As a Startup, Who are You Fighting? Hint: It May Not Be Your Competitors


Elisha Tan is the founder of Learnemy, a web application that finds instructors for anything you want to learn.

I read this article by Willis a couple of weeks ago and it got me thinking about ‘fighting’ and competitors: Do I, as a startup, really want to fight my competitors over at Kezaar?


That’s because I pick my battles and I’ve got bigger things to fight for, fight with.

1. Fight the status quo

I like to win. But I didn’t start up just so I can prove to myself and others that I can win in a startup environment. I started Learnemy because I believe that people should be able to make a living doing what they like to do.

I believe there’s a difference between being alive and living. In Singapore, we’re very fortunate to have shelter, food, and safety – but how many of us are genuinely living? I understand it’s difficult because in Singapore many passions are tagged with “no future” as careers. I’m fighting the status quo by enabling people to make a living by teaching their skills. I fight for what I believe in. You can read more about why I started Learnemy in this blog post of mine.

2. Fight obscurity

The biggest demon that all startups face is not competitors – it’s obscurity. You can be the first one in the market, the only one in the market, and will still fail if nobody cared about your product. In fact, competition is validation that you’re not stupid (or you’re not the only stupid one). If you’re alone at a party, it probably means you’re at the wrong venue.

This is what finding product-market fit is all about. How do you make your target market care about you? How do you not fade into the background, forgotten by all except your mum? Many startups die finding that fit, or die trying. As young startups, like Learnemy and Kezaar, we’re more likely to fight for survival, and fight obscurity, than fight each other.

3. Fight myself

I knew about Kezaar’s existence before that article. I knew there are a couple more such companies before I started. There are probably more companies to throw my punches at than the punches I have. But nothing beats the internal ‘fight’ I have with myself.

I started Learnemy a few months after graduation as a solo, non-technical founder. I don’t have a team, I can’t code much beyond “rails g scaffold” and only pushed out a beta after a year. I’m not a startup veteran, neither am I a veteran in any industry like the team behind Kezaar. The odds are not in my favor, but this huge difference does not faze me as much as how much more I know I can do and yet I’m not. I’m not self-deprecating, I’m proud of where I come from and the things I’ve learned. But I’m fully aware that there’s a lot more I can improve on.

If I have punches to throw, competitors are at the bottom of my list. In fact, I have nothing but admiration for my competitors out there. It’s not easy to create a marketplace business, much less a successful marketplace business. There are a lot of things to learn from them. So yes, instead of showing claws getting ready to fight Kezaar, the Learnemy kitty would much rather open its paws to offer a hug.

(And yes, we're serious about ethics and transparency. More information here.)

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