“If there is a Golaith in front of you, that means there is a David inside of you.”
– Carlos Rodriguez
This is Entrepreneurs of Faith, a Sunday episode of Monetization Nation. I’m Nathan Gwilliam, your host. In today’s episode, we’re going to discuss the amazing underdog story of David and Goliath how entrepreneurs can learn from David to conquer their Goliaths.
The Story of David and Goliath
1 Samuel chapter 17 in the Bible tells the story of David’s victory over Goliath. In the Valley of Elah during the year 1063 B.C., two armies faced each other. On one side was the army of the Philistines and on the other King Saul’s Israelite army. Though the armies were somewhat evenly matched in the number of soldiers and skill, the Philistines had one thing that Saul’s army didn’t: iron.
The Philistines had been able to keep their knowledge of smelting and fashioning iron into formidable weapons of war a secret. Iron was far superior to the brass weapons of King Saul’s army.
During this time, it was common for champions to challenge others from the opposing forces to single combat. In fact, there had been several battles decided by individual combat.
One of the champions of the Philistines was a man named Goliath of Gath. His height was six cubits and a span, which is about nine feet tall. “He had a helmet of brass upon his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail . . . And he had greaves of brass upon his legs, and a target of brass between his shoulders. And the staff of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron: and one bearing a shield went before him.” (KJV 1 Samuel 17:5-7)
Needless to say, Goliath was a fearsome man. Twice per day for 40 days, he called out to the armies of Saul, saying, “Choose you a man for you and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and to kill me, then will we be your servants: but if I prevail against him, and kill him, then shall ye be our servants, and serve us.” (KJV 1 Samuel 17:8-9)
Saul, the King of Israel, and the Israelite army were afraid and did not accept Goliath’s challenge. However, there was one who wasn’t afraid. The young shepherd David told Saul he would fight Goliath as he had fought lions and bears that had threatened his flock. Saul offered David his armor, but David refused. David prepared for battle by finding five smooth stones and taking them and his sling with him to meet Goliath.
Goliath taunted and mocked David. David said to Goliath, “Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied. This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand; and I will smite thee.” (KJV 1 Samuel 17:45-46)
“When the Philistine arose, and came and drew nigh to meet David, that David hasted, and ran toward the army to meet the Philistine. And David put his hand in his bag, and took thence a stone, and slang it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead, that the stone sunk into his forehead; and he fell upon his face to the earth. So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and smote the Philistine, and slew him; but there was no sword in the hand of David.” (KJV 1 Samuel 17:48-50)
Then, the Philistine army turned and ran. The Israelite army pursued and won the battle.
Like David facing Goliath, entrepreneurs also constantly face many challenges and obstacles. The Philistine army had leveraged the tectonic shift of iron, which gave them a huge competitive advantage.
I don’t have any experience with the military, But, I have been told that when one army has a competitive advantage over the other army, that competitive advantage is often called a “force multiplier.” For example, during the war with Iraq, the U.S. army had many force multipliers, such as superior aircraft, missiles, night vision, and a superior missile defense system. These force multipliers allowed the U.S. army to have a lot more force for each soldier engaged in that battle. Many of these force multipliers, such as advanced missiles and missile defense systems, could probably also be considered tectonic shifts in modern warfare. Because Israel had not leveraged that tectonic shift to iron like the Philistines, they were in a precarious situation.
Compete with Our Strengths Against Their Weaknesses
Often entrepreneurs are in a similar situation where one of our competitors has a huge competitive advantage over us. The competitor may have been in business a lot longer. They may have a lot more revenue, a much larger team, a bigger office, more customers, huge trade show booths, etc. They may have even leveraged a tectonic shift before us or may have purchased a competitor who effectively leveraged a tectonic shift. We may look at this competitor and feel that there is no way we can beat them because of their size and resources.
That fear is half true. It is true we cannot beat them . . . at their own game. If our competitors have a large advantage, then we should not take them on where they have a competitive advantage. We must find their weakness and figure out how to attack them there.
How did David beat Goliath? It is true that Goliath had an enormous competitive advantage in his size and strength and the quality and size of his sword and armor. If David tried to fight him strength against strength, or sword and armor against sword and armor, David’s chance of winning would have been very low.
Of course, that is not taking into account the power of God, who can do all things and is the ultimate competitive advantage. God gave David a different idea than fighting strength against strength and sword against sword.
Instead, David realized that Goliah’s competitive advantage, his force multiplier of iron, also had a weakness. It was very heavy, especially the amount of armor it takes to cover a nine-foot man. David knew that Goliath would not be able to move quickly and by choosing to wear no armor and to carry no sword, David could have a competitive advantage with speed. David could easily keep his distance from Goliath and sling stones at him, safe from that long iron sword.
By not trying to match up to his weakness against Goliath’s strengths, David was able to focus matching up his strengths—speed, a sling, and stones—against Goliath’s weakness—his lack of mobility.
