Johnson Cook

Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Johnson Cook - Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Be Afraid of a Guy with Fire and Traction


SteamrollerYesterday, I had a conversation about an industry I follow closely. It was fascinating to me, because I think there are lessons to be learned and inspiration to be leveraged.

There are a few small industries I follow closely. For the purpose of this post, let me define what I mean: there are relatively few competitors, the players know each other, and new companies don’t go unnoticed very long.   (Also by the way: this industry and players shall remain nameless, so I can stay out of witness protection for some of the things I’m about to say!)

In this industry there are a lot of old school, entrenched, big players. They’ve been setting the rules to their game and benefiting from it for many years.  The executives typically are not overly entrepreneurial and find themselves moving slow on strategic course changes, nimble technology upgrades, etc… This has worked well for them for a long time, so I’m not faulting them at all or even necessarily saying they are at a disadvantage because of this. Just defining the broad landscape.

What’s interesting in this industry is that there is one new player who is persistently changing the rules to the game. This company seems to go against the grain in everything. Everyone else is going left, so they go right. Everyone else lowers prices, so they raise them. Everyone else raises prices… they lower.  From the outside, they are unpredictable and slippery.

Having the benefit of knowing the founding team, I can also give you a little insight into this new player’s WHY… and this is where the lessons live.

These guys aren’t in the industry because they want to take out the competitors. They aren’t in it for the money. They aren’t in it because they have any axes to grind or because they want to prove a point. They don’t even want to be Zuckerbergs.

They have a cause. They believe can make the world a better place through the work they are doing. They really and truly think about their own children every day they go to work. Because they know, deep down, that what they are doing will benefit their children many years in the future. They want to change an industry. They want to change a paradigm. They are determined to make a lasting impact.

They are on fire.

Back to yesterdays conversation…

My friend was talking about these game-changers, how they are perceived, and how the entrenched big players are reacting. He said:

Everyone is asking about So-and-so (game changers) and what they are thinking. They are crazy if they think they can beat the big guys!  Their model can’t be sustainable. They are going to flame out, not last. Everyone just needs to ignore them and wait them out. 

So it got me thinking later about that comment and that stance.  Applying a little more of my inside knowledge, I can see that this is what has been happening for 10 years or so. Everyone has been ignoring them, and they have continued to grow like wildfire.  What’s even more interesting is thinking what it must be like to compete against a game-changing company that is powered and motivated by their own FIRE.

Be on FireThere aren’t many times when fear should come into strategic business discussions. But if I were running one of these old-school, entrenched companies, I would have a conversation with my board that would encourage them to “be afraid, be very afraid” of a new player with these two advantages: a little bit of traction and a lot of gumption/passion/FIRE. These guys will be unstoppable. They aren’t coming for you as a competitor, but they are going to change the industry. And when they do, they will be a steamroller for anything and everything in their path.

The point: to look at a company with genuine alignment from a competitive standpoint is inspiring.  

If you have this alignment in your business, congratulations.

If you have this alignment and a little traction, then you’ve made it.

People should fear you. People do fear you.  You are a lion. Now keep steamrolling what you have to steamroll to bring your vision to life.



Category: Action, Inspiration

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