Established industries have very clear boundaries and interfaces between its constituents. Think about the real estate industry. There are land developers, builders, real estate agents, inspectors, appraisers, financiers, buyers, painters, cleaners, owners, landlords, and so on and so forth. How these players communicate, exchange information, pay each other is well understood and established.
If a new player wants to enter the market, either with a disruptive strategy or not, the boundaries are well known. This new competitor can attack one facet of that industry, or multiple facets at once, but the facets are well known.
Nascent industries are a lot more complicated beasts.
Because the boundaries and facets are not clear, two new startups or products might look at each other as competitive, even though they aren’t. Usually it depends on how broadly one defines what they are doing. If you define your product as “making people healthier” you clearly will feel like every company in the health space is a competitor. The most interesting aspect is that the definitions of the boundaries and facets, since there hasn’t been a common agreement on what they are, will differ from person to person, and you might look at another company as a partner, but they might look at you as a competitor.
I’m here at the Quantified Self 2012 Conference and meeting dozens of people who are into self-tracking, self-improvement, etc. Sometimes people track things like productivity or driving routes, but the majority of people think of tracking in terms of improving their health, or helping others improve their health.
Because personal tracking devices and apps were practically non-existent a handful of years ago, this is a fairly young industry and I see how some companies walk in eggshells when talking about what they do. They are afraid you are a competitor.
I think we have an even bigger problem with EveryMove, because we are in the intersection of two nascent industries, the physical activity tracking and the behavior economic industry.
I believe we are 5-10 years away to have clear boundaries on the game we are playing. We’ll lose some partnership opportunities because our “partner-to-be” doesn’t look at us the same way we look at them. On the other hand, the companies that do have clarity at what they want to be in 5-10 years, have a sharper definition of the boundaries and facets of the industry and aren’t afraid to partner with us, if they see fit, or to claim that we are direct competitor, and that clarity is great for all of us.
My advice is that before you dismiss a potential partnership with what you perceive them to be a competitor is to make sure you understand how the industry will shape up to be in the future.