It is a common practice in all realms of business to think of your competitors as enemies. They are, after all, the ones stealing your customers and revenue. Right? While there is certainly nuggets of truth in this, I firmly believe that viewing competitors as enemies and being frustrated with how they “take your customers” is one of the most damning and harmful attitudes you can have related to your business.

If you have ever lost a customer to a competitor, you understand the pain that it invokes. No one ever wants to hear these words:

I have switched to your competitor’s product because it works better and has the features I need.

Whether they are those exact words or simply a similar sentiment, they hurt. It eats you from the inside out to hear that someone disliked your product, especially if you have spent countless hours over years and years building it. They might as well have just insulted your child or called your work of art ugly.

Everyone that creates products falls into this trap at some point in their career. You spend months or years creating your perfect system, only to see someone else come out of the woods with a better, shinier version, and it hurts. It hurts to see potential customers get swept up into the arms of your competitors, and it hurts to have their product praised while yours seems to sit in the shadows.

This attitude, however, is a plague that we should all strive to eradicate as best as we possibly can. Viewing your competitors as enemies is not hurting them, their product, or their business, but it is destroying your own from the inside out. Why? Resentment, jealousy, envy, hatred. All of these are adjectives that many of us can probably relate to at some time or other. Allowing yourself to view your competitors in such a negative light is quite possibly the very reason they are doing better than you. How can you possibly expect to create something awesome if you’re constantly judging yourself based on the success of someone else? How can you possibly expect to grow your own customer base if the only thing you can think about, is how many of the customers they are stealing from you? Have you ever been angry, in a bad mood, or in a state of depression and succeeded in creating something wonderful at the same time? I doubt it. It’s not in the human mind to be able to create things of wonder when focused on so much negativity.

I would challenge every one of you to adjust how you view the competitors of your products and / or services. It doesn’t matter if they are the new company on the block, the giant that has been around for years, or even someone you used to work with. Reversing your opinion of those you call your competitors will likely have a profound effect on the quality of work that you produce, and the excitement with which your customers come to you.

I will confess to having experienced every single one of these negative feelings towards my competitors. I’ve looked at them and thought why can’t I do that? Why don’t I have that many customers? Why cannot I create a UI that good? Why did this customer leave me and use them instead, their product sucks.

I will also confess to having mostly gotten over these. I say mostly because I am a human being and am therefor subject to the most primitive and raw human emotions. Jealousy. Envy. Hatred. There are days when I look at the work that others are doing and it kills me. It hurts to my very core to see what someone else has done and then think why have I failed here? The best that we can do is strive to avoid these sentiments and, instead, look at the work of others as a source of inspiration and motivation. If they have done it, why can’t you? Why can’t I?

One of the best changes I have made in my professional career is adjust how I look at my competitors. I look to them as sources of motivation and I applaud the magnificent work that they are doing, even when it directly competes with the products I am trying to create.

That change alone has made me a much happier and much more successful person than just about any other change I’ve made in my business. I worked hard to give up the jealousy and instead appreciate the great things that others are doing and then analyze it to see how I can take what they have learned, and what they have built, and apply it to my own products.

I would encourage you to go so far as to work directly with your competitors. You could even help them make their product even better . . . wait, what?! It sounds crazy, but the knowledge, experience, and insight you will gain by contributing to another project, even one that directly competes with you, is invaluable. You will gain insights into their core APIs, the way they have structured their database, the way they have connected their interfaces, and so much more more. Not only does it give you insight into how theirs works, it gives you valuable perspective on how your own system works, or perhaps how it could work. It also helps reveal areas where you have excelled, not just fallen short. Not to be shallow, but one of the greatest motivators is seeing how you have surpassed others.

I spend a large majority of my time working on Easy Digital Downloads, yet the days that I learn the most about my own project, is the days I spend working on someone else’s similar project, such as WooCommerce, WP e-Commerce, iThemes Exchange, or others. Spending time in those shows me where EDD has fallen short, and helps provide perspective on where we could go in the future.

My competitors are not my enemies. They are friends, colleagues, and darn good groups of individuals. I’d happily drink a beer with them any day of the week.

  1. Daniel Espinoza

    I’m glad you took the time to publish your thoughts! This mindset is one of the things that I love about WordPress. Embracing cooperation instead of competition has and will help everyone.

    Simon Wheatley talked about how unique the “cooperation between would-be competitors” in open source is during his WC Europe Talk last year.

  2. Kyle

    Brilliant piece of work Pippin. For my part, I’m working on exactly what you’ve described because I strongly agree. The negative can never get us as far as the positive.

    Pippin YOU are a source of inspiration.

  3. Ahmad Awais

    To say the least I have always liked your perspective about WordPress. Considering your competitors your friends, your motivation and even contributing at their plugin’s core. These are the things I love when it comes to WordPress community.

  4. Mayank Gupta

    I learned that while running a professional blog 🙂

  5. Aaron Snowberger

    100% agree:

    …the days that I learn the most about my own project, is the days I spend working on someone else’s similar project… Spending time in those shows me where EDD has fallen short, and helps provide perspective on where we could go in the future.

    Definitely one of the best ways to learn anything is to take a look at what’s already been/being done in any space (the web, business, design, etc), figure out how it works – what’s good about it and what its limitations are, and then decide how you want to craft/modify your own solution to that problem.

    The world has no shortage of problems, and though there may already be many solutions, there’s always room for improvement or a unique, innovative feature or twist on something that’s already working well. Just consider how many successful coffee chains there are.

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