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55 Comments

I have a competitor and feel outmatched

I notice a competitor came out of nowhere. Our models are a little different.

But they seem more capable.

They have 5000+ users (i have ~150) which they seem to have gotten in a small time. And $300,000+ in transactions and (I have ~$1000).

I see them adding features way faster than I can.

Has anyone experienced this? Is it possible to survive as a self taught dev mostly-solofounder? I feel way outmatched.

Edit: When I say $1000 in transactions, I make about $70 from that. I need a lot more transactions to be profitable. Probably around 20k users, 1m in ARR, to make 70k.

  1. 38

    When building something there's always this period of time when you think you should study the competition, study the market, etc., and it feels like a smart thing to do but when you're a solo founder it really is better to be stupidly optimistic. Keep looking at your competition and you'll just end up copying their functionality and make a shittier clone of their business and lose because you have less resources. Keep up with their milestones and stats and you'll just fall into their intimidation trap. There's always going to be a bigger fish. I don't know what you're building but judging from your competition the market is big and you only need a small slice of it to thrive. And the market will grow, and so will your slice, even if you just survive.

    I know it's super cliche but your only competition should be yourself.

    1. 2

      +1 for the last line

    2. 1

      Love this perspective!

    3. 1

      What this guy says.

      Just do your thing.

  2. 18

    Hey Dashiell, this is such an interesting topic that I feel is under-discussed on IH.

    I even posted about the exact same topic a few weeks back, you can see some of the responses: https://www.indiehackers.com/post/growth-stalled-losing-market-share-advice-needed-71ec35fd89

    I understand perfectly how you feel.

    They're moving faster, they have more brains and man hours to throw at the problem, they have a lot more dollars in their coffers, and, unsurprisingly, they're gaining traction much faster than you.

    This is the curse of the solo founder competing against actual companies, funded or otherwise.

    Sure, big behemoths are slow-moving lumbering apes, but bootstrapped startups with multiple founders + a team will wreck your shit in no time.

    I myself have battled the churns, they've even tried to steal more market share by offering freemium, and still this month is my best month yet in terms of MRR/revenue.

    Here are some thoughts:

    1. You don't need to match them feature-for-feature. Feature parity is overrated. That said, you do need to remain competitive with the general market. You can lack features, but you can't lack critical functionality. And what's "critical functionality" varies over time. Talk to your customers. They'll tell you what's must-have. If you hear a feature request over and over again, that's critical functionality, and you must have it.

    2. Instead of focusing on differentiation via features/design/speed/UI, focus on innovating in terms of business model. Is your competitor mainly just SaaS? Offer a lifetime plan and steal some market share that way. In my experience, that's a sustainable strategy so long as they don't do the same (they're unlikely to do that if what they're currently doing is already profitable).

    3. What I noticed about these faster-growing competitors is that they end up adding a lot of features in a short period of time. Before they know it, it's one giant app that a certain segment of users will find too overwhelming to use. In general, the more features they add, the more complexity goes up -- even if they follow UI/UX best practices. It's inevitable. If you can offer something pared down, stupidly-easy to use, at a lower cost (or even higher cost really, depending on what the market would bear), you might be able to service this segment of customers. Not everyone wants the most complex/powerful software.

    4. Study those who switch from them to you. Talk to them, find out why they prefer you.

    5. Study those who switch to them from you too.

    6. You likely already have a different niche of users from them. Meaning a particular niche will pick you over them 9 times out of 10, and another niche will pick them over you 9 times out of 10. You need to double-/triple-down on the niche that prefers you. Find out who they are.

    7. Bizdev. Build partnerships with people who can bring you to a larger market. I myself have partnerships with influencers, and having them vouch for me is such a game-changer for my lead flow.

    8. Built-in virality. Your visibility should go up with usage. Find a way to implement built-in virality so you can offload some marketing on to your users and focus mainly on product development.

    That's all I have for now. Remember that you're disadvantaged to begin with and will always be disadvantaged, it's like asking how to win a fight as a one-man army against an enemy battalion of 50. The odds are stacked against you regardless.

    So don't take them head-on. Don't fight the same battle. Fight your own battle. Fight over a different set of users.

