“I don’t want to kill anybody”: On the joys of “coopetition”
“I don’t want to kill anybody.” So declared Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, and currently the youngest female self-made billionaire in the world, at the CNBC Small Business Town Hall. I was in the audience, and I nearly leapt from my chair in joy at her response to the notion that business is all about “killing” the competition.
When Sara was starting Spanx, she was told, as many of us are, that business is war, and the only way to succeed is to focus on “killing the competition.” She meditated on this idea, and decided that war was not the model she wanted to use for growing her business. Instead, she would focus on creating an excellent product, and let that spirit drive her business.
Many women feel the same way–we don’t want to kill anybody. Thus, we are driving a new way of approaching business, known as cooperative competition, or coopetition. The term isn’t new at all–it comes from the work of John Nash (remember the movie “A Beautiful Mind”?) on Game Theory. With coopetition, businesses “cooperate with each other to reach a higher value creation if compared to the value created without interaction, and struggle to achieve competitive advantage.”
Thus, rather than kill the competition, competitors can look for areas of overlap where both can benefit by working together rather than tearing apart.
Like Sara Blakely with Spanx, if we as business owners focus on understanding our target audience and what we uniquely provide through our brand, then we have no problem supporting our industry by collaborating with others in our field. If we know and recognize those clients and customers who are a good match for our businesses, then our competitors can become referral partners and resources when we encounter those who aren’t a good match to our business.
In my work with Ladies Who Launch, I have had many opportunities where I’ve talked to a person and realized they weren’t a good fit for our organization. I’m happy when I can direct someone to the another local group. And I know that others in Atlanta have done the same for me. I find it a joy to work with others who have a similar passion for helping women as I do. They have become colleagues, rather than enemies.
While I want to grow a successful and lucrative business, approaching my industry in a spirit of coopetition allows me to celebrate the successes of my “competitors,” be inspired by what makes each of them unique, and motivates me to focus on the USP of what I have to offer.