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Entrepreneur Office Hours - Issue #29
The one type of entrepreneur you should never take advice from, how to create the perfect competition slide, and the man who created BITNET
If I wanted to make the heads of my students explode, I’d just give them the following assignment: “Write a paper about whatever you want, make it as long as you want, and turn it in whenever you want.” The reasons my students would hate that assignment is because they crave clear guidelines. They just want to know what they need to do to get an “A” in the class.
Unfortunately, because so many of us spend so many years as students, we start to expect that everything we do should have similar evaluation rubrics. But, of course, that’s not the case in entrepreneurship. There’s no right and wrong. There’s sometimes a “worked” or “didn’t work,” though, more often than not, even that’s a gray area. Some things “kind of work,” or they don’t go according to plans but still have a useful outcome.
I’m bringing this up because, in this issue’s Q&A, I tackle a questions where you’re going to want me to give a specific set of criteria, I don’t do it, and you’re going to get annoyed. I figured I’d go ahead and apologize in advance.
If it helps, I’m also sharing some articles I think you’ll also enjoy…
Some entrepreneurs are trying to help you, but others are just trying to help themselves When you’re getting advice, make sure you know which type of entrepreneur you’re talking to.
The Administrator Who Connected the Scholars of the World
The Internet is so ubiquitous that it's easy to forget the network didn't spring into being, fully formed, as a global connectivity paradigm. But, of course, that's not the case. Our collective journey toward having the Internet (almost) everywhere was a slow process that took decades. and began with other computer networks. One of the most popular was BITNET.
On this episode of Web Masters, I got to speak with BITNET’s creator, Ira Fuchs. Hear his full story on:
…or search “Web Masters” wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.
Entrepreneurs get so committed to building their startups they often have trouble recognizing when they no longer believe in their own missions. But there are certain signs to look for that can help you recognize when it's time to step away. This article describes one of those signs... it's subtle but important.
Office Hours Q&A
I read your article on Medium about the competition slide as we have been re-doing ours, and thought it was super helpful. There are so many articles saying do/don't use a comparison table, a quadrant, etc... your feedback on those things resonated with me and I agree with the status quo idea. That said...I'm having trouble painting the right picture of what the slide would look like. You are probably super busy but, I'd love your opinion on that or examples if you've seen a great one!
For those who haven’t read it, Lisa is referring to an article I wrote in early 2020 that still gets passed around a lot in entrepreneurship circles. It’s about how to create a “competition” slide in your pitch deck.
The gist is that entrepreneurs are usually taught to frame their competition in terms of other companies doing similar things. In the article, I argue your competition is actually “the status quo.” It’s whatever your target customers are currently doing to solve the problem because changing consumer behavior is ridiculously hard, and the biggest obstacle you’ll have to overcome during customer acquisition is inertia. Simply put… people don’t like change.
At the end of the article, I tell readers that, rather than fancy graph or chart or matrix, their competition slide should just look like this:
Most people (Lisa included) understand my example is meant to be tongue-in-cheek. You wouldn’t really want to use it as your competition slide. But I also don’t give better options. So let me try to do that here.
As with all things pitch-related, each and every startup is unique, and there’s no single, magical type of slide (or slide deck) that’s going to work for everyone. Because of that, I’m hesitant to explicitly explain: “Here’s the slide you should use.”
Instead, let’s discuss this in terms of information related to your competition that needs to be included. So rather than thinking about specific slides, let’s remember that adequately addressing the competition in a pitch requires answering four questions:
What’s the problem?
How are people currently solving it?
Why are they going to be willing to try something different?
What evidence do you have that they’ll be willing to try your alternate solution?
When we look closely at those four things, what we see is that they aren’t individual slides. They’re basically the entire pitch!
In other words, a pitch is, fundamentally, one big explanation of who/what the competition is and how you’re going to supplant it. After all, that’s what entrepreneurship is. Entrepreneurship is the process that brings innovations to market. Since, by definition, new innovations are supplanting old things (i.e. the competition), the entrepreneurial process is a process of supplanting competition.
In that sense, I guess my answer is that a good startup pitch doesn’t need a “competition” slide. In fact, none of my successful pitches ever had an explicit competition slide. Instead, a good startup pitch is constantly framing itself in relation to the “now” (i.e. the “status quo” or the “competition”) versus what could be with the help of your startup.
I realize that’s probably not the answer anyone is looking for. You want me to explain: “Here’s exactly what a great competition slide should look like.” But that explanation doesn’t exist. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying or not being very thoughtful about what they’re trying to explain. Either way, you should probably ignore it.
Got startup questions of your own? Reply to this email with whatever you want to know, and I’ll do my best to answer!