As the market leader, how should we think about defense as it relates to product strategy?
Love this question as well, and I'll approach it from a couple different perspectives. First, I'd acknowledge that some markets are so big or fast growing that multiple amazingly successful winners can emerge. As of today, Apple is worth $2.8T and Microsoft is worth $2.25T. While I'm sure both companies wouldn't mind adding their other's market share to their portfolio, I also think any reasonable person would consider both outcomes desireable.
This example is not to say there's not need to play defense if a market is large or fast growing enough. Quite the opposite, both companies needed to battle furious competition until they helped the market consolidate from multiple dozens of players to a handful. That said, the example highlights that the way we strategize & define "defense" is contextual to a variety of factors, and changes over time.
Second, there's the old adage that the best defense is a great offense. While not perfect, there are a couple ways to translate that sports parlance to business:
- Recognize if you have a better mousetrap
- Identify ways you can uniquely innovate
Keeping Apple & Microsoft in mind, they've demonstrated the ability to innovate on multiple dimensions - product innovation, distribution channels, platform ecosystem and more.
For Airtable, having a clear idea of the type of market we are in, the maturation stage of that market, and our unique / potential pillars of innovation are all inputs into how we play offense & defense. Clarity within these dimensions enables us to lean into or away from potential product investments. While it can be tempting to try to build every capability each perceived competitor has, being rooted in your unique advantages and your perspective of your environment can guide how you think about which areas make sense to defend, and which areas are ok to ignore.
Last but not least, keep your customers first. Sounds simple, doesn't always turn out to be. As company's scale, it can feel harder and harder to track the challenges customers face. Create systems that incentivize people to maintain a customer focus, and fight the urge to over-index on short term, unsustainable wins. As best as you can, set customers up for long term, sustainable, thoughtful success.
Love this question! Market leaders often get very accustomed to singing their praises and forget to regularly reflect on themselves and their competition. I would advise you and your PMs to regularly assess your feature sets and do competitive walkthroughs of your capabilities against your top competition in the landscape. This will help you spot any potential up and comers in the space.
From a strategic perspective, what got you where you are may not get you where you want to be. So, some critical thinking and UX research on next-generation experiences could be helpful for generating ideas to sustain the leadership in your domain!
To defend your position, work on:
Strengthen your existing competitive advantage. If you are not very clear on what are the sources of your current competitive advantage, identify them and develop metrics and a way to measure their effectiveness. Your objective is to maintain and grow the competitive advantage that you already have.
Explore additional sources of advantage. As the business grows and the market evolves there will be opportunities to build more kinds of moats in the product and the business. Research what are the other types of strength that you can build and explore adding them.
Track your competitors closely, identify their competitive advantages and make sure that you are not trying to compete symmetrically, by building the same ones. The more you differentiate your business and product from your competitors, the harder will be for them to challenge your position.