This month, I’ve been thinking about the age-old story of David versus Goliath. As you probably remember, David challenges the great warrior Goliath, who outmatches him in every way. But through cleverness, luck, and a lot of faith, David triumphs.
It’s not just one of history’s famous underdog stories; it’s also the story of every business on earth. All companies start out as underdogs. In the beginning, they face a market full of established brands with the advantage of incumbents: existing customer bases, working supply chains, and experienced employees. Despite such disadvantages, time and again underdogs find their way to the top. In just the last few years, Under Armour earned a spot next to athletic giants Nike and Adidas; Warby Parker took on eyeglass monopoly Luxottica; and Uber unseated the entire international taxi industry.
The truth is that the Davids of the world have a critical advantage; they are not constrained by the forces that hold back more established brands. Successful “Goliaths” often lose touch with what made them thrive in the first place: great experiences, stellar customer service and innovative approaches. They get comfortable. They get lazy. And they become vulnerable…to newer, smaller companies that are nimbler, more creative, and hungrier to win customers and market share.
The good news is that no matter whether your company is large or small, old or young, experienced or new to the market…we can all think like underdogs. Being David is a mindset and, fortunately, being Goliath doesn’t mean the end of your company.
How can we think like underdogs? First, stay humble. Ideas that got us to the top won’t keep us there, so we have to be willing to try new things, and even “kill our darlings.” Learn from Netflix: it started out as a mail order alternative to Blockbuster video, but knew it wouldn’t survive solely as DVD rental service. Netflix is never complacent, moving to streaming media, and is now taking on cable and major film studios to become the dominant platform for original content.
Second, we can’t lose sight of who got us to where we are – our customers. When things are going smoothly, it’s easy to forget to ask for feedback or to fail to deliver an even more incredible experience to customers. But if we don’t, we’ll lose these customers to the companies that do. Tesla Motors is a great example: Today, the electric car company boasts a 97% customer satisfaction rating by providing a product and experience that’s the antithesis of legacy car companies. However, that loyalty will be tested in the coming years as Tesla’s more established competitors double down on the electric car market.
Finally, be wary of industry “best practices.” It’s very difficult to stand out from the crowd when we blindly accept the rules that govern others’ thinking and ways of doing business. Take a page from the underdog playbook: challenge the status quo and look for new ways to do things. This is one of the things I credit for my own success. When I started out, I knew very little about the shopping center business, which meant I wasn’t constrained by decades of industry dogma. The freedom to create our own blueprint is the foundation of my company’s success. It’s also precisely how Four Seasons Founder and Chairman Isadore Sharp started his hotel empire. Sharp’s lack of hospitality experience allowed him to ignore the traditional hotel model. Instead, he focused on the smallest details of the customer experience, building a company that has become a gold standard for hospitality and service.
How can your organization put the underdog mindset to work?