Stenography's Competition

tl:dr; Zero Sum competition trends to zero importance on a large enough timescale

"Did you see company_x just came out with a similar product?"

I fielded this question multiple times while building Stenography, from both potential investors (who were financially invested) and friends/family members (who were emotionally invested).

In some cases, this information was meant to get a rise out of me, to test my mettle, my dedication to the "dream" of scaling and selling a company. Other times, people genuinely believed direct competition represented an existential risk to the functioning of my business.

The Narrative of Not Bothering

There is a narrative about hypergrowth in tech startups that, I believe, has tricked many people into believing that creating a business is a zero sum game whether your neighbors' kid sets up a lemonade stand in their driveway or you're running MSFT in the 90s during an antitrust lawsuit.

In my mind, the only real competition to the flourishing of a business is time (burning resources). To back up this claim, I'll talk about real competition from other similar offerings I faced while building Stenography.

Enter Competitor #1: The Energetic college kids

My first direct competitor, competitor #1 was comprised of a group of college kids with a fancy product and an even fancier website. They had made a few viral tweets and seemed to be the public front runner in the space of AI documentation.

Of all the competition, these guys scared me the most. They had passion, were close to the problem, and time/the ability to live off of the startup Ramen diet.

Enter Competitor #2: The startup that had the cojones to post about their competing product in my Discord

I honestly have to give competitor #2 credit. They had a very consistent posting game, and a great outreach strategy.

In fact their outreach strategy was so great, that it extended to posting in my Discord about their competing product.

mfw competitor #2 dropped in my dms

Enter Competitor 3: Big company that didn't really care

The last competitor was big company X with barely any skin in the game.

My hypothesis is that they entered the space to show that their company was still innovating. Due to their size, either they would gobble up the entire space, or get sidetracked by their main product. Either way, I had no chance of fighting it, so I treated it as a sand castle in a typhoon scenario.

Enter the Real Competitor: Reality

The default outcome for any start-up is death, which means that you have to move quickly and decisively to avoid that default outcome at all costs.

Blitzscaling; Reid Hoffman, Chris Yeh

Reality serves as the greatest teacher. It teaches the most painful lessons, and withholds the sweetest rewards. Reality taught me a few things after releasing Stenography to the public:

  1. Stenography got #1 on Product Hunt
  2. I had a nervous breakdown about scaling to a become a large company, and going through VC raising again seemed like a waste of time and energy since my values were almost unilaterally opposed to how many VCs think
  3. I decided to let the ship run itself, and was pleasantly surprised by the results

Notice that none of those have anything to do with Stenography's competition. In fact, in terms of day to day operational tasks, my competition barely register on the radar.

Only VCs care about competitive analysis, and I think they only care because of the hypergrowth narrative that other VCs care about leading to some very cringe memetic adoption.

To You, One Year From Now

In 2021, these competitors were at the top of my mind.

Today (2022), Stenography is healthy, and I don't give a hoot/damn/rats ass about the competition.

I have a small set of customers using Stenography, and a user base that gives great feedback for the product. More importantly, I built Stenography in a way that it flies on autopilot as much as possible, which I am super grateful for.

Stenography currently functions as a lifestyle business. I have no one to answer to but myself and my customers. As of writing, Stenography nets me ~$100/month of pure profit, in a quite passive manner.

My competitors might be making more or less, but honestly, I'm indifferent. The way I see it, a business is valuable if:

  1. It makes profit
  2. It makes people's lives better
  3. It doesn't ruin the physical or mental health of it's creators/employees

Being in a brutal game of Succession with competitors only makes sense on micro timescales. When you zoom the lens out, you'll find the real staying power is in taking it slow, and focusing on yourself.

Growth, as a primary focus, is not only a bad business strategy, but an entirely harmful one. In failing—as defined in the study—these high-growth startups had massive layoffs, closed shop completely, or sold off their business for pennies on the dollar. Putting growth over profit as a strategy, however trendy as business advice, was their downfall.

Company of One, Paul Jarvis

Addendum: 2022 Market Crash in Tech

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heading of this section is a play on AoT chapter of a similar name

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