From The Relunctant Entrepreneur: Collaboration, Not Competition
04: Collaboration, Not Competition
It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there according to Adam Smith and most of the workforce in Asia. In order for you to succeed, it is important to out-smart your competitor, offer more and more innovative products and ideas, and set up your business to scale. After all, it’s survival of the fittest.
When running a small business, it’s very easy to fall prey to this ultra-competitive and anti-collaboration mindset. We tend to believe that in order to be the best, we have to beat all our competitors and come out on top, because after all, that’s what growing a business is all about. We start to develop a scarcity mindset, often a lingering remnant of grade school, where we dream up strategies to beat or even sabotage our competitors. This ultra-competitive mindset narrows our focus and also hinders collaborative avenues that could have spurred further growth.
I’m here to propose another way of conducting business, one that requires you to actively adopt another mindset: that the world is abundant and your competition can become a great strength. There’s one African proverb that I love, which echoes the importance of collaborative spirit in entrepreneurship:
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
When starting a business–especially when business is good–you want to say yes to every opportunity to out-manoeuver your competitor. While this may be beneficial for a while, jumping between one project and another makes it very easy to burn out or even lead some of the projects to stagnation through neglect. This is why when you want to expand and make a bigger impact on the market, it’s much more worthwhile to look at your competitors and take the opportunity to go far together.
In the midst of planning more custom creative workshops for Barefoot Love Co, I stumbled upon The Good Cake HK on Instagram (thank you targeted ads for this gem). I ended up meeting the owner and baker at The Good Cake HK, Karen, to collaborate and dream together.
Karen’s business is aimed at doing good, especially for the elderly in Hong Kong, through baked goods. For every baked good you buy, a portion of the profits are used to purchase rice on a regular basis for their charity partners.They have donated 660 kilograms of rice–equivalent to 9450 bowls of cooked rice–for grandparents-in-need. Her vision is to establish a kitchen where elderly people living in poverty can assist with the baking, earning an income for their work.
Meeting Karen was inspiring. Not only had she quit her corporate job to build her business, she also wasn’t afraid to ask herself the hard questions. When she was just starting out, dealing with rising costs and increasing rent prices, one of her investors suggested that she could postpone buying rice for the elderly until her business was more stable.
This was when she realized that she did not want to treat the humanitarian aspect of her business as a ploy for good marketing. It was an intrinsic part, the DNA of what she works toward with her business. As a result, every month, she has a double bottom line: one to make her business sustainable, and the other to buy rice for the elderly. She has also found partners who fill in some of the gaps in her information: nursing homes who communicate their needs, and coffee shops that sell her their baked goods.
In our partnership together, we are creating custom Spread the Love workshops just for brides, as they celebrate their upcoming weddings with bridal showers and bachelorette parties. These workshops not only celebrate the bride, but also inspire others to make a difference through creativity. In our custom workshops, participants will have an opportunity to learn modern calligraphy and watercolor painting, decorate a specially made sweet treat, and also enjoy the delicious spread baked by Karen. 100% of the profits will sponsor charity programs that support the elderly in Hong Kong.
By reaching out and dreaming together, something new sprang forth. By putting our efforts together to make a difference in the lives of the elderly, our impact and reach is wider. Also, as an added bonus, it was very encouraging for me to meet someone who understood the struggles of starting her own business, whom I can now turn to and share the ups and downs of forging one’s own path in this city.
It’s valuable to see potential competitors as assets and cheerleaders. Businesses often spring up because they see a solution to a problem that the world is facing. In creating solutions together with other people in the industry, we can maximize our resources to solve society’s biggest problems and raise up those who are most vulnerable.
I try to judge how well a city is doing not by how many millionaires are in its population, but how a society treats its most vulnerable. So let’s flip that dog-eat-dog model around and embrace the idea that the road to business success is not about being on top, but about working together so that everyone wins.