Like David, sometimes we need to find unique ways to overcome those obstacles. Like David, it is generally best not to match our weaknesses against the strengths of our opponents. Instead, we need to find the weakness of our competitors and develop a strength we can use to attack them. David’s sling and stones might even be seen as his own tectonic shift in warfare, keeping distance from a competitor and shooting projectiles at them. That sounds similar to a strategy that helped the U.S. colonists win the Revolutionary War.
David could not beat Goliath doing the same thing Goliath was doing. David had to find and leverage a different tectonic shift. The same thing is true in business. When we face something like larger competitors with a lot more resources, we often cannot use the same strategies they are using to dominate. If we do, we will probably lose. Instead, we have to find our tectonic shift, something that our competitors aren’t doing yet or aren’t doing well.
Modern Day Davids and Goliaths
Malcolm Gladwell has a book about this called David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.
In an interview about the book, Gladwell said, “This is the classic story of the business world. The very same thing that appears to make a company so formidable—its size, its resources—serves as stumbling blocks when they’re forced to respond to a situation where the rules are changing, and where nimbleness, and flexibility, and adaptability are better attributes. Which is the story of David and Goliath, right? David had nimbleness. He changed the rules. He brought in the superior of technology.”
Here are a few stories of companies that started out as underdogs, but who were able to succeed through innovation and leveraging tectonic shifts.
Apple was started in 1976, by college dropouts Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne, who sold his share of the company for $800 three months later. Michael Dell, CEO of Dell, was skeptical about the company. He “once said that if he owned Apple he would shut down the company and give shareholders their money back.” (Source: Investopedia.com)
Jobs proved him wrong though. He said, “It’s only us and Dell making money. They’re making money because they’re Walmart, we’re making it because we’re innovating.” (Source: Investopedia.com)
Apple found success because they didn’t do exactly what Dell was doing. As Jobs said, they innovated, finding and leveraging the tectonic shifts that worked for their company.
“Since 1976, Apple has grown into the multinational technology mogul that we know today. Apple is now the world’s largest information technology company by revenue and the world’s third-largest mobile phone manufacturer.” (Source: Medium.com)
Before Netflix dominated the streaming arena, it was a DVD-rental-by-mail company. Its biggest competitor was Blockbuster. “In 2000, Netflix executives met with Blockbuster and offered to sell the company for $50 million, which Blockbuster refused.” (Source: Investopedia.com)
Blockbuster has since filed for bankruptcy and shuttered 9,000 stores (Source: Medium.com). Now, Netflix has “193 million paid subscribers in more than 190 countries.” (Source: Investopedia.com)
Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank were fired from Handy Dan, “one of America’s leading home improvement retailer chains.” (Source: Medium.com) They decided to use this as an opportunity to start their own company. They opened Home Depot in 1981, creating “one-stop shopping for the do-it-yourself customer.” (Source: Investopedia.com) Home Depot now has more than 2,200 stores in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico (Source: corporate.homedepot.com).
Being Small and Nimble is a Competitive Advantage
“The big companies we compete against are like Goliath, large and lumbering, slow to change. Can we be David, quick and noble, willing to think outside the box, and find a new and disruptive way to solve the most important problem.”
(Source: Glenn Tulman in Forbes)
Choose an Unconventional Strategy
Ian Brookes in From the Lighthouse said, “The political scientist Ivan Arreguín-Toft looked at every war fought in the past 200 years between strong and weak combatants. The Goliaths, he found, won in 71.5% of the cases. That is a remarkable fact, especially when the result is in the context of the sample of conflicts analyzed was where one side was at least ten times as powerful in terms of armed might and population as its opponent – even in those lopsided contests, the underdog won almost a third of the time. Why, what happened? Simply, the underdogs acknowledged their weaknesses and chose an unconventional strategy. In those cases, David’s winning percentage went from 28.5% to 63.6%. When underdogs choose not to play by Goliath’s rules, they win, Arreguín-Toft concluded.”
Here are some of my key takeaways from this episode:
1. David changed the rules in his battle with Goliath and used the sling and stone as a tectonic shift to give himself a competitive advantage and remove Golaith’s advantage.
2. Like David, we can leverage tectonic shifts to give ourselves the advantage over much larger competitors.
3. Don’t match our weaknesses up against our competitor’s strengths. Instead figure a way to develop strength and use it to attack the competitor’s weakness, like David used his nimbleness to compete against the giant’s inability to move quickly in the heavy iron armor.
4. David was nimble and could adapt to his surroundings faster than Goliath. Being nimble and moving quickly is often a competitive advantage of small companies. Often small companies can adapt to changes in the world faster than large ones.
5. Don’t try to do things the same way as our larger competitors. Find an unconventional way to more effectively accomplish the most important goals.
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