    They can't serve everyone, nor are they trying to.

    Find out who they're not serving. Go for them.

    All the best!

    1. 4

      I’ve always seen your questions on IH and felt like you were a really interesting person to begin with, and now you drop awesome knowledge like that. Keep it up! 🙌

      1. 2

        Ha, I appreciate that.

        You've almost always replied to my posts, I noticed.

        I think it's time to finally give back instead of just whining and ranting on this throwaway account, even though I actually contribute a fair bit using my actual IH account. 😉

        1. 2

          Glad you have a non-throwaway IH account, too. :) I'd be super curious to know which one it is but I understand why you want to keep it a secret.

          Personally, I haven't been as active on IH recently, mostly because life has gotten busier, but I always found your questions really interesting. If you want my opinion on anything in the future, it'll probably be best if you email me. At the moment, I check IH only every few weeks.

          Good luck, man!

    2. 4

      Really insightful! Thank you 😊

    3. 3

      This should be the top comment thanks @hmongbong168

    4. 3

      This is great! Thanks for sharing.

  3. 12

    You can price yourself under them or over them. Both will work, eventually.

    I run a crm that has a TON of competition and every so often I talk to a user who says "I switched from "BIG CRM" to you because...." and they tell me why.

    Maybe your users can tell you why they use you.

    1. 1

      I am priced under because we have less overhead. But that is because the other product is somewhat more convenient depending on what the user wants.

  4. 7

    You should only worry if you DON'T have competitors.

    Listen to your users, carve out a niche and serve a subset of users 5x better than the nearest competitor.

    The strength of your product doesn't exist in isolation - it's a combination of your AUDIENCE needs and your product.

    To give you a worked example, I have about a bazillion competitors in the form builder space - all with $00000's bakcing. There's no hope I could be a leader in the space as a one man band. But by focusing on lead generation experts and marketing agencies, I can create a better product than Typeform for that audience.

  5. 6

    How much marketing are you doing?

    @yongfook had a cycle of 1 week for building then 1 week for marketing when successfully building bannerbear. If you are not at that level consider trying it for a while.

    1. 1

      50-100 cold dm's per day. Also twitter, insta, and tiktok posts which I'm trying to ramp up.

      1. 2

        I think there are potential users who would appreciate your app for being:

        1. Anonymous
        2. non-Amazon

        So unless you absolutely want to become solely 'the wishlist app for sex workers' then I would:

        1. Remove sex workers from your copy.
        2. Push Anonymous + non-Amazon in your copy.
        3. Market to any community where anonymity or non-Amazon appeals (including sex workers).

        Just opinion. Just trying to help.

        1. 1

          This makes sense, but it's the opposite of a lot of advice I get. I was told to make it more obvious it's for sex workers in order to get that niche because most companies try to get every user instead of focusing on a niche that definitely needs them, and so they don't grow. What are your thoughts on that?

          1. 2

            I think focusing on a specific niche is perfect advice.

            Mining analogy: dig until you find a seam, then work that seam.

            I was suggesting you should dig again because you said your seam wasn't working.

            But from your twitter it seems now you are happier with the way it is going, so I would double down on what you are doing.

            The sex worker niche may itself prove rich enough for you to satisfy your goals (in which case you've nailed it) otherwise you can reflect/adjust if growth stalls.

            Hope this is clear / helps.

    2. 1

      Where can I read more about it?

      1. 1

        https://www.bannerbear.com/journey-to-10k-mrr/

        For "the rhythm" specifically scroll about 2/3rds down.

        1. 0

          Read the whole story, so good. Product demo is great too.

  6. 5

    I have several large competitors. But I only need 2 new deals a week to be profitable. My competitors need dozens, even hundreds.

    Focus on yourself and your business. No need to worry about being #1.

    1. 2

      Thanks. Might not apply to every business though. I also need high volume to be profitable.

  7. 4

    Competitors can be great allies. When we were starting out we made it a point to get as close to our competitors as possible. If we knew they were going to be in town we’d take them out to dinner or try to chat them up at conferences. We were tiny compared to them but they were well aware of us and were open to sharing industry insights in exchange for us being open about our business. At one point they offered to buy the company, we said no. You can treat competitors like a threat or as something to leverage. You’re not outmatched.

