When coming second to your competitors in business is good

competitors in businessI come from a country where being number one seems to be an almost national obsession. And I kid you not: for the longest time, Singapore has always been concerned about making sure we are the Number 1 port in the world (which we’ve since lost that honour to Shanghai); Changi International Airport may have been the world’s number one airport for a number of years already, but there has been some bad years when it didn’t win that coveted top spot, and then the airport authorities went into overdrive to try to win the award back, thankfully they did, for all the effort the staff put in. This same logic carries over to everything, and as an entrepreneur especially to your competitors in business.

So it’s come to pass that nothing would occupy a typical Singaporean (or at least the government agencies) than ensuring that we won some sort of accolade or “Number One” award in one thing or another. If there ever was an award given for the top country with “Number One” awards, Singapore would most probably come in first.

My personal take: it’s nice to know you’re at the top of your game, but you don’t always have to be a number one; in fact, I’d be happy being a number two in my business ventures in Thailand, contrary to my Singaporean roots and my over-achiever personality.

There’s nothing wrong with striving hard to do better work, build a more successful business, or become a healthier person. The danger, however, comes when you try too hard, especially when you try to push yourself in too many areas of your life all at the same time, in which case you’re likely headed for a crash.

Some of you who have already experienced a crash would know exactly what I mean: you become obsessed with what others think about you, you work ridiculous hours, you’re constantly trying to please your spouse or partner, you can’t stop comparing yourself with others, you think your best is never good enough, and you start becoming overly-concerned that Junior ends up doing all the things you never could be or had been– and he hasn’t even started kindergarten yet.

I came over to Thailand more than half a year ago in search of a more conducive environment to start a new business. What I was seeking was for a more balanced lifestyle, and don’t get me wrong– I’m not saying things in Thailand are more laid back than they are back home in Singapore– but at least I don’t get a feeling that I must necessarily be burdened with the pressure of becoming a success right away instead of taking my time to build my business at my own pace and tempo that’s in tandem with all the other aspects of my personal life.

Why Startups Fail

We know statistically that 93% of startups fail within the first three years of their founding. While there are number of technical and tactical reasons why this may be so, I think the number one (heh heh) reason why most startups fail apart from poor cash-flow management is the fact that they try too hard to do the things they set out to do, ironic as it may sound.

I’ve always seen starting up a new business in Thailand as an adventure, that’s “adventure”, as in make believing it’s some kind of quest in some real-life Dungeon & Dragons game in the business world. That idea helps take away the need to always have to try to create or start up a business that’s radical or the need to be exceptionally different from others, and it sure helps to make the whole process a lot more fun and enjoyable. I mean, picture an old geezer telling you that your purpose for the next 3 years is to set up a roti stand at Soi 18 and make sure everyone knows about you — that’s more fun than your CFO telling you “Er boss, we don’t have a budget for that 5 million baht upgrade you requested for an entire line of roti mixers”.

Anyway, as I was telling some clients the other day, you don’t always have to look for something different or unique to succeed in a business in Thailand. I find the whole notion of obsessing over USPs counter-productive: I think many Thai entrepreneurs have what it takes to build a good sustainable business but are held back by the need to always trying to create something “different”.

Which is why it all comes back to my earlier point: I prefer being a Number Two than a market leader. For one, at least there’s one joker out there who’s doing all the relevant market research for me by either succeeding or failing in whatever new-fangled idea or untested market segment he sought to move into — lessons that are highly valuable to me as a startup because it saves me additional money and time that I otherwise have to mobilise in order to learn what works in the market space.

The mobile phone market is a clear example of this strategy: for the past decade, mobile phone brands have been consolidated, resulting in 2 giants — Apple and Samsung — vying to be the number one brand in the market since 2010; but in the last 2 years, the various number two, number three and new entrants to the market have given both companies a run for their money, with Samsung announcing its lowest profits in 2 years recently. Apple may have posted better returns for its shareholders in comparison, thanks to strong iPhone sales, but is drawing flak for its lack of innovation: PR “leaks” about the new iPhone 6 fail to generate the kind of hype the iPhone 5s and 4s models used to, and the market figures show more users are switching from iOS to Android phones.

Amidst the battle being the two giants for supremacy, also-rans like HTC, ASUS, Sony-Ericsson and new entrant Xiaomi are happily nippling on their market share by exploring areas that the Apple and Samsung have overlooked as they try to outgun each other. Market followers these smaller companies may be, but they reap the benefits of learning from the hits and misses of the 2 market leader juggernauts, and then figure what they can do to make their products appealing to niche segments of the market– like offering a 20 mega-pixel camera circa the Nokia Lumia 930, for instance, which incidentally was voted the Best Windows Phone because it runs on Windows 8.1 software.

Find Your Own Niche in the Game

To me, building a successful business in Thailand depends not on how many accolades and awards you win, because you really should go take part in a beauty pageant then if that’s all that matters, but more on finding and building your own targeted niche. It doesn’t matter what your chosen industry, product of service is: it’s really about getting your foothold right in the game, and it really is a game. Sure, we all want to win, but winning can also mean taking the path that allows you to enjoy every minute along the way, instead of stressing yourself out wondering if you were going to make it at all.

Author: Roy P
Originally produced for Alpha Male Syndrome