Let’s take a minute to talk about the underdogs, the “little” players, and the “boutique” businesses. The companies that often time get pushed off to the side based on a perceived presence in the marketplace. Webster defines underdog as a competitor thought to have little chance of winning a fight or contest. Why are these businesses in the underdog category and how do they get out of this category? Often times it’s a mix of outside influences, which, in turn result to internal influences. David Prosser, CEO of The Prosser Group and author of “Thirteeners: Why only 13 Percent of Companies Successfully Execute Their Strategy”, says, “Initial industry leaders often times become commodity vendors over time. This mentality is shaped by the experiences they’ve encountered where they’ve lost or failed in the past. Their futures become a repeat of their failed pasts”. The true underdog success stories learn from those failures and forge ahead.
How does the paradigm shift? When it comes to innovation, the needle is already moving away from the direction of big business and more towards specialty niche providers. Consumers are more educated today than they’ve ever been and want a “partner” not a “product”. The underdogs can provide that companionship in business and take the time to make the company a successful partner. They add value to the organization, not just creating another case study on the webpage, or a number towards a quota. Sure these corporate powerhouses started somewhere and were once an underdog themselves. They were told “no” but continued to optimize their opportunities and find that right approach. Kevin Plank, CEO of Under Armor and one of the biggest underdog stories of the past decades was quoted saying, “We [underdogs] have a chip on our shoulder, that chip doesn’t go away, because there’s not a finish line. It’s not about hitting some number. It’s much greater than that, and frankly, it’s much more purposeful than that.”
When you sit back and take a look at the biblical story of David and the Goliath and translate that into the business battle you really have to ask yourself one question –Is your perception of Goliath correct? Let’s start by taking a look at Goliath. What do you get out of big business? A lot actually. You get the bragging rights of working with the “big dog”, the capabilities of their core competencies and the proven results of their “case studies” and the “been there, done that” sales pitch regarding the projects at hand. Sounds great doesn’t it? Well, that all depends on what you’re looking for. What happens when you want to create that edge, or competitive advantage to set YOUR business apart? Malcolm Gladwell states, “Evidence suggests that the things we are convinced is such a big advantage might not be such an advantage at all.”
Big business will point you in the direction of their next “product” line or maybe to a whole new department, in general, forcing you to build a new relationship within the same organization. Too often, these big companies don’t think of your business as a “partnership”, but rather another notch on the old belt and a means to an end in their numbers game.
Now, let’s take a look at the David’s in this story. The “little” players in these fields are catalysts, they’re scrappers and they are, often times more talented than the big guy up top. What sets them apart is that keyword – catalyst. They are an agent of change and relentless to make a difference to build a brand that sets them apart in the industry. Your business “partnership” is just as critical to their organization as their “product” is to your business, and I guarantee they will do everything in their power to prove that to you. They will prove it to you in their customer service, their loyalty, and their utmost dedication to not only make sure you get what you deserve as a partner, but that you gain that competitive edge you’ve been looking for.
Don’t ever overlook the “little” guy; he’s usually the one you should pay the most attention to. Let’s take a look at a few former “little” guys. Apple started in 1976 in the garage of Steve Jobs in the shadow of a powerhouse by the name of Microsoft. After a dedicated team committed to making a difference in the tech field and their product line, Apple finally caught the “big guy” and exceeded Microsoft in sales in 2010 and hasn’t looked back. Ben & Jerry’s opened up its first store in an old gas station in Vermont in 1978 shadowed by the big dog in their industry, Haagen-Dazs. By 1987, Ben & Jerry’s sales reached over $32 million dollars and became an industry leader in their field. Finally, Kevin Plank and the Under Armor team took a chance by capitalizing on an emerging market in competition with their “big dog” (and once underdog story themselves to ADIDAS) – Nike. A partner, Dick’s Sporting Goods, believed in the brand launching Under Armors brand to a new level and eventually a net worth of over $3 billion.
We will leave you with a few words of advice to both sides of the story. To the David’s of the world, keep advancing, innovating, keep pushing forward, and never lose that “chip on your shoulder” Kevin Plunk was talking about. In the words of funnyman Jonah Hill, “It’s always better to shock people and change people’s expectations than to give them exactly what they think you can do”. To the Goliath’s in this story, take a look down every once in awhile. You’d be pretty impressed with what’s happening down here…….. and as a side note, look out for flying rocks!