Startups

How to Take Advantage of Your Underdog Status and Conquer Industry Giants


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I’ve been on the startup journey four times now. I’m used to starting from scratch and trying to challenge industries who are typically dominated by huge companies with thousands of employees and billions of dollars.

Every time, it fascinates me that success is even possible. It reminds me of the bumblebee that shouldn’t be able to fly. A true underdog story.

However, what is interesting about the bumblebee underdog story is that it’s actually a myth. Bumblebees do fly, but they are only able to because of their unique way to move their wings combined with their ability to utilize tiny hurricanes to lift them upwards.

For me, this is a perfect metaphor for startups aiming to conquer the world. We need to find our unique approach — some name it “the secret sauce” — and we require a great deal of luck, and the market moving in our direction. The tiny hurricanes so to speak.

On a personal note, I’m the co-founder of JumpStory, where we challenge stock photo industry giants like Shutterstock, Getty Images and Adobe. Despite having thousands of employees and turning over billions combined, we’ve managed to acquire quite a lot of their customers; get the best customer reviews in the industry; and grow fast despite only being a small team of 20 employees.

We have been using these four underdog steps as part of our “secret sauce” — so here they are to help get you started.

Related: Launching a Startup Company? Here’s Why Having a Beginner’s Mindset Is So Important

1. Storytelling

Being the underdog can make you feel inferior, but it can also be turned around to your advantage because the world actually loves underdogs.

When you’re a small startup, you are allowed to be more colorful than the big players. Use this to your advantage, and don’t be afraid to truly stand out from the crowd. Identify the stories that have an edge and that might create some media awareness because once you grow big, this is no longer possible to the same extent.

2. Agility and speed

The benefits of being an underdog are similar to the feeling of being David against Goliath. As Malcolm Gladwell has put it, most people misunderstand who really has the upper hand in this scenario — and in turn, they get the famous Biblical yarn all wrong. It’s actually because of, and not despite, David’s size and unorthodox choice of weapon that he’s able to slay the lumbering giant. In other words, most people underestimate the importance of agility and speed.

My experience with JumpStory is very much the same. One of our disadvantages could be our limited content and budgets. But instead of letting this get in our way, we used it to our advantage. We decided to curate all the great visual content that is already out there on the internet and present it to people in a way where they save money and don’t have to accept the search and licensing complexity that they’re used to with the giants.

At the same time, we looked at customer satisfaction rather than short-term growth, which has given us a unique group of product ambassadors and some of the best ratings in the industry. We quickly realized that when an underdog starts winning, they win for everybody, because somebody has to come through that door, break it open and make it possible.

3. Marketing

Content marketing quickly becomes boring, if you don’t have anything important to say. Oftentimes you have stronger stories and messages as an underdog because you’re challenging the status quo. Here are three underdog marketing tricks for you to use.

  • Newsjacking:
    Don’t do public relations. The agencies are too expensive and oftentimes don’t deliver on their promises. Instead, monitor the news media yourself using one of the popular social media and public relations monitoring tools out there like Hootsuite or Brand24. Identify 10 keywords and agendas where you have something interesting to say. Monitor when they start hitting the media and immediately write the journalist that has published a story with your unique take on that particular media agenda. It really works!
  • Data-driven advertising:
    Don’t do branding campaigns. It’s way too expensive in the beginning. Use channels where you can monitor everything such as Ads and calculate your LTV:CAC from the beginning — meaning how much it costs you to acquire a paying customer, and how much this customer is worth to you after various increments of time.
  • Content marketing:
    Newsjacking and data-driven advertising can give instant results. Creating high-quality content around your main messages may take longer, but if you have the patience, it’s truly worth it.

4. Think of your underdog role as a duty

As an entrepreneur, I think that the battles against Goliaths are not only winnable for the underdogs, but almost duties of ours. When we struggle against a giant, it can lead to new breakthroughs, innovations and progress in the world.

Before you start executing the ideas described above, please remind yourself that you have the true potential to make a real impact. As human beings, we sometimes feel small or bewildered, but when we insist on putting our focus on impact & action instead of only ideas & dreams, we take back the power.

With your power, you can change lives no matter your age, ethnicity, education, gender or current job title. Jump on this inspiring journey, and if you feel lost or small on the way, repeat the words of Body Shop founder Anita Roddick: “If you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito.”



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