    You’re more likely to succeed on the partnerships you develop rather than the features you release. When PayPal partnered with eBay sellers their service took off. I’m sure you’ve thought of these things but partnering with the newly engaged or expecting parents could be good partnerships to make (or with people/companies that “own” these audiences). The point is, focus on partnerships. This is where you can find incredible opportunities that others are missing or ignoring. You have $1000 in transactions, this is fantastic! As long as the core functionality is there then it’s unlikely that more features are going to be the level that drives this metric up.

    Think in terms of opportunities. What is this competitor missing? What do you know that they seem to have missed? It’s likely to be a lot of things so all you have to do is identify one, or just a few. This can be hard but that’s part of the job. E.g. We realized our competitors were horrible at creating high quality training content – our bread and butter – so that’s where we doubled down and pulled back on matching them on features. Focus on your unique strengths and opportunities that others are ignoring.

    I hope this is helpful.

  8. 4

    I'm trying to add to the fantastic support and advice so far.

    Someone recently gave me a really fantastic nugget: Think of all the different books out there. Now, think of a specific book - what is that book's competition? Even though it still has competition, people still buy it (you even thought of it to answer this question!). Its easy to forget that different people have different tastes. Just because there is more than one thing doesn't mean that only one of those things gets to reap all the revenue and rewards. People may like your product better because it better suits them.

    Perhaps use this as an opportunity to think about how to differentiate yourself and to think of how a smaller user base might serve you and your product better. For example, with a smaller user base, you might be able to offer more of the "white glove treatment" and have a strong opportunity to become known for quality service and quality attention to your user base. Things like this seem like small actions but can pay off in spades later, even in the face of a bigger competitor.

    Personally, I love the advice upthread of being stupidly optimistic as a soloprenuer. I've started doing this myself because competition when you're trying to bootsrap solo can really set the conditions for losing confidence, feeling inferior and even depression. I say keep being excited about your product and let that excitement fuel you! These things have a way of shining through your work to others and they will pick up on it. You've got this!

    It's a marathon, not a sprint, and some jerk just went sprinting past you at mile 3 like his hair was on fire - don't worry, he'll blow up eventually while you remain steady and on-pace.

    1. 3

      Great post, but people buy multiple books.

      People don't typically subscribe to multiple services for the same purpose/use case.

      Also this:

      he'll blow up eventually

      No evidence for it lol. Sounds like a cope. Those who are doing better than you now are likely to continue to do better than you.

      1. 1

        Yea these are good points. Books are not competing in the same way apps are. And my users have a very low life time value since we are making a small percentage from every transaction. So putting all my focus into customer service- while a great "do things that don't scale" trick, well it will only take me so far.

  9. 3

    Great replies in the comments. I would like to touch on a slightly different perspective.

    • Talk to your customers and find out what are your core features for which people are using your product. Most people don’t need a load of features. Every customer has a different requirement. You can niche down to specific audience and make a good amount of user base.
    • May be it’s a perfect time to speed up things a little bit, find some partners who can help you speed up the development process. You already have a proof of concept and also has got some emerging competition, so finding a partner would not be that difficult.
    • Lightweight, niched down & optimised product is far better than heavy software with bunch of features, which can’t even cater a single category of users properly.
    • You don’t need to be the #1 and eat the big chuck of the market, you just need to make a sustainable business. Later you can also pivot to some other area.
    • You have a very good opportunity to garb your competitors user base. Their weakness is your superpower. They have huge customer base, some % of those would be definitely not satisfied with their service and are looking for alternatives. You can grab those users by having a good, fast product with better pricing, user experience and good customer support.
    • Partner up with some influencers in your niche, give them a good commision to promote your product. Find influencer with relatively less fanbase.
    • Make your product look polished and pitch to some big influencers in your niche and give them equity. They usually don’t have much knowledge about funding, have good amount of money to invest. So, you won’t lose much of your equity.

    Good luck it’s going to be a challenging and fun journey. Just don’t give up. I like your product, It’s makes sense and market definitely need something like this. Mind sharing your competitor?

    1. 1

      Sorry for the late reply. The competitor is Throne. They have a slightly different model. I'm finding now that while some left me for them, some of their customers are leaving them for me.

