What Others Are Doing Main Image


You would expect a second startup to be all about using experience gained so far. It’s not. It’s about having the courage to follow your intuitions.
It’s about losing the fear of having a different type of product, team or marketing strategy from other successful companies.

When approaching any new task, from designing the product to writing your pitch, it seems most natural to research what similar companies are doing and follow their lead with your own content. But, following someone else’s steps when creating a new element for your company is exactly the opposite of what startups are all about. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against learning, getting inspiration and implementing others’ lessons, I just think that doing that as a starting point can lead to failure.

Want To Avoid Outsourcing Your Ideas? Stay Away From The ‘How It Should Look Like’ Approach

During one of my recent talks, I was asked by someone in the audience about the type of entrepreneurs I felt wouldn’t make it.That’s a tough one – we all start pretty cluelessly. My answer was that the only type I don’t believe in is ‘the managers’ – those who think that building a company is about hiring –  an R&D manager to develop it, a marketing manager to spread the word and someone to invent and visualize their product. You can’t expect someone else to build your company if that would have been possible everyone would have a startup instead of a day job. When you rely on what other companies are doing as a starting point you’re doing the same – looking for someone else to do the job for you.
My biggest breakthroughs as an entrepreneur, product manager, and a marketer happened when I changed the order of my work process – instead of starting out by looking at references I did that as the final step of my workflow. Rather than examining other products, websites and even presentations I asked myself “what is my goal?” the answer was followed by asking “how can I accomplish it?”.
I start from scratch, time after time.

Why Are References Misleading?

OK, why the *$#^ should I start from scratch when thousands of wonderful companies have already struggled with the same questions? The main answer, in my opinion, is that by the time you’re aware of what another company is doing it’s already too late to look at them as the reference – these companies have different goals. Apple’s amazing videos, MailChimp’s funny design, and Square’s minimalistic approach don’t reflect an early stage startup. While your goal is getting the first users and having people understand what you’re doing, these companies are way past this stage.
Startup innovation does not mean you need a revolutionary idea, it does mean you need to do things, unlike others, even if what you do is only slightly different. It can be an unconventional hire, a quirky part of the product or an eccentric video. That’s the reason startups are so different from other businesses – they’re about innovation – and that means you should innovate.

Tolkien Quote

“A single dream is more powerful than a thousand realities” JRR Tolkien



Have A Solid Direction? Now Start Learning

Once I reach a basic plan, copy or design, only then do I start learning from others. Instead of reviewing other ideas I observe them in the context of my own ideas. I gain much more from doing it this way – once I’ve thought of all the small details by myself I can then take notice of them in what others have done. For example, before writing a blog post about a certain topic I try not to read posts about this topic. Only when the first draft is done I start searching for posts on similar topics. I suddenly notice things I wouldn’t have noticed before writing about that topic – what they choose to highlight in the title, the terminology used, the structure.

If It Clicks Use It, If It Doesn’t – Don’t Look For Reasons

When I go over references I try not to over analyze them. Some things just click the moment you see them – it can be adding a certain button, writing about a specific subject, or removing a slide. As I go through references, I sometimes change my initial outcome completely. I add and remove parts, tweak and highlight others. Whatever clicks finds it’s way in. The main reason I don’t try to analyze other companies’ decisions is that it’s almost impossible to do so. Contrary to common belief, most decisions are not the outcome of sophisticated A/B testing (or a very expensive research) they can stem from hundreds of different reasons which are impossible to guess. For example, there was one medium sized blog that gave one of our competitor’s heavy coverage. We came to the conclusion that the coverage must bring them great traffic and we should do our best to be featured there as well. Once we got there we were surprised to find out that this blog drove only dozens of entries. A few weeks later we discovered that the reason they appear there so much is that the editor is the competitor company CEO’s cousin. In another case, it turned out that an old fashioned website design was not a brilliant decision taken with the aim of attracting mature B2B users (what we assumed) but merely represented the design skills of the CMO who decided to design the site himself.

How Much Of The End Result Should Be Yours? It Doesn’t Matter

I usually end up having about 50% of the end result representing my initial direction and 50% taken from other references. It doesn’t matter if it’s 10% or 90%. The main difference lies in the process – no longer a ‘mix and match’ of other products (an art by itself) but your original outcome, improved by looking at and reviewing what others have done before.

Here are some examples of how I’ve used this process:

A major part of our app shows code variables, in a relative way to others. For example – how far a method is from an exceptional location. If I would have worked with references from the get go I would have ended up with a grid or a tree. But when I started I thought of something as far out as possible for those concepts. Here’s what I had in mind:

Product Process

When I produced our first video I viewed approximately 100 other videos first. The outcome was the same old ‘problem – solution – main features – download now’. Although the video presented the product in a decent way it didn’t go viral nor was it used by bloggers. When I planned the second one I imagined how people will feel when they watch it and what would cause them to want to share it. No, the outcome is not the standard mobile app video but that’s probably why it worked better –


The first draft is done. Now I’ll check what others are saying about looking at what others are doing.

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