How do you survive when you’re surrounded by competitors that, truthfully, can do things better than you?

 

The answer is simple: don’t compete.

I run a video business out of Utah, and long before I started it, I got some advice from a notable and famous entrepreneur in my area. We are talking featured in Inc. Magazine level of notoriety – which for 22 year-old me was really intimidating.

His advice: Stay out of video. There were (and are) too many people and companies that can do things better and cheaper than I could (and can). It would be impossible to thrive. I would be competing both with every agency that makes Super Bowl commercials, as well as everyone’s nephew who just got the new iPhone.

But, video is in my blood, and I came back to it anyway. I just knew from the start that I had to find a way to be profitable, while being surrounded by people who could do things better and cheaper than me.

So I decided not to compete with them. I picked products and activities they weren’t doing, or couldn’t do, and I got really good at doing that. Now instead of fighting over clients, I get referrals from my would-be competitors. I do work they don’t want, and so they happily give it to me.

Selling Furniture

Shortly after in IKEA opened by where I live, an RC Willey opened up right next door. At the time, I thought that was idiotic. They both sell furniture, and it appeared as though they were forcing customers to choose in the parking lot (which they share) which company to go with. But instead of fighting head to head for every purchase, they appear to be thriving. Sure they both make furniture, but their clients needs and approaches are vastly different. If either furniture store were to try and copy the other’s approach, it would be costly and difficult because it would mean a fundamental change in business models.

If you want a nightstand, now you know where to go. Once you get there you just need to decide whether you want it cheap, functional, and made of cardboard like IKEA does it; or embellished with kitsch and made of plywood, like RC Willey does. They both make furniture, but they don’t fight over the same client needs, budgets, or demographics.

Building an Agency for In-House Workers

Last year, I helped DevMountain create 200+ videos in a single year, launch 3 new video-based products, and kept their video staff at a single person. Credit goes to their one man video team, who did so much great work, and he told me as we winded down the year that he wouldn’t have been able to or even wanted to do any of the things we accomplished by himself. That complement has stuck with me. We aren’t the best or cheapest at video, but video people like us because we do the stuff they don’t want to. No one, besides us, wants a resume full of compliance training and insurance explanations.

That’s how I avoided my biggest competitor: I built a product they wanted to see in the world as well. Traditionally, video studios and agencies are constantly trying to prove that they are still viable in the world where video is so rampant that companies all want their own in-house team. For us, we sidestepped that competition by focusing on implementing manufacturing techniques, and processes to create video products at a large scale – something no video team wants to focus on, but every video team wants to be able to deliver. Then, we solidified our friendship with in-house teams by taking over the boring and mundane projects they didn’t want to be doing – like onboarding, training, and compliance videos.

Being Friends with the Best

Finally, before launching my studio I had to come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t the best – and that honesty helped me build a business that wouldn’t compete with the great talent around me (because I would lose). Instead I try to complement them, and build a symbiotic product that helps them focus time and energy on what they do well.

Hands down, the best video team I know personally is the Issimo Brand Story Agency. They focus on telling the stories of socially responsible companies with stunning highlight videos and short films. I can’t match their attention to detail, the heart and soul they pour into every second, or the beauty of that team’s output. So I don’t try to. Instead, I make a decent product that focuses on quantity – the kind of quantity that would overwhelm Issimo if they had to continue to focus on every second. They are personal friends, professional friends, and my company’s first client was a referral that came from them.

I think about that a lot: The first client I got was a referral from a competitor.

 

– Cory

Cory Johnson is CEO and owner at Endgrain Studios.