A classic problem and common thread in many of my conversations with founders is the perceived threat posed by large, well-established incumbents.

You can’t compete with well-established giants, so change the game instead. Tweet This Quote

Of course Google, Apple, Facebook and you-name-it have more resources, more talent, better access to the market, and basically every other advantage in the world going for them.

You can’t compete, nor should you—at least not symmetrically. That is, you probably can’t beat them at their own game.

If you build a search engine which competes head-to-head with Google, you fail (Microsoft tried). The same thing goes if you build a social network competing with Facebook—you fail (Ello tried). Build a mobile phone OS to compete with iOS and Android, well…you fail (again, Microsoft tried).

The trick to competing asymmetrically is to change the value proposition and deploy a radically different go-to-market strategy. Tweet This Quote

Yet, it is doable. A ton of companies successfully build their businesses in areas that are dominated by strong, well-established incumbents. The trick is to compete asymmetrically. Shift the playing field, change the value proposition, deploy a radically different go-to-market strategy, and turn the business model upside down.

Do whatever is prudent in your market, for your customers and with your product, but find a way to change the game that is being played and don’t compete head-to-head.

A version of this post originally appeared in Pascal’s blog.

Pascal Finette

Author Pascal Finette

Pascal is the Managing Director of Singularity University's Startup Lab. He is also an entrepreneur, coach, and speaker who has worked in Internet powerhouses, such as eBay, Mozilla, and Google, and Venture Capital—starting both a VC firm and accelerator program.

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