Lesson 6: Help your competitors & welcome copycats

By December 6, 2015 No Comments

In theory, bands compete with each other to get on shows, sign to labels, and for the attention of fans. Competition is part of the DNA of skateboarding, where athletes face each other in contests, push to outdo each other in video parts, and for a very limited number of sponsors– even people who ride for the same team compete for the attention of their sponsor. Clothing companies and brands in both spaces all compete for marketshare, retail space, and so forth. Yet despite so much rivalry over extremely scare dollars, you’ll find that DIY bands, brands, and athletes collaborate far more often than they compete.

What people and brands with roots in DIY culture understand is that there is often more to be gained from working together and helping each other than there is from trying to keep you “competitors” down. Instead of fighting over pieces of the pie, they work together to make the whole pie bigger. What’s good for one skateboarder, hardcore band, or graffiti writer is good for all of them, so rather than fighting against each other, their best move is to fight for the common cause.

vod flyer

Traditional businesses tend to look at competition as a zero-sum game: in order for me to win, you have to lose. In this interview with EftMega, Mike Fleischmann from Vision Of Disorder talks about how they screwed themselves during the early years of the band by looking at competition as a zero-sum game:

It was also around Ozzfest that Roadrunner had signed Coal Chamber and we felt like they were getting the attention we should have been getting.  They had a bus right away, we didn’t. They had a tour manager and a sound guy, we had nothing and were using our friend to do sound who had basically no recording experience except making four track demos in his basement.  We were slated to go out with Pantera following Ozzfest, and they ended up getting it.  We were already confirmed for the tour and then lost it and then started resenting those guys.  I mean it’s a shame because they were actually all awesome.  They didn’t do anything wrong, they just had the opportunities we wanted and instead of looking at it like – it was good that our type of music was getting out to more people and that good things for them would lead to good things for us, we just got mad and resentful.

Who knows what would have happened if instead of getting bitter, VOD sucked it up and tried to align themselves with Coal Chamber? Who knows, but I’m sure it would have been better for both parties: VOD had a lot of cred that Coal Chamber most definitely didn’t, and Coal Chamber could’ve helped VOD get some opportunities that they weren’t getting on their own (no disrespect to VOD meant by the way– just using this as an example).

spazz 25 ta life

Spazz/25 Ta Life split 7″ from 1998 or so

On the other hand, the classic example of DIY collaboration is the split release, where each band gets one side of the record, they each chip in for cost of production, and they both promote it to their audiences. Costs are less than if either band did it on their own, and they both get exposure to new audiences– and last but definitely not least, it’s a great product: fans get exposure to a new band that they otherwise might not have discovered. Everybody (including consumers) wins.



Rethink the way you look at competition. Change your default assumption from competition as a zero-sum game to one in which a rising tide lifts all boats. Don’t assume that your best move is to work against your competitors. Instead, ask yourself what will benefit you, your industry and your customers the most. If  cutthroat competition is the answer then go for it, but it probably isn’t.

gshock undftd

These collaborations between Undefeated and G-Shock (left) and Nike (right) are an example of how working with your competitors can be a win-win-win (like the two bands above doing a split record). Undefeated is a smaller brand that brings credibility to the larger brands, and the larger brands give Undefeated visibility and/or retail space that they can’t afford on their own. Everybody wins (including consumers, who get some cool, limited edition gear from two brands that they love).

I put this idea into action in my own career when I was working at an industrial design agency. We did a lot of product development work for Procter & Gamble, and were often competing for contracts with big branding agencies like Landor. While our first impulse was “Fuck those guys!! We’ll beat them at their own game,” we quickly wised up and realized that it would make way more sense for us to partner with them on projects. They had the big-agency clout that we frankly didn’t, and we had the product development skills that they didn’t. By working together, we were able to take on projects that neither company could on its own, and we delivered comprehensive product concepts that created more value for our clients. Everybody wins!

Finally, when you see new companies pop up in your industry/sector, don’t be mad– be glad! You actually WANT competitors. When you’re the only company doing a thing, it’s a novelty. But after a handful of imitators, copycats and competitors pop up, it’s now an industry– competition doesn’t threaten your business, it legitimizes your business. Copycats are even better! Many people are afraid that copycats will steal their shine, but they don’t. People know the score. When a bunch of other brands copy what you’re doing, it instantly elevates your brand to “trendsetter” status. So you should be very, very stoked if you see copycats pop up!

To sum it up, your mantra for competition should be “don’t hate, congratulate.” Instead of wasting your energy by fighting with your competitors over slivers of the pie, your business will usually be better off by working WITH them to make the whole pie bigger so you can all eat pie until you puke.

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