"What is even the point of it all?" – it is natural to feel this when you read in the news that one of the trillion $ giants have launched a product of their own in your market, and unknowingly started competing with your startup.

It feels unfair, that companies with such enormous resources would go up against you. But it's not the end of the world, only the beginning of opportunity for you.

How?    

You can ask the founder of Doist — Amir Salihefendic, who had come to HelloMeets for a meetup around the topic of competing with giants as a startup.

Doist has been successfully competing against giants like Google, Microsoft and Apple for more than a decade, and has grown to make millions of $ in yearly revenue during this time.

Amir says there are certain core aspects that startups can focus on to compete and become winners in their niche:

  • Base your go-to-market strategy on Network Effects
  • Make your product/service really consistent and top-notch — using it should become habitual over time for customers
  • Be radically different from your competition
  • Make your organisational structure extremely different from competitors in your niche. For Doist, it’s remote and asynchronous organisational flow
  • Really love what you do, and your product shouldn’t be mediocre. Because most of the trillion dollar companies wouldn’t have your niche as their top priority, and they can still sustain if their product is mediocre
  • Plan for the long term, and focus on the streamlining your workflows and environments that bring out the best from your teams.


This blog is a summation of the most actionable things Amir shared during the meetup on what startups can do to really win in their niche. (we’ve kept the AMA format of the meetup intact, apart from segments that need more background.)


HelloMeets: How can startups come up with a Go-to-Market strategy based on Network Effects?


Amir: Network effects are unique and defensible. If your product has traction in certain fields, let’s say To-Do apps, then double down on that audience by giving them the most unique and functional experience through your product.

You need to have individuals adopting your product first. They would then bring their teams on, and then they'll bring their organisations to use your product. This solves your go-to-market strategy.

Make something for individuals, and then spread it. Allow your product to be able to be used by teams more.

This ensures the expansion of your product's impact too. As the individuals who find your product useful will be able to spread its adoption to bigger networks.


HelloMeets: Any marketing step that startups can take right away to begin building network effects?


Amir: Use distribution channels to educate people about your product. Figure out how to become relevant to individual users. Individual-first targeting helps generally in the initial phases. This will reduce your Customer acquisition costs too.

Figure out how to do marketing free on channels that are more content-driven and active because of content sharing.  

Example - hunt out niche sub-reddits that have your target users and ask them to be early adopters and get feedback. Since you’ll be focusing on giving a really functional experience, some of them might hang on to become power users of your product.  

You can also do this with YouTubers who frequently put out content in your niche.


HelloMeets: How do you go about Asynchronous communication while ideating products and features?


Amir: Innovation styles need to focus on deep thinking and challenging the ideas with deeper analysis. That’s what we do at Doist. We let people’s deep thinking bring out more creative ideas and thoughts during brainstorming sessions.

They’re brainstorming threads actually. First the idea and the problem is introduced to the team, with relevant links and references. They’re all on the same channel of messaging and sharing.

A lot of writing happens on the facets of an idea, with deep thoughts formulated well, and expressed with back-referencing on a thread of that idea's discussion and further steps and tasks.


HelloMeets: How to have a different company structure from giants? And how will it help startups?


Amir: Create internal tools that produces a conducive environment for your team's core workflows. We have all asynchronous communication for 70% of our internal coordination. But we do have deadlines that are followed.

The bed-rock layer of communication should be synchronous. 70% should be asynchronous [which is the layer above the bed-rock]30% should by synchronous - one-on-one meetings, where work updates can happen

And missing deadline is not the end of the world. The culture affects this the most.If people need deadlines to function, ensure that you allow them to communicate about that to whoever they are reporting to.


HelloMeets: Why should you watch out for new startups more than the giants?


Amir: Startups who will challenge your niche will have a higher impact on you. But giants won't get affected if some of their users leave them for a new startup in their niche.

New startups with similar offerings as your product is a dangerous thing if your service slips into mediocrity. You don’t want to be average at all when it comes to this.

Since those new upcoming startups in your niche will have a high focus on their service, you’ll stand to loose more if your product quality or support is bad in any way at all.


HelloMeets: How to maintain focus, while still attracting users from multiple use cases for a product?


Amir: Chase your niche first. While ensure that you true to your core functionality.User interviews also help. Solve one big problem, and do it repeatedly.


HelloMeets: How do you ensure that even your team is thinking long term?


Amir: A lot of people at Doist have been there for 4-5 years. They are committed to long-term growth. Building successful stuff needs compounding effects over some time, and it does take a longer time. Overnight success takes a long time.

Startups should be goal-driven in the long term. So hire team members who have a long-term plan and intention to ensure both your mutual growth.
An actionable format for hiring remotely:



Amir + HelloMeets is a really fun combo! And we give a big shout out to Doist and Amir Salihefendic for being so awesome and friendly!

You can reach out to Amir → amix@doist.com - if you have more questions!