There are days you unmistakably feel it: the plans of your project and other projects are converging. What started as just you and your precious idea is no longer. Congratulations: you have competition.

The appearance of competition is a trying moment for any project. A gutcheck when your intentions and sense of uniqueness become newly questioned.

How should we respond to competition? Is it as simple as winning and losing or is there something more?

While working on Kickstarter, I experienced a decade of constant competition with other products and models. Big picture we got a lot of things right, but I didn’t always do the best job of managing myself through it. Sometimes I became overly focused on competitors. Other times I missed bigger opportunities by seeing the world solely through a competitive lens.

With my new project Metalabel, I can sense we’re shifting from a small squad creating new territory to one competing with other teams that are seeing the world similarly. 

To help set Metalabel’s intentions and values around competition, I wrote an internal metablog exploring it from three dimensions:

  • Our emotional response to competition
  • Our business response to competition
  • Our creative response to competition

I’m sharing this publicly in the hopes that it can help you and your project adopt healthy habits around competition.

Emotional response to competition

When we face off against a competing team or product, there’s an obsessive feeling that’s easy to lose yourself to. It’s not uncommon to find yourself thinking and worrying about your competitors (and potential competitors) even more than your own work.

Being aware of what else is happening in your space is important. Making honest assessments of how their offers stack up against yours is important. These are not things to flinch at or avoid.

In the long run, however, obsessing over competition is a losing strategy. Every second you’re invested in them you’re not investing in your own improvement, customers, and team. It’s far more productive to accept the truth of competition than emotionally obsess over competitors.

Business response to competition

Good work creates competition. Great work makes a neighborhood. The only way to avoid competition is to make something no one cares about. Nobody wants to compete for that.

How do you deal with competition as a business? 

There are basics you have to get right — talking to customers, understanding the macro picture, making decisions using honest assessments of reality. But the most important strategy for competition is differentiation.

Differentiation means creating a product, brand, and sense of meaning distinct from would-be competitors. Differentiation means sidestepping direct competition to create a category all your own. 

In most areas it’s not possible to own an entire market, but it is possible to own part of the market if you define what that part of the market is. You can serve the cost-conscious, the values-conscious, pros, amateurs — whatever group or use case you specifically serve.

The goal in business competition? Carve out space for your distinct vision rather than compete with someone else for the same or whole thing. If a space is real, many services and niches will viably exist. Your goal is to be one of them.

Creative response to competition

How about the creative side? What should our attitude be, internally and externally, individually and as a metalabel, to creative competition?

To answer this I think about the Golden Rule: what would we want other people to do for us? 

If we dropped something that was groundbreaking or leading by example, we’d be excited for other teams to acknowledge it. It feels good to be seen by a peer, so we should be that peer for others. When we see good work in our space, we should give credit and shout it out.

That’s our external response. Internally, creative competition should inspire us to constantly up our game.

There’s a legendary story in music where the Beatles hearing the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds (at the time the most ambitious album ever made) inspired them to make masterpieces beyond anything they’d done before. The Beatles used the greatness of another group to inspire more greatness from themselves. 

This is the healthiest attitude to have towards competition.

Don’t compete, be yourself

Where does this thinking ultimately lead? To a simple conclusion: don’t compete, be distinctly yourself.

Our greatest potential comes when we act on our own instincts, values, inspirations, and experiences. Sincerity is the root of what makes a project stand out and worth being a part of. 

Succumbing to competition means letting go of your own vision to pre-empt someone else’s. Doing this makes your work less sincere which means it will connect less. Changing yourself to match or thwart the competition takes you away from your truth, even if you win in the short-term. Over the long run this rarely wins.

Obsessing over direct competition isn’t helpful, but that doesn’t mean we should avoid competition altogether. Competition forces us to be specific about what we want to do and who we’re doing it for. It sharpens and clarifies. Competition creates urgency around differentiation.

When competition comes for your project, don’t panic. Study what others are doing. Use it as creative inspiration. Then get back to following your intuitions, beliefs, and community’s needs. Define your track and stay on it because it’s the only one you have the right to win, and the one story that’s truly yours to tell. That’s a competition you can always win.


  • Best books I’ve read on differentiation: The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing and Positioning, both by Jack Reis and Al Trout. [link and link]
  • A piece by Samantha Marin on why metalabels “will be the tastemakers of the internet.” [link]
  • “Is the Culture Economy next?” by Thomas Klaffke [link]
  • Leaders from Extinction Rebellion spoke with me about leading a decentralized mass movement. [link]
  • Why the Wide Awakes are one the world’s most interesting metalabels. [link]