  10. 3

    They might not be around next year. Will you be?

    I've recently heard this story from a founder - they found a way better version of their product pushed by a competitor. First they got really scared. Then they decided to ignore it and keep building. One year later, their competitor's app was toast (who knows why). sorry if this sounds like LinkedIN copypasta, point is it's true.

    I'd keep building.

    I had a look at your product. It's built on a need. You have revenue. Just keep at it I'd say.

    1. 1

      btw if you need any (hopefully) constructive feedback -

      your product is nice & functional, which is great, but:

      1. find someone to help you with the design (I'm volunteering if you're open to that, DM if interested)

      2. you've clearly got a niche you're not capitalising on - it's in your product's description already. Position your product accordingly. Right now it feels very general, when you've clearly got a target audience

      1. 1

        I'd love any help with the design. I'm not sure changing the design is my biggest priority. But I'd love any input or help.

        You're totally right about the positioning. Right now we are pretty much only marketing to sex workers. It may seem vague on the site. That's because we're weary of getting banned by google algorithms. Likewise different social media sites block us when we try to talk about sex workers. So it's been confusing how to go about it. Even tiktok removed our videos for mentioning online sugar babies (total legal and no sex involved).

  11. 3

    Yeah this sucks, I had that feeling once.
    But to be honest my customers have something that my competitors don't, me!

    Don't worry about it, keep it up. Focus on your solution to your customers pain.

  12. 3

    There is always space for multiples businesses in the same space, especially on the internet. Think about Starbucks, they are huge but there are thousands of small coffee shops thriving all around. Try to be that nice coffee shop in your neighborhood or that little chef Italian restaurant, instead of trying to conquer the whole market.

    Even Google search that is huge has a lot of competition (duck duck go, bing, etc...). Also, only 60% of the world population uses the internet, and the world population is growing, so there is lots of oportunity.

    Try to do the best for your customers with your limited resources and you should be fine. If you are getting more customers month after month, and if you keep your expenses low, you should be fine in the long run (if people still have the problem you are trying to solve of course).

  13. 3

    Remember that competition breeds better solutions. Don't worry about them, keep them in your periphery but stay focused on why you're building YOUR product. What is your niche audience? Be confident in choosing a specific target and serving them 120%, as a real person, not a big corporate team. There will always be a market for both :)
    If you're ever wondering about this, think about buying groceries.
    Supermarkets, online delivery, corner shops, fresh grocers and markets. All serving the same purpose on the surface, but look underneath and the specific problem they are solving is very different and their audience is very different. Are any of them going to stop existing? Of course not. Because there will always be the specific use case for their product.

    Keep going!

    PS definitely agree with the comments about asking your existing customers what they love about you. Focus hard on that! That's your USP.

  14. 3

    I agree, it's a nice idea to target a smaller market and deliver a cooler solution

  15. 3

    As others have pointed out - Don't get discouraged. Competitors mean that there is actual demand for what you are doing. I wouldn't worry about the slice of pie you are getting, especially if the pie is huge.

    We ourselves are in a very crowded space (HR SaaS) with LOTS of competitors, but every one of them does things differently. My competitors do some things better than us, and we do some things better than them. Customers will choose accordingly. As a bootstrapped business, we haven't got the marketing budget to compete with our venture backed competitors with deep pockets via Google Ads etc., so we focus on delivering excellent service and using that as our selling point.

    I deliberately don't even look at what our competitors are doing. My co-founder keeps asking me to sign up on competitor apps to check them out, but I never do. Though we noticed one of our biggest competitors sign up to our app last month!

    It is a lot harder to get started and get traction in a crowded space, but once you get a foothold, you will find that it gets easier. More customers begets more customers as you gain more testimonials and credibility. Stick with it.

  16. 3

    Of course that hurts at first. But at the same time there are a lot of benefits for you:

    1. They're opening and creating the market for you niche
    2. You can learn from their missteps and pick up disgruntled users

    Monitor them on social media and see if/when customers complain or have issues and pick them up.
    Study them, see where there's a gap in their offering or which niche they won't/can't service and go for them.

    Without a Joker there is no Batman!

