A few weeks ago, I was listening to a podcast interview in which Jason Fried, the founder of Basecamp (formerly 37 Signals), was talking about how he has built his company and influenced his company’s culture. I first became a fan of Jason’s work and his ideas after he sent a box of his book, Rework, to my unit when I was still an instructor in the Marine Corps’ Combat Hunter Program. What immediately impressed me was how deliberate and intentional he seemingly was about every decision he made for his business. Many of his ideas have gone against the grain of “business as usual” as he provides all of his employees with a paid vacation anywhere they want to go in the world for themselves and their families, letting his employees work from anywhere in the world, and paying for personal education like guitar lessons or culinary school for his employees as a few examples. It was clear in his writing that the common sense (yet unconventional) decisions he was making were not something to do just because other businesses were doing it, but because it was the right thing to do for his company. That level of thoughtfulness has stuck with me over the last five years as Jonathan and I have built The CP Journal and we have tried to apply the high degree of intentionality to the decisions we have made. As there have been a growing number of people offering “Combat Hunter training” for civilians, we have had a number of conversations with people in the past few weeks about how we view competition in our business. As we have always strived to build a company that we would want to do business with, how we view these competitors has helped us to become even more customer-focused than before.
When people ask us how we view competition to our business, the short answer is that we don’t. We have made the choice to focus on customers over competition. We choose to apply the lessons from the “3 Buckets of Control” in our lives. The idea behind this practice is that you can place anything you are encountering in your life into one of three buckets. The first bucket is for those things that we have complete and total control over. The second bucket is for those things that we might be able to influence, but we can’t actually control. The third bucket is reserved for those things that we have no control over, have no ability to influence and are the things that we just have to accept in our lives. When considering whether we should respond to competing products in the market, there are elements to this decision that fall into each of the three buckets.
The Third Bucket: The companies themselves that offer similar training programs to ours get placed in the third bucket for us. We proudly live in a capitalist, free market economy and, because it isn’t against the law to offer similar training to what another company offers, there isn’t anything we can do about the fact that they exist. We can’t dictate or influence the competitor’s decision to enter the marketplace or how they position their business, so there is no benefit to wasting time, attention or effort attempting to control the uncontrollable. Additionally, we rarely recommend that a professional only studies from one provider or one set of resources and encourage that they look at other training options that are available to continually expand their breadth in the field. When we learn about a new company offering to help their clients and customers get left of bang, we acknowledge that fact and then get back to working on what we can control and what we can influence.
The Second Bucket: When Jon and I consider the things that we can influence, but can’t totally control, we focus on our clients: those people who have committed their time or money to train with us. In the “buyer beware” world we live in, the work that goes into our “second bucket” efforts is focused on how we can educate people about our courses, our company and who we are as people. We know that we aren’t the answer for everyone, so we strive to simply be as transparent as possible and back up our words with action. Through our blog posts, the Weekly Profile, our social media accounts and by speaking at conferences, we work through those parts of the competitive landscape that we can influence, but not control.
As the rate of violence in America continues to rise, the amount of money being spent by people looking to keep themselves and their families safe on the “solutions” to violence will also continue to grow at a rapid rate. As this will attract a number of new providers, students doing their research on these companies will not find it hard to find people whose background doesn’t align with what they are promising. We talk to a lot of students who have worked with instructors whose background was very impressive on the surface, but who taught a poor class because their background wasn’t explicitly applicable to the course they were teaching. Because our approach is to focus on customers, not competitors, everything that goes into our second bucket is designed to educate those considering The CP Journal about who we are and, more importantly, who we aren’t.
The First Bucket: We choose to spend the majority of our time and effort living within the first bucket, those things that are truly within our complete control. For us, these are the in-person training programs we offer, our online training programs and the supporting resources that we build to make our students capable of establishing baselines, identifying anomalies and recognizing threats left of bang. Our sole measure of success is not quantified in market share, but in whether we have delivered on our promise to our students and whether they are more capable of ensuring their safety after our class than when they were before.
We build our courses in a modular format so that we can make rapid changes to them to tie in recent history, current events and feedback from our students about where the course can be improved. This feedback has driven us to do a complete overhaul of our training programs that will be released in the coming months to ensure that our students are capable of performing at a higher level than what is attainable in the current version. Because we don’t focus on our competition, but only on our customers, how astute, active and capable our students are as observers is the only thing that we can place into the first, and most important, bucket of control.
When it comes to considering those companies who we may be competing against for future work or prospective students, the three buckets of control is how we determine where to spend our time, attention and energy. The buckets allow for clear rules to simplify decision-making and establish our priorities not only when considering our competition, but for many aspects in our business and in our lives and being able to provide increasing value to our students.
Still interested? Here is the second part of our perspective on how we view competition.