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4 Things Startups Can Do to Gain a Competitive Edge in 2020

Estimated reading time: 7 mins

It can be daunting starting a business, especially in the tech world where you’re often trying to displace an existing giant to some degree. Startups have long had the advantage of being leaner, faster moving, and more responsive than their older and larger competition, but there are always other ways that you can gain a competitive edge.

There are four things that we’ve adopted (some intentional, some not) at Commsor that other early stage startups can use to their advantage right now:

  1. Being remote
  2. Leveraging the ‘human touch’
  3. Creating community
  4. Adopting no code tools

Being Remote

With access to tools like Slack, Github, Clubhouse and more, collaborating with people all over the world has never been easier. There are definitely unique challenges that come with building a remote-first company (with startups building explicitly for these challenges as I write this) – but the benefits for an early stage startup hugely outweigh the challenges.

Finding exceptional, diverse and driven teammates is critical to the success of any startup, and founders often state that recruiting good talent is one of their biggest pain points. A company like Commsor could never compete with the likes of Google and Facebook hiring in New York City or San Francisco.

There are talented people all over the world, and being remote-first has enabled us to hire incredible teammates that we would never have access to if we’d stuck with the talent pool in and around NYC. Not only is the global talent pool vastly larger than your local one, its also more diverse. Hiring people from other states and countries brings new perspectives on life and the world to your business and team.

Building a startup is all about making every dollar count, maximizing your runway, and surviving to success. If you’re headquartered in a major US urban center, hiring locally is really expensive (and not just from a salary perspective). In NYC for example, office space costs an average of $14,800 per employee annually (source)!

Bigger talent pool, easier time attracting talent, and less expensive. Being remote is a no-brainer, and I haven’t even touched on all the other benefits of remote work!

The ever growing community of remote leaders is insanely awesome and supportive, so you can easily find others to help you overcome the remote-first challenges. A few people you should follow on Twitter if you’re interested in learning more about building remote teams: Chris Herd Job van der Voort Andreas Klinger

Have any additional recommendations for people who share insight into building remote teams? Let me know!

Leveraging the ‘Human Touch’

Do things that don’t scale’ is one of the most repeated pieces of startup advice that I hear. Probably because it’s true. The larger a company gets, the fewer chances it has to do things that don’t scale, and maintain that ‘human touch’.

Early stage startups that take advantage of this will have a clear way to stand above the crowd. Only startups can do things like having the CEO get on the phone to make a sale, or sending a personalized email (and I mean actually personalized, not just automated and designed to look like it’s from the founder) to each new sign up.

Do things that your competitors physically can’t because of their scale. Fill the feature gaps in your product with manual work, find your first customers in the unscalable and inefficient channels that larger companies tend to ignore. Don’t advertise on Google or Facebook – you won’t be at a scale where it matters.

Obsess over getting your first handful of customers, and then turn them into your best marketing channel by obsessing even more over making them happy with your product.

If you haven’t read the Paul Graham essay linked above, make that your first stop after reading this post.

Creating Community

Start building a community around and for your business right now. Regardless of what stage you’re at, community, if done correctly, can be the single most impactful moat you can build. Community unlocks the power of your customer network, enabling you to scale yourself, your resources, and your presence in ways not possible on traditional social media.

You don’t have to invest thousands of dollars or hundreds of hours of time to get started with community. For B2B or developer centric businesses, just spin up a free Slack channel and go! Some of the benefits of building a community:

Easier access to user research - Have you ever tried to send a user survey via email, maybe tried to entice people with a $5 Amazon gift card to give you product feedback? 

Many-to-many relationships - On ‘follower-based’ social media like Twitter, your existing followers don’t benefit from a new follower. With a ‘many-to-many’ community, each new member increases the value for existing members, bringing new content and engagement. As your community grows, you’ll be able to depend on members to engage each other more and more, requiring less and less direct input and work from you.

Providing a strong support + success channel - Old and boring: asking customers to email you and wait 24 to forever hours for a reply. New and exciting: empowering your customers to help each other, and get more direct access to your success and support functions through community.

Community as a feature - Community can even be a feature for your business, especially if its something your competitors don’t have. Which product, all other things equal, would you rather buy from? The one without a community, or the one with a community where you can connect with other users, get direct support from the company, etc?

There are so many more reasons you should be building a community alongside your startup. More on that in a future post! If you want to learn more right now, you should join Community Chat, a community for community builders.

No Code? No Problem

The golden age of no code is upon us. You no longer need programming experience or a technical cofounder, or lots of $$ and months of work to build an idea, bring it to  market, and begin to validate it. You can go from idea to some form of launch within a few days, sometimes even hours thanks to tools like Airtable, Notion, Zapier, Webflow and more.

The first version of Commsor (then called CommSponsor) was built in just 3 hours, without writing a single line of code. Was the product perfect? Definitely not. Calling it a product might even be a bit generous. But it let us launch, get feedback, and decide it was worth dedicating more resources to. It unlocked the future of what Commsor would eventually become.

No code might enable you to launch version one of your product, or a new feature you want to test it, or it might help you speed up an internal process. Regardless, the right no code tools used in the right way can enable you to build faster and for less money. There are tons of great stories of businesses of every size using no code tools in all sorts of ways.

I highly recommend checking out Makerpad if you’re looking to start learning more about no code tools and how you can use them at your startup.

Starting, building and growing a successful business will always be difficult, but it’s never been easier to get started. Use the tools and processes available to you to your advantage.

  1. Build remote to access a wider pool of talent while saving money
  2. Be obsessed with your customers, giving them the support, success, and human level of support that larger companies simply can’t
  3. Build a community for your target customers. Bring them together, build trust and give them value beyond your product
  4. Leverage the growing world of no code tools to build faster and cheaper