The fifth and final episode of The Structured Start-Up Podcast is all about the competitive landscape. For this episode, we turned to Lee Ross, the CEO of SlateXP, a Birmingham-based student safety software company. Ross has successfully launched two companies in online education and student safety markets, one of which exited with a sale to large international education services and product company. SlateXP’s current technology, LearnSafe, ensures responsible technology use and mitigates risk in K-12 schools.

The already-hot competitive landscape for school e-safety and online learning solution software grew even hotter when the COVID-19 pandemic caused schools to switch to online learning. In fact, experts expect the digital education market to hit USD 77.23 billion by 2028. With his extensive experience in the field, we could find no one better to interview about surveying the competitive landscape. Here’s a preview of some of the wisdom Ross shared with us on our podcast.

Understand Your Ecosystem.

Ross discusses the importance of knowing your industry ecosystem. This includes knowing your competitors – and keeping up to date with what they’re doing. What happens to and with competitors’ products can teach founders a lot about the potential for their products. For instance, Ross mentions that the LearnSafe team has noticed sizable merger and acquisition activity with their larger competitors. This is encouraging news for the LearnSafe team, as it shows that “it’s really hot space right now.” In other words, good news for other players means that the space is viable, and that there’s potential for good news for other companies in the ecosystem.

Know Your Advantages – and Disadvantages – in Comparison to Your Competitors.

It is true that being a smaller player in an industry ecosystem may mean less investment and sales. However, it also means more flexibility – and, if your company adjusts to offer a product or service your larger competitors can’t, flexibility can be a major advantage. For instance, many of LearnSafe’s competitors only monitor social media or the G Suite. LearnSafe monitors the entire computer, which means they can capture at-risk behavior that their competitors can’t. That may seem like a small thing, but it makes a huge difference for a school if an incident occurs outside of social media or the G Suite – or offline entirely.

Find Your Niche, and Half Your Work Is Done

Ross speaks of the importance of understanding not only competitor products but their sales and marketing tactics as well. For instance, many of LearnSafe’s competitors have a consumer market play – and consumer market customer acquisition can be extremely expensive. LearnSafe, then, takes a different approach by focusing on business-to-business sales and marketing. This allows LearnSafe to differentiate themselves both in terms of the product’s unique features and in terms of their sales techniques and marketing practices. Find a company’s niche also allows the founder to examine the market and see how much of it is actually addressable. “That’s the critical thing to identify,” Ross says, “especially if you’re trying to bring on investors.”

You can find all five episodes of The Structured Start-Up podcast here, or wherever you get your podcasts.