Stand Out From The Crowd: Startup Differentiation

In the startup world, there’s always a new idea on the horizon, but for every new idea, there are also dozens of repeats, variations, or companies that already exist. Sure, some are improvements on old ideas, but others are just crowding the market. If you’re occupying one of these crowded corners, such as fintech and social media, differentiating your startup is more important than ever before.

How can you help your business stand out from the crowd? Does your company target a different audience than the competition or do you offer outstanding customer service? Whatever it is, you need to build a compelling brand narrative that demonstrates what you have to offer.

The Audience Advantage

One of the best ways to help your startup stand out from the competition is by targeting underserved markets. After all, just because there are a lot of apps in your sector, doesn’t mean there’s a great app for every demographic. That’s what U.K.-based finance app Soldo is counting on with its focus on parents. Much of the fintech world targets millennials, making it a hard market to convert, so this is a different strategy.

Ambitious entrepreneurs may see this as an overly narrow strategy, but Soldo and others like them are on the path to success. In fact, only amateurs think their product is for everyone. Simply put, “everyone” isn’t an audience. You need to understand who your audience is before you take another step in the product development process.

Stay On The Edge

Although the whole notion of a startup is premised on innovation and cutting edge ideas, over time or in areas not directly linked to the business model, even startups can begin to lag behind. Take, for example, the mandated transition to EMV chip processing. All merchants were expected to transition to EMV chip-protected cards as of October 2015 because such cards reduce fraud risk, but many took as much as a year or more past this date to shift their processing capacity.  It’s predicted that 98 percent will have this by the end of 2017.

By staying on the cutting edge in terms of these types of simple technology upgrades, whether it's implementing new payment methods early on updating your website security, you can stand out from other startups that aren’t meeting current standards.   

Disrupt the Norm

If you want to catch the eyes of users and investors as a startup developer, you need to be searching for your disruptive moment. So ask yourself: What about your industry could use a shakeup?

In the world of travel, one potential answer to this question is the booking process. There are lots of websites and apps that will help you narrow down flights and hotels by price; Expedia, Priceline, and Kayak will all spit out budget-based suggestions for your next trip. But what if budget isn’t your main concern? Where do you turn then? sought to answer this question by providing new ways to search. Yes, they’ll help you narrow your travel options by cost, but they can also tell you what hotels are best for families, nightlife lovers, and even eco-conscious travelers. Trip sets itself apart by categorizing its offerings differently.

Capitalizing on the concept of disruption is all about seeking opportunities. In fact, at its roots, the term derives from the idea that disruptive businesses break into a field at the bottom, serving those currently outside the scope of an industry. Often, this means those who are financially excluded from higher end options, a group that’s typically quite large. Disruption doesn’t need to be dramatic, but companies that rely on disruptive strategies see opportunities where others don’t.

Be Upfront

Because startups are always actively trying to protect new, profitable ideas, they tend to be somewhat secretive during development activities. This is fine and strategically wise in a lot of ways, but when it comes to ongoing service goals, sometimes it’s better to be public about your future intentions.

In a practical sense, that means making small, achievable goals and then telling your audience what you’ve got planned. You should even consider giving them a timeline for any expected improvements; this creates a kind of accountability that’s distinct from setting internal deadlines.

Tell Your Story 

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what your startup specializes in if you haven’t developed a strong narrative. Your customers don’t just want to know what your product does, but how your product reflects on them. What does it mean for them to be loyal to your company and what will others think when they hear about the affiliation? Though it can seem like a nebulous concept, issues of trust, the perception that your company is innovative, family-friendly, or socially responsible, all matter to your customers.

Your advertising and your branding need to promulgate this narrative and your staff members need to internalize it. As a startup, your product isn’t your focus. Your focus is your message. Find your audience, fill a niche, and tell your story – this is the formula for standing out from the competition.