  17. 3

    If your goal is to become the number one startup in the world and dominate the market, it's bad.

    But if your goal is to make a living doing what you love, it's fine.

    It doesn't matter how many competitors and how successful they are. What matters is: can you find enough customers on a regular basic to be profitable and keep doing it?

    Answer is yes 99% of the time.

    1. 1

      You have a point, but you better hope the plateau (which will come sooner or later for all solopreneurs) is at an MRR that you're happy with and can sustain your lifestyle for years to come.

      1. 1

        what's the difference hitting a plateau for a solopreneur vs vc-backed startup?

        1. 2

          Assuming the market is big enough, VC-backed startups don't usually just plateau, because they have (practically) unlimited resources.

          Unlimited dollars, unlimited brains to throw at a problem, unlimited hands to code, unlimited bloggers, unlimited salesmen, etc. etc.

  18. 3

    There is basically nothing unique in your situation, the advantage you have here of you being nimble can not be underestimated (I'm assuming you are going in solo here). What I would suggest don't chase them, the moment you start chasing you will end up lagging behind. Figure out what works, and what current paying users expect from you and capitalise on that.
    Also having 150 users and ~1000$ in revenue you are already way more ahead than most of the people.

    1. 2

      Oh sorry for the confusion. I don't have $1000 in revenue. We've processed $1000 in gifts. I made about $70 from that. I think at that rate I need 20k users to be a little profitable.

      Thanks for the advice. I do seem to grow more when I'm not thinking about wha the competition is doing.

  19. 3

    Are you sure that competition is new, or an old company that pivoted or someone not on your radar earlier? It happened to me that I made my competition look like this big giant, but in reality, they were going through same timelines and difficulties as mine.

    Competition is a good thing. It validates and increases the market size. Stay focussed on what you are doing for your customers, it will work out eventually.

  20. 3

    Too big too fast isn't always a good thing. Find where your small size and your agility are an advantage. You might not be able to compete on features, but competing on features isn't a great strategy anyway. Have you talked to your customers? A lot? Because you can talk to a great percentage of them than they can. Are you able to niche down within the broader category that they're in and do one or two things better for one type of user? Maybe work on dialing in your niche and positioning and brand and service in ways that your Goliath competitor can't.

  21. 3

    This is a pretty common phenomenon I'd say. You may try and tweak your prices but keep delivering quality work and you would survive as a self-taught Solo-founder. My only suggestion is that you should market your services and build your brand around it. Then, you are golden!

  22. 2

    We started our business back in 2013, launched the first version of our product in 2014, then our main competitor launched and pretty much "stole" the market that we identified well :)

    Some years later another competitor came, and they had more resources and more XP too. So they outmatched us as well.

    They are now number 1 and we are somewhere between number 3-10, depending on how you categorize companies.

    It happens and it feels awful in most cases.

    If your goal is to be number 1 in any industry these days, you need to raise cash, build an awesome product and team fast... faster than anybody else would. If that's not your goal, being number 10 or 50 or 100 can still work out for you.

  23. 2

    Good markets have room for multiple players, big and small. There's a chance you can co-exist peacefully.

    That being said, there are often advantages to being smaller as well. In general you can:

    • leverage your personal journey as a solo founder. building in public is your friend here - this doesn't mean you have to share every metric about your company though.

    • charge less: a larger team usually means expensive salaries, offices, benefits, software and more. if they have funding, that also means huge pressure to grow. if you're solo and with a low burn rate, you may be able to undercut them.

    • speed of decision making: perhaps they can build things faster, but there's likely a shorter feedback loop for you to learn from customers and apply to decisions you make. this compounds over time.

    • focus: larger teams have to move into adjacent markets to keep feeding the beast. Perhaps you can focus on a niche within the market, and make those customers happier than your competitors ever could when diluting themselves more?

  24. 2

    Competition can be good thing. They are validating that there is demand with 5000 users (assuming they're real).

    This could be an opportunity to differentiate yourself. What do you do well that they don't do as well? It may turn out that they have more features but they're all half-baked, while you offer one key feature that works.

    You can also steal their marketing ideas, target ads at their customers and establish yourself as the better more indie (cheaper?) alternative to them.

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