a different gap. If anything, they should give you confidence that your idea has a viable market.

  6. 2

    I also think competition is a good thing, means there is a market (that's at least what most people say). Best way to play it is to analyze this competition and find where they lack something (read reviews about them everywhere to start for example), and once you've done that do your thing but with these adjustments and you will make a difference

  7. 2

    Now the question is - how do I scale to compete?

    You don't compete, at least not directly. You would have to outperform them in every area they already excel at and given their huge lead that's not wise.

    What you want is to do some market research first: pick the 1-2 biggest competitors, use their service and see where they're lacking.

    Based on that you can create a niche where're you're not necessarily compete. For example, you could start with the best DB for electric bikes... and then slowly expand.

    1. 1

      I do like the idea of niche-ing down and might be a smart way forward considering how big the industry is.

  8. 2

    You lucky one to have such a smart friend. =)
    Stop thinking of it as a competition for a moment. Customers don’t care about how good is SEO of your competitor. They don’t care about anything except the problem they have. Focus on that and do your customer interviews, think how you could be better based on interviews. you just need to figure out how people are fixing these problems without you both -this is your the biggest and worst competitor on earth you should be worried of. You could avoid all this having a clear framework how to assess your business idea before start.

  9. 2

    I am completely convinced that in every niche there is always room for atleast one-two more competitor. Also, the good thing is, you can always learn from your competitor's mistakes and success. Good luck!

  10. 2

    I have several things to advise you but I would like to see the ahrefs score of my bike database website. Also, you need to check the age of competitor's and your site because nothing happen in one day. I think the competitor's site has done a lot in terms of time and work.

  11. 2

    I tend to go into markets that already have lots of competitors, but have still had the experience of discovering a competitor that was attacking the problem the same way I was. It can definitely be demoralizing at first. You hit on a really good point though: that usually means the idea is validated.

    The execution matters a great deal too. iPhones were not the first smartphones. Google was not the first search engine. Facebook was not the first social network. The important part is if you are willing to do the work to figure out how to execute better than your competitors. It sounds like you are because you have momentum and you are enjoying the work.

    1. 1

      I love your point on execution and totally agree.

  12. 1

    I'm there all the time.
    When I first started to list the competition, I noticed nobody quite had the same value proposition I had... Except one. Problem was that that one was clearly the market leader, CultureAmp.

    Then I started to pivot, and suddenly now I'm competing with a Facebook product. 😬

    But here's the thing: even the market leaders are unable to seize all the market. You start to ask around and many potential customers didn't even know they existed. Then there were the customers that, despite having the problem, chose not to use those leaders for some reason or another. If that reason isn't cash - it rarely is for, if the product really solved their woes, they would pay - then I have another positioning angle to explore.

  13. 1

    Apple wasn’t the first PC company. They didn’t create the first hand held music player. They didn’t create the first online music store. They didn’t create the first touch screen phone.

    Amazon wasn’t the first online bookstore.

    Starbucks wasn’t the first coffee company.

    Spotify, also, was not the first online music platform

    Google wasn’t the first search engine

    Facebook wasn’t the first social network

    All of these companies and countless others weren’t the first. Don’t be discouraged, focus more, drill down and really nail your problem/solution.

  14. 1

    Cool! I also recently understand that you can still niche down on a niche market, focusing on specific use case/type that makes your product stand out. But imo, the catch is that the moat of your uniqueness is a bit high I think. Or you're much faster to deliver?

  15. 1

    Now the question is - how do I scale to compete? Is there a possibility for us to even work together?

    I wouldn't think about scaling. It's not what makes them powerful. A great usability, the huge database, great UI, a lot of content - all this stuff that you... unfortunately lack. I'm not sure about the size of your database but the usability is not your's site strong side.

    As for competing with this elephant... you actually can't. Well, you can try but the probablity you'd lose is about 99.99%. What you would do instead is to differentiate, be smaller, but better in your niche. Some ideas:

    • comparison some bikes by location (maybe there are some local companies/startups that make them)
    • bikes for a specific group of people (girls, elderlies, tandems)
    • bikes for a specifc use (one day drive, multi days serious journes, races, etc).

    Good luck!

    1. 1

      Thank you for this @Zencentric good advice. I think niche-ing down is a good call. I will consider this.

      Also there are new ux features in the pipeline ;)

  16. 1

    Yes this happened to me too, but I haven't let it slow me down! Just like your friend Alex, I think competitors are a great sign that there is a market and demand for the product!

    A few months into building, I discovered a much bigger, older and well trafficed site that had the advantage of being able to purchase thousands of products to review and photograph - something that would be extremely costly for a small time indie developer like me (most lipsticks cost between 10$-60$ + shipping so there is no way I could drop $100k+ to get the same kind of review database as my competitor), however I am finding that in addition to scale, there are other ways to compete with existing offerings: differentiate in some way.

    Perhaps your competitor's site is not very good on mobile and you can offer a smooth mobile UX or you can appeal to international users by offering a more broad range of products etc. Perhaps you can engage with the community in ways that your competitor can't by offering them unique and customised ways to track products etc.

    1. 1

      Great advice @spimescape how did you end up differentiating from your competition?

  17. 1

    It's a tough pill to swallow for sure.
    Something similar happened to us at FlippedNormals.

    We had been working on releasing the first version of our marketplace. A month before we launched, Artstation which is one of the worlds biggest art sites, announced that they were launching a beta version of their marketplace.
    My co-founder and I just stared at each other in disbelief.

    Well we went ahead anyway, and started using it as in indicator for things to come. Looking to them for inspiration instead of someone who would overshadow us. And as it turns out, there more than enough room for us all.

    1. 2

      Great story thanks @MjTheHunter - flippednormals looks great too.

      1. 1

        Thank you, Barry, and best of luck!

  18. 1

    Looking at the Ahrefs screenshot, 99 Spokes' traffic is great but their DR is not high. If you think SEO is your top channel, then invest into it.

    The way I see it 99 Spokes is actually teaching you the things you should be doing. Look at the keywords they are ranking for, where they are getting their backlinks from, the kind of content they are publishing and analyse patterns. Of course, start with guest posting to get your DR up as well.

    At the beginning of your journey it is good to have a bigger competitor - they have possibly made many mistakes and found the right way. Allows you to avoid those.

    All the best!

    1. 1

      Wow - you're absolutely right @karthik_2206 I didn't notice how low their DR was. I will dig deeper into their traffic - good call. Thank you!

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