Back in the 1970’s, I loved boxing. My favorite boxer was the magnificent Muhammad Ali but I also liked Joe Frazier for the grit and George Foreman for the sheer power. (Yes, I watch a lot of ESPN Classic).
Of course the magnetic personality, bravado and skill of Ali drove the sport’s popularity. Fights like the “Thrilla in Manila” and the “Rumble in the Jungle” were some of the most exciting sports events in history, and they played out on a world stage. Starting in 1964 when Ali (then Cassius Clay) first knocked out Sonny Liston, he truly shocked the world.
Although sports analogies may be a little played out (forgive me), I think that the story of Ali’s success has a lot of parallels in business today.
As an entrepreneur, I root for the underdog and I want to hear a great story. Remember that Ali, even though he was world champion several times, was a huge underdog to opponents like George Foreman.
I firmly believe that there are a number of relatively easy ways that smaller businesses can beat big competitors to the punch, just like Ali did when he felled Liston and Foreman.
EXTRA: You TOO can “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee”!
So here goes…
1. Find your best punch.
Ali’s best punch was the jab. He used it to wear an opponent down and, more importantly, to frustrate them at every turn. For instance, after being peppered by jabs and slipped every time he charged during their first fight, Sonny Liston simply quit.
I think a good parallel in business is Amazon. Amazon has crushed a number of big competitors. When Jeff Bezos started his little bookstore in 1995 (can you believe only 20 years ago?), he had one devastating punch. Bezos developed the platform that essentially pioneered online shopping.
Amazon started with suggestive selling (customers who bought this) and ease of ordering (1 click). I don’t know about you, but I’m powerless against this one-two combination. Amazon knows what I want before I do!
Now Amazon dominates cloud computing with Amazon Web Services.AWS could prove to be a true knockout punch.
“Any business of any size needs a go-to punch. What’s yours?”
2. Counter-punch…but still go for the knockout.
Even when Ali was getting bashed on the ropes by George Foreman and bludgeoned by Joe Frazier, he was still always thinking he would knock them out eventually.
Although you wouldn’t know it from the “Rumble in the Jungle”, Ali was actually a devastating counter-puncher.
Still, unlike some fighters (yes you, Floyd Mayweather), Ali wasn’t just looking to counter-punch all the time. Floyd, we get it…you’re probably the best defensive fighter in history. Well, your fights would be a lot more exciting and I might still pay to watch them if you actually were looking to knock someone out!
Although using only defense may be effective to win a “decision” at times, it’s really BORING and usually ineffective against a big rival. Plus it can be suicidal for an entrepreneur (see ‘How to Succeed Like Muhammad Ali, Not Floyd Mayweather’).
As a smaller business, you should always be driving for an innovation that will knock out the competition or at least hit them with a serious shot.
For example, Workday dealt large on-premise enterprise software vendors a crushing body blow when they combined cloud computing with in-memory analytics. This strategy attacks companies like Oracle on several levels:
- Application logic and much of data is stored in the cloud, not in the on-premise database. This means code changes can be made quickly without worrying about the database structure.
- Meta data is stored in memory, which makes it much faster than Oracle for analytics.
- Security is better because all customer data is encrypted and can only be accessed from the application server, which Workday controls.
“Remember that Workday isn’t just counter-punching in reaction to a new version of Oracle’s database or applications. They are attacking the core of Oracle’s business model!”
I for one wouldn’t mind Oracle taking a hit after enjoying the large margins from a near monopoly for about 30 years. Just like I would love to see Mayweather get knocked out before he retires. 🙂
3. Unleash the “phantom punch”.
Even though boxing historians such as Paul Gallender agree that Ali’s first round knockout of Liston in their second (1965) fight was a dive, in some ways it hardly matters to the legend of Ali.
At 45, Liston was more than twice Ali’s age at the time – so his time was essentially done anyway. The “phantom punch” changed boxing history forever because it paved the way for Ali’s rise and added to the mystique. Plus, no one saw it coming.
The rise of Uber is the business equivalent of the upstart champion and that famous punch. If there was ever a need for disruption in an old industry, the taxi cab industry was it. Until the last few years, you didn’t even have an option to pay electronically in many cabs. Plus the cabbies came when they wanted to, and only if the monopolistic cab companies had someone working in your area.
Uber has delivered the relatively simple “killer app” that has revolutionized the taxi cab market.
Not only has the Uber app made our travel easier and more convenient, it has spawned massive employment for entrepreneurs who want to use their own cars to make a decent living. How’s that for a “haymaker”?
Right now I’ll bet there are about 200 million people in the U.S. who’ve thought “Geez…why couldn’t I think of that?” Well, fortunately it’s not too late to create the next Uber. Many industries are ripe for disruption. Not all of them are obvious. For example, why doesn’t someone disrupt Apple’s iTunes?
“Bottom Line: You could still create your own killer app. And your time to knock out the old guard is now!”
4. Always keep punching.
Against Frazier in the “Thrilla in Manila”, even though he was quote “near death” and under relentless attack, Ali kept on punching.
With the possible exception of the Foreman fight, Ali always stayed busy with his punches.
A parallel in business is Facebook. Although Facebook has many strong competitors in social media, they always manage to punch back and use their size to lean in on their big competitors.
For example, they recently introduced Facebook Premium Video Ads and Video Chat to strike back at Google’s golden goose – YouTube. There’s also Facebook’s Graph Search which is aimed at Google’s market leading search engine.
Although I think these features are no real threat to Google, I imagine that they’re at least an annoyance. Like Mayweather’s jab, maybe. 🙂
Facebook has managed to turn back a challenge from Google+, which is essentially a dead social network (my opinion) except for some SEO value. And they have Instagram, which is formidable and growing in strength. Look out, Pinterest!
“Even if you’ve got a lead on a competitor, and especially if you’re smaller, you should keep punching to keep them honest.”
5. The best defense is a good offense.
If you’re a sports fan, you’ve probably heard the tired old phrases “defense wins championships” or “the best offense is a good defense”.
Although Ali was a good defensive boxer, his real defensive weapon was to keep opponents off balance with the jab. He would dance, dance…then BRAP – hit them squarely in the jaw with that magnificent punch.
My favorite “the best defense is a good offense” story is Samsung vs. Apple. Samsung started in the smartphone market as strictly a supplier to Apple for screen displays. Then they built the Galaxy to compete with the iPhone. To boot, the Galaxy ran on an Android operating system from Apple’s biggest rival – Google. ZAP!
When Apple countered by suing Samsung for patent violations (successfully, by the way), Samsung hit Apple right in the kisser again with a marketing campaign that attacked Apple’s biggest competitive weapon – the “cool” factor.
Everyone remembers the commercial where all the Apple faithful are waiting in line with their white earbuds for the latest iPhone. This young guy walks up with coffee for his parents who are the ones waiting, not him. ZOWIE! That one left a mark. 🙂
Then, to add insult to injury, this (suddenly cool) guy touches phones with another Galaxy to transfer files. We’ll never forget the look on the face of the poor lady with her white earbuds asking “When are we going to be able to dothat thing?” on her (suddenly uncool) iPhone.
It didn’t matter that probably no one really uses that feature. Samsung had effectively shattered the Apple mystique with one punch!
“If you’re constantly thinking offense, you can find holes in your big competitor’s defenses. Lean in and punch through them.”
6. Make a Stand.
When Joe Frazier taunted him about the Ali Shuffle and how he never wanted to get hit, Ali stood toe-to-toe and slugged away. The “Thrilla in Manila” was a blood bath.
On the other hand, Floyd Mayweather simply avoids punches and comes back with relatively weak counters. Evidently he is content with just winning (albeit lob-sided) decisions. Pretty disappointing, I’d say.
Question: How many years has it been since Mayweather actually knocked anybody out?
Answer: It’s 4, in the same year (2011) when I stopped caring about his fights!
Elon Musk, one of my heroes and already a legendary entrepreneur, is a great example of making a stand. First off, he refused to be cowed by big defense contractors like McDonnell Douglas who laughed at his attempts to build inexpensive rockets with Space X. Then he even tangled with mighty NASA…and won!
Then Musk did it again with Tesla, defying the big car companies and fossil fuel giants.
“Ask yourself this question. If Elon Musk could improve battery technology so he could get the price down and increase the range of a Tesla, would you ever buy a gasoline-powered car again? Maybe not.”
I for one can’t wait to get my hands on a beautiful, fast as hell, virtually maintenance free vehicle running on juice from my home outlets or free charging stations. And bonus – it’s basically zero emissions, and I want to be green!
Imagine how many big corporations would be on their heels if us little ole middle-class consumers had a Tesla Model S as a viable choice in our price range. BAM!
Oh wait, according to Techcrunch the new Tesla Model S 70D may be just what I want. Mommy, Daddy’s going car shopping. 🙂
“Even if I never buy a Tesla or fly in a Space X rocket, I’ll always cheer for Elon Musk as he continues to take on the heavyweights of business and government. Like Ali, Musk is truly shocking the world.”
A Call to Action.
So, how can YOU beat your big competitors to the punch? I’d like to leave you with this “call to action”:
“What is it that you do that’s unique, better and faster than what your big competitors do? Find your best punch and hammer them with it.”
If you have some more tips for beating competitors to the punch, I sincerely hope you will share them with us in the comments below.
I’d really love to get a lively conversation going here on WordPress, on LinkedIn and elsewhere on social media around the following questions:
- What examples do you have of companies or individuals that are beating their competitors to the punch?
- What sports analogies do you think best apply to today’s business?
- What technology tools and methods do you use to keep bigger competitors off balance?
- What’s your favorite sports movie (this is just for me personally)?
A great forum for discussion around blogs is Meddle. I’m on there and I invite you to join in as well! Contact Meddle CMO and author Ted Coine for more information on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter @TedCoine.
I’m also on LinkedIn, on Twitter @danaldridge1 and on WordPress. I’d love to connect and get your comments. If you follow me, I will follow you back! Also, please direct me to your blog so that I can have conversations with you and share your content.
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Posted by Dan Aldridge
Dan Aldridge is the CEO of Performa Apps, an ERP software consulting firm specializing in Infor LN and Baan. Dan has almost 20 years of ERP implementation experience. He has helped dozens of companies with their ERP software implementations and training including Carrier, Mercedes Benz, Snap-on Tools, Blue Bird, Flextronics and a host of other manufacturing companies.
Dan is a serial entrepreneur and blogger with his new site inforln.com. You can reach him on e-mail at dan(dot)aldridge(at)performaapps.com or on his social networks: About.me, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, Scoop.it, WordPress,Slideshare, Pinterest and Facebook.