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How to be David in an Industry Dominated By Goliaths

Here are 5 tips

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BY Ivan Landen - 07 Nov 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

In late 2015, I embarked on a journey to build the first Wireless Network Service Provider in Singapore to enable enterprises to take advantage of Wireless LTE (4G/5G) technology for their business WAN connectivity.

In the last two years, Blue Wireless has won contracts with dozens of enterprise clients (mostly engineering and construction firms), and connected over 400 locations across Asia Pacific for clients.

The journey was not easy, especially when you are up against industry giants. Here are five pieces of advice to fledgling start-ups who face massive incumbents:

1. Choose a highly targeted business proposition

As a start-up, you have a shortage of everything — money, staff, and especially time. So it’s essential that you not only concentrate, but you excel, in the one thing that defines your business. Early on at Blue Wireless, we made a deliberate choice to focus on a specific ‘niche’ — LTE Internet access for enterprises across Asia Pacific.

Once we started to offer services to our first customers, we got more and more requests for different technologies such as 3G or Sigfox. We were also asked whether we could bundle in security services or we could do private networks, but we turned down 90% of those requests.

Turning away business is tough because you are trying to please your customer, and of course, you need the money. But if you are a jack of all trades you will end up a master of none. So whatever business you are in, focus on a very specific product-market combination to create specific value for your customers and face incumbents who often have generic offerings to try to please everyone.

2. Build an ironclad reputation

Reputation is the single most important thing in B2B — so guard it with your life.

One unique aspect of the telco industry is that many existing incumbents don’t have a good reputation to start with — they’re often seen as being too slow and bureaucratic for modern business needs. But for a new entrant, you can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do, it has to be earned from completed work. So you have to be creative here. One way is to borrow the reputation from the founders or the early staff and the work they had accomplished in previous jobs. In our case, my co-founder and I have more than 20 years experience in the Telco industry, giving the business a good foundation.

My next piece of advice is to do many POCs or proof of concepts. To show clients that your product or service is strong, go out on a limb to actually initiate getting the services up and running — even if there is no initial payment. Customers saw the results and it helped to confirm our reputation. Seeing is believing. From there, the word-of-mouth and referrals started. Today, we get 50% of our new business from referrals and growth of accounts.

3.Make sure your brand and message matches your audience

Start building your brand from day one — or even better, before you launch — and focus your message on the specific product-market combination.

Blue Wireless came with a relatively new concept (wireless instead of fibre) to a relatively conservative audience (enterprises who have high expectations for business continuity). Hence, we had to adapt our messaging around this and use words we knew would appeal to the audience. We emphasized reliability and made the service tangible.

Many tech companies brand themselves with very techy names (“techz4u”) and technological babble, which is not instilling confidence in the B2B market. Industry jargon is not recognizable and will hurt your long-term prospects.

4. Flexibility is your most powerful weapon

When going up against incumbents, your agility, speed, and flexibility are your main differentiators against your most powerful, but slow competitors. Use that flexibility, for instance, in how you do your marketing campaigns. While your budget is small, you can create a campaign in a day, while incumbents often need committees and many weeks to get approvals.

In 2016, there were several fibre Internet outages in Singapore and within a few hours, we started increasing our social media ads to show how our wireless Internet offers an alternative to their service, resulting in new orders within the day.

But the same is true on discontinuing certain products or services. Blue Wireless had a few services which we discovered were actually loss-making after a few weeks running, so we changed them quickly and nipped it in the bud, before things got worse.

5. Marketing = Focus x Repetition

As one of my marketing mentors kept telling me, “marketing is focus and repetition.” Have a singular message and brand and keep repeating it everywhere you can. Do it as often as you can, until you’re sick and tired of it — but people will remember what you stand for.

And don’t sweat the small stuff when creating content, ads, copy, or visuals — especially on social media where the average lifespan is a few hours, two days at best.

While large incumbents need to be extremely careful with their reputations and make sure everything is checked to ensure 100% compliance, as a start-up you can afford some glitches here and there, as long as you keep communicating 24x7.

Ivan Landen is the founder and CEO of Blue Wireless, a Wireless Network Service Provider for business