Very useful diagnostic question here.
If you're in business for yourself, freelancing, or contracting, it's worth asking from time to time.
The gap between "#1" and anything else is tremendous... being #2, #3, or #4 is far worse.
Oftentimes, a product or service is totally sufficient, and loses out on being "#1" only because of a lack of polish and attention to detail. Oftentimes, you don't need a radical reinvention of what you're doing, but just by improving every area of your finishing touches, quality control, speed, and service -- just a tiny bit -- you can break through to parity with the best.
Then, you layer one or two extra fantastic features on top of it, and you're #1.
It's hard work. Sort of.
It's actually often not hard work, but it requires submitting your ego to the fact that you're not already the best, and getting over "not invented here" syndrome.
Which is a lot easier to say than it is to do.
We just had a client who we had just about wrapped up a job for, who incidentally, had also done very similar work around the same with a competitor. The competitor started before us, and was being paid higher fees than us (which we only learned later).
Towards the end of our project, our client -- a very savvy guy -- started to look for us to elevate our performance and do little tiny finishing touches that our competitor had put into action.
This is one of the best things to happen to us.
We were forced to study, concretely faithfully diligently intensely study, the little touches this competitor had created that we had not. We wound up implementing a number of them, improving our performance, and inventing some new technology and processes to look to exceed them going forwards.
It also required us to see a couple very creative things they did, and just straight-up make our own implementation of them... what's interesting is that duplicating a competitor's functionality led us to almost no psychological satisfaction, whereas inventing our own did.
...even though the duplicated functionality was probably more useful to our client.
There were no patents involved, no intellectual property, and we didn't even follow their exact methodology -- we implemented our own way. There were no barriers of that sort. But there was a huge psychological barrier, in that we wanted and preferred to "do our own thing" in some perhaps subconscious way, rather than just be committed to being the best for our clients, regardless of ego.
It's hard, very hard, to get over this. We got lucky in a way.
But this question is a useful start:
"Are we #1 in quality? Why not?"
Love it. I think a lot of people who go into business (or, even sadder, life) with the mindset of trying to catch up with someone else. Unless you're the first in the space, there's a tendency to idolize those with a head start - seeing them as a goal to be strived for rather than surpassed. That little frame shift makes a big difference. Thanks for the wise words as always.
Some activities pay huge dividends and insane gains, but don't feel satisfying. The flipside is that some activities feel incredibly satisfying, but pay no gains at all.
Take cleaning the house. If you clean the hell out of your house, you're going to likely feel great. You work up a little sweat, use your muscles, and you can get into the zone for four or five hours. Afterwards, you feel you really accomplished something.
But… even in the very most expensive countries, a solid cleaning can be purchased for $50. If you've got any skills and hustle at all, you could make more than that in four or five hours, and probably build up some long-term asset value or connections in the process.
Yet, after a good thorough clean, you'll typically feel great.
Whereas "sitting there frustrated and confused trying to figure something out" is typically not enjoyable at all. Yet, frequently six hours of sitting there frustrating and going over the same problem over and over again will lead to major breakthroughs.
When we first started building SETT, I'd sometimes get asked what I was working on. Saying it was a new blogging platform was easy, but when pressed for details on what made it different, I had a tougher time.
It's not that it wasn't different, or that I didn't know how it was different. I'd get too much into the particulars one time, and then the next time, careful not to get too detailed, I'd give a really vague explanation that didn't make much sense.
This sounds like a minor thing, but it was uncomfortable for me. We had this idea that I thought was really great, and I thought we were doing a good job implementing it, but my explanation always came out jumbled.
I was terrible at pitching, and I desperately wanted not to be terrible.