The center of the road is an awkward place to be, but all too often, it’s the strategy that gets picked by entrepreneurs who want to hedge their bets.
Christopher Penn highlighted one particular sticky wicket for middle of the roaders: creative destruction:
Right now, the email marketing industry is going through a destruction phase. The “mid market” is vanishing, and has been since 2010-2011 in the email marketing industry. In the email marketing space, you are either serving the small business niche…or you are serving the enterprise. The middle of the road customer is vanishing as they either move up or down market, and the vendors are consolidating, too. That’s the destruction phase. The big players buy up the healthy companies, and the sickly ones eventually wither and perish. Very few companies ever successfully walk the middle of the road for their entire existence – they have to go big or small to survive.
Let’s focus on that last line: They have to go big or small to survive.
I appreciate that there’s a certain comfort in feeling like you can go one way or the other. I even understand the arguments for offering that level of flexibility. What I don’t accept, however, is the middle of the road as a long-term strategy. As Penn notes, it’s about survival, and hanging out in the middle doesn’t come with very good odds.
First, the middle is too narrow. Over time, the winners gravitate to one side or the other and the losers disappear. What remains is such a tiny portion, that unless you own the middle in your niche, survival becomes incredibly difficult.
Second, when you pick the middle, you’re setting up a scenario where someone else (i.e., not you) can determine your future success or failure. That can’t have been on your to-do list when you started your business. The desire to be an entrepreneur comes, in part, with the desire to have control. Sticking to the middle means giving up control.
Finally, you’re way too exposed when you hang out in the middle. You can only stand in the middle for so long before your hedging makes you a target. Instead of appealing to customers, you’re making it easier for competitors to do two things: 1) beat you (think small business) or 2) crush you (think enterprise).
Playing the middle game looks incredibly tempting. I’ve done it a time or two myself. But the cost is incredibly high.
Pick a side. You can’t afford not to.
Photo credit: Mike