How to Compete with Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Co.

The big advantage of being small in a world of giants.

How to Compete with Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Co.

Note: This article was originally published on June 13th, 2022 on Medium, and I'm now sharing it on this blog. Although things have evolved since I wrote it, I've decided to keep it unchanged to highlight my personal journey.

In today’s world, big giants like Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Co. dictate the quality standards for software. People get used to those standards and expect this excellent user experience from every software.

Most users can not imagine how challenging it is to build such great products. Inevitably, they will compare every software to the ones they use every day.

Those extraordinary demands can be challenging for small companies and developers. Competing with companies hiring the best developers in the world is not easy. Imagine you are a startup building new music or video streaming service. Your software needs to be competitive against Spotify, Netflix, and Co. to convince people of your product.

But, developing such a user experience is nearly impossible for small startups. However, you can do something that big competitors can’t — Doing things that don’t scale.

Doing Things That Don’t Scale

What does that mean? Just as users are used to exceptional products with a good user interface, they enjoy a rather average customer service. Their standards for customer service have been set by companies they’ve been customers of, which are mostly big ones. Providing customer service that makes every user feel unique and astonished is impossible when having billions of users. That’s one advantage of being small: you can provide a level of service no big company can.

Tim Cook doesn’t send you a hand-written note after you buy a laptop. He can’t. But you can. — Paul Graham

When you are small, you can take extraordinary measures not just to acquire users but also to make them happy. You can give free rein to your ideas. Once you realize that existing conventions are not the upper bound on user experience, it’s interesting in a very pleasant way to think about how far you could go to delight your users. One example is Wufoo. They sent each new user a hand-written thank you note.

Your first users should feel that signing up with you was one of the best choices they ever made. — Paul Graham

If you’re a developer with a personal project like me, you’re the perfect fit to apply the principle. By building an excellent relationship with your users, you will be forgiven for many bugs in your application. For example, a user gave me a 1-star review in the Chrome Web Store for my Web Highlights Chrome extension because of a bug. I quickly responded to him and offered to fix the bug as soon as possible. Luckily, I was able to fix the bug on the same day. What happened? The user changed his review to a 5-star review:

Doing things that don’t scale can help in many areas of product development — for example, marketing. A fascinating story is Pinterest. They used to go to Apple stores in their early days and set all the browsers to the Pinterest homepage. They are probably not doing it anymore, but they were successful with it.

Airbnb rented a $ 5.000 camera and went door to door, taking professional pictures of as many New York listings as possible.

There are several stories of companies doing things that don’t scale to acquire their first customers. Get inspired by reading more stories on and set your product uniquely apart from competitors.

Final Thoughts

Being competitive against big software giants is hard. Building high-quality software that is better in terms of quality seems almost impossible. Therefore, we need to make our product unique in a different way. Doing things that don’t scale enables us to do many things that big companies can’t. For example, we can focus on excellent customer service to make every single customer feel unique.

And, who knows? Maybe, if you choose to make your existing users super happy, one day, you will have too many to do so much for. That would be a great problem to have. See if you can make it happen!

I hope you enjoyed reading this article. I am always happy to answer questions, and I am open to criticism. Feel free to contact me at any time 😊

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