TiEcon 2008 panel on ‘Taking on the incumbents’

Moderator(s):

Guy Kawasaki, Garage Technology Ventures

Panelist(s):

Chris Larsen, Prosper Marketplace, Inc.

Peter Luethi, Jet Airways India Ltd.

Sanjiv Malhotra, Oorja Protonics

Marten Mickos, Sun Microsystems Inc.

                               

This is the first time that I’ve ever heard or seen Guy Kawasaki in person. He sure is funny and sharp as heck. Overall, the panel wasn’t all that interesting but Guy was extremely entertaining with his quips on how ‘German service is an oxymoron’ and in this web 2.0 world , ‘nothing’s a secret but there’s no verification either’. Most hilarious was when he kept trying to get Peter Luethi (Jet Airways) to confess which airline he would use if he were flying to London. I think the discussion would have been all more interesting, if he was on the panel rather than moderating it. Here are my key takeaways from this discussion:

Operate under the radar.

Incumbents usually have the attitude that the newcomers are not worth bothering about. This works in favor of the newcomers, who can fly under the radar and grow quickly until they get to a point when the competitors start noticing them but they are big enough either to thwart them or get acquired. Marten Mickos (formerly of MySQL) was very entertaining and offered some great insights. MySQL approached Oracle and Microsoft both to find an ally in its effort to take on IBM. (MySQL was acquired by Sun Microsystems).

If you can’t kill them, partner with them.

If your market has multiple incumbents. Consider partnering with one competitor and offer something that they are not able to offer. In other words, complement an incumbent’s existing offerings rather than taking on the incumbent head on.

Your enemy’s enemy is your best friend.

Don’t try to go it alone. If you have multiple incumbents, partner with one competitor to take on the other. Understand your market’s competitive dynamics and leverage that to create synergies that help your growth.

Rally support from your customer.

Find the underserved need in your target market and fill that gap. Go to the customer directly and create demand for your product by focusing on that. Jet Airways is trying to fill the need that no other airline currently, which is to bring back the ‘luxury’ in aviation by offering amenities and facilities that make air travel more enjoyable.

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