Entering a crowded market as the little guy? Offer less and you might win.

Illustrated by Shimon Angel, animated by Ofer Winter

Entering a crowded marketplace can be a little daunting — okay, a lot daunting — if you’re smaller, way smaller than the dominant players.

I get emails from time to time, mostly around this question. When I started Mad Mimi (see TechCrunch), I raised $100k — that’s it — and disrupted both MailChimp and Constant Contact to gain both materially higher NPS, robust revenues and more importantly, considerable traction. But how? By offering less.

Q: Can I beat the competition by having better design, better UX?

A: Good design and UX is always a good thing but only effective when used to ice a cake — and not to apply lipstick to a pig. So, the answer is no. This is an incomplete competitive advantage.

Q: Can I beat the competition by offering more features?

A: Most dominant technologies are already mature, which can be defined by being feature-rich. A rich feature-set is best done over a long time if you’re scrappy or in a blitz if you’re rich. Rich features though are almost always better than being feature-rich. This lets you focus on the most important customer-problems without being distracted by a broad set of features. If you’re ever managed a broad feature-set, you already know how annoying it is. Answer: probably not.

Q: Can I beat the competition by offering less features?

A: Now you’re talking! By offering less features, you give yourself two things: 1. you opt-out of the one-upping cold-war (as described by Jason Fried in Getting Real) and 2. you force yourself to offer simplicity as a value. Simplicity is one thing your big bloated competitor may have trouble with because they’re so “mature”. Maturity inevitably brings complexity. Infancy is bliss in this regard. Answer: probably.

Q: So if I offer less, how can I convince others to consider my product?

A: Less isn’t less-is-less, it’s less-is-simpler-is-better-is-liberating. This is where your good design and UX comes in. Less, combined with simple combined with killer design is the secret weapon of the scrappy startup. But there’s a final detail that will make or break everything…

You need to make a human promise, and keep it. This is from a conversation I had with Seth Godin. Superb advice.

If you’re not actually solving a problem, if you’re not actually providing value, your design, your UX, your charm and marketing, may be lipstick.

Comments welcome! Favorite this article please.

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