How Startups Defeat Giant Established Companies

Build Your Marketing Stack With an Anti-Incumbent Strategy

Joe Procopio
4 min readJun 23, 2022


image by fxquadro on freepik

How do you fight multi-billion-dollar companies with a startup’s limited resources?

Almost every startup operates in an industry that’s “owned” by a few legacy players. And one of the primary reasons these young startups fail — whether from lack of traction or lack of investment — is because at any given moment, one of those legacy players can spare the pocket change to squeeze the startup out of the market.

Last week, a founder wrote in to me with this basic question: How do I win in a fragmented industry dominated by legacy incumbents?

The answer?

You go right at them.

I gave the founder what I thought she needed to fight her battle on her own turf. But it all starts with a basic battle strategy.

Use Your Strengths Against Their Weaknesses

The first step in that strategy is to identify the incumbent’s weakness and counter with your own strengths. This is much easier said than done. I mean, everyone knows the incumbent sucks — they’re slow, they’re not innovative, they’ve lost touch with their customer experience, and so on.

But here’s the thing. You need to go deeper than that. You’re not only fighting the giants, you’re also fighting all those other startups trying to fight those same giants. As you might imagine, all that saber-rattling creates a ton of noise, directed squarely at the customer, and if your strengths aren’t unique, and you don’t make it clear why your strengths are unique, customers will tune out your noise along with everyone else’s noise.

Take the time to not only document the incumbent’s weaknesses, but to source them. Then when you understand why they’re weak, you’ll have a better chance at highlighting the specific reasons why your solution is better.

Don’t Fight On Their Turf

It’s easy for a startup to get caught up in trying to be the better version of the incumbent. In fact, we entrepreneurs use the following descriptor way more often than we should:



Joe Procopio

I'm a multi-exit, multi-failure entrepreneur. NLG pioneer. Building & GROWERS. Write at and More at