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Like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs: Competition in the Post-COVID-19 Era

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October 27, 2020 10 min read

This article was translated from our Spanish edition using AI technologies. Errors may exist due to this process.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Everyone is gradually adjusting to the “new normal” and the post-COVID-19 era . Surely you have already read or heard what many say about their vision of how the world will change in the short, medium and long term after what the pandemic came to transform in the world in all areas (personal, family, work, economic, social, political, etc.).

One of the positive aspects that the new coronavirus brought was how many people in the world (and perhaps it is happening to you), are raising their level of consciousness, connecting from a new, more holistic perspective, more “spiritual” to say the least shape. And I focus on positive aspects because, if entrepreneurs who own Small and Medium Enterprises ( SMEs ) must have any skill, it is always to see the positive side of things. The learning behind the problem challenge.

Today I want to propose a totally different and perhaps even disruptive way of understanding your competition .

In recent centuries, the vision of business competition has been closely linked to the scheme – very limited, by the way – of the “Law of Evolution” or survival. That is, surely you learned like most of us that in nature there is the law of survival of the “fittest” and that the same should be in business.

Countless authors have referred to and borrowed concepts and tools from writings such as Sun Tzu’s The Art of War to apply it to the business world. It is common to hear phrases in business terminology such as: “Beating the competition” , “Strategies for the competition” , “Analysis of the competition” , “Beating the competition” and so on.

What if I told you that the “Law of the Strongest” or the “Law of the Jungle” does not exist and that instead I asked you to open your consciousness and observe for yourself to discover that in the universe the only thing that exists is the COOPERATION – There is no competition.

Someone might say “That is not true, the lion competes with the gazelle to eat it and the big fish eats the small fish .” But I want to teach you a new perspective that could change your vision of your competition and life in general. The lion does not compete with the gazelle, he cooperates. The gazelle cooperates with the lion in a mechanism perfectly established in nature of a perfect balance where the herbivore helps the predator to feed it, even if the process is a chase. When the lion dies it cooperates with the microorganisms that disintegrate it (eat it) and reintegrate it back into the land, into the ecosystem. The earth cooperates with the plants so that they can grow and, in turn, the plants cooperate with the animals that feed on them such as gazelles.

The small fish cooperates with the large fish so that it can feed and, BEWARE, not all large fish eat the small fish. Have you heard of the whale shark that only eats plankton and does not eat fish?

Cooperation, cooperation, cooperation everywhere. I highly recommend that you watch the documentary I am ” by director Tom Shadyac , renowned director of famous comedies like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective . After suffering a bicycle accident in 2007 that could have left him seriously incapacitated, Shadyac was forced to reevaluate his lifestyle and ask himself important questions that needed big answers.

In addition to this, I want to propose another concept of competition: competition is YOUR BEST TEACHER ; the one that