You have NO Market Differentiators – Deal with it.

Recently, someone asked me this question in an interview,

Q) What is your market differentiator?

During my MBA days, we had all sorts of fancy, meaningless answers for this type of questions. I could take any number of jargon words like market penetration, excellent quality, strategic tie-ups etc. and mix-and-match them to spew an equally vague answer to this.

Now, I did not know what to say about “my start-up’s market differentiator“.

After thinking for a few minutes, this is what I told the interviewer.

A) Nothing really. Whatever I am doing can be done by anyone. What makes successful (and profitable) is that I love Excel and share information about it enthusiastically. I love making people awesome and create products that go with this philosophy. I am eager to learn as much as I am eager to teach. So naturally we build a very good community of Excel users from all parts of the world (at last count, our website as 24,000 members). Many of these become customers overtime and enjoy my products (We had 1700 customers in year 2010).

I bet of many of you would be having similar questions when you think about starting your own company,

  • How can we differentiate from our competition?
  • What makes us special and creates warm-feelings in our customers’ heart?
  • How do we protect our product from imitation?

So, lets examine what makes us special.

What will NOT make you special?

In order to understand what makes us special, first we must understand what makes us same (ie not special). Once we know that, you can easily focus on your uniqueness.

Your product:

In all likelihood, your product will not be unique. There will be several equally good alternatives for what you sell. Take anything, for eg., your beer, your car, your bank, your coffee, your boy friend (or girl friend), your shoes etc. etc., everything can be replaced with something else that is equally good. Your customers too think the same way and thus, being over-protective about your product is not going to help.

Your partnerships:

Unless you have a water-tight agreement with your partners, chances are, they will collaborate with others in the same industry. So this makes any type of partnerships you have same as any partnerships your competition has.

Your Website / Store Design:

Very few designs are iconic (like a bottle of coke, ipod, Google homepage or an ikea store). Getting an iconic design would take a lot of time, money and expertise. And small business are short on all 3.

Other things that will not make you special:

* Your website ranking very well on Google for a particular term
* Your business having the best location
* You have the most memorable phone number, website address or whatever.

So What makes you special?


You are special. Although, there are 6 billion others with similar features as you, no-one can match 100% to what you are. Realizing this is the biggest thing in running a small business. Unlike large companies, which can remain faceless and build a generic brand image, a small business like yours, has better chance of success if you focus on individuals.

Why are you special:

No one else in the world has the same story that you have to say. Your passions, your ideas, your values, your sense of humor, your story will remain unique, no matter how many more people flock your industry. Some important areas of your uniqueness,

  • Your story
  • Your values
  • The way you express
  • Your sense of humor
  • Your passion & knowledge

Never let that go away from your business in the name of growth. Instead, keep your image a core part of what your business is. That is what many successful business have done. Think about Apple (Steve Jobs), Microsoft (Bill Gates), Infosys (Narayana Murthy) etc.

Your Customers:

Just like you, your customers too are unique. It may so happen that the same set of people might be customers for someone else too. But the kind of interactions they had with you, the relationship they hold with you and the attention & respect you command from them will be special.

Your Team:

This includes your employees, board members, vendors, partners etc. All of them are special, gifted and rare, just like you. And no other company in the world has the same combination and that makes your company special. The real uniqueness is the kind of experience, passion and energy your team brings to the table to make your company a success.

That is all. I cannot think of anything else that will make us specail and distinguished from rest of the competition.

How do I apply these ideas to my business?

During my initial days of business, I used to worry too much about my website design, too protective about my files & ideas. I used to consider other Excel bloggers as competition.

Then, almost by chance, I experimented by following a different approach.

I started collaborating with my fellow bloggers. I started sharing my ideas and files openly. Instead of focusing on more customers, I asked myself, “how can I know more about the ones we have”. I started sharing personal stories and connected with our readers.

Over-time, I have established a relationship with our readers who now consider me unique, for what I am + what I know.

Now, if you ask my customers, why they use my products, some of the keywords they use are,

  • … like your style …
  • … you explain very well …
  • … your passion for excel …

How do you differentiate your business?

I want to learn from your experience too. What do you think makes your business (or you) special? Why do you think customers purchase from you?

Please share your story using comments. I am all ears.

More reading on this topic:

9 thoughts on “You have NO Market Differentiators – Deal with it.”

  1. Dear Chandoo,

    You have confronted and explained very valid points. A small business entrepreneur is always protective about his ideas for feeling of getting his ideas stolen or lifted wihthout his/her permission. There is also a dilemma as how to grow in crowded market place with so many players vying for their share of flesh.

    I think you have addressed those fears. One has to think and work hard with passion without bothering about consequences. The result will definitely follow. The burning desire to give users/customers something ‘special’ yields dividends.

    As a small IT player in Banking domain, I sometimes feel intimidated by bigger players coming into our field and taking away the business. But there are certain products and areas where we have unique and special presence. The kind of services we only could provide. That is our USP. A lot of innovation, collaboration and learning required to be in the race. I’ve devised my own formula ‘If you can’t beat them, join them…’

  2. Hi Chandooo ,
    You have elucidated in detail about the the transformation of a start up like The uniqueness of a service/product lies how better you serve customer and on going improvement in serving and boding between customer and service provider. Your passion to learn from novice customers like us and your passion to “keep it simple” is awesome.


  3. Awesome, Kudos and Remarkable are words that came to my mind when i chanced upon your website today.

    Without even spending more than 15 mins on your website for the first time, I feel like meeting you and making friends with you.

    I wish you all the success as you are one honest sincere and passionate person.

    -alok jain
    IIT Delhi 91

  4. Chandoo,
    A more true article I have yet to read lately. Thanks for telling it like it is. Too many articles and books would have one believe a unique product or service is necessary to make it, and good luck finding that. Passion and talent for one’s chosen endeavor mean so much more.

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom.


  5. Hi Chandoo,

    Thanks for sharing this. Yes, You are unique and special. I mean, bloggers have to keep in mind that readers like to know the blogger who is approachable.


  6. Very thought provoking article. A trait of a good entrepreneur is someone who knows their strengths and weaknesses. They know who they are and play to their strengths. The entrepreneur who does this successfully is also successful in business. I think it’s because they can articulate and explain their own personality differences in the marketplace.

    One caution though… Although you may be a “reliable,” “trustworthy,” “honest,” etc… type person. These are not differentiators. Anyone can say this. The words are meaningless. Just BE something different.

  7. You are an awesome writer/blogger …, many people can be good at excel but being open about your goals, approach why you do etc…, makes you to the heights of success. Though all the top business school teams are talented, in the name of the growth they get political with their own teams, partners, peers and position “individual” growth as a target., When these individuals get successes there are equally talented & honest people loose out in the corporate rat race.

    All the very best you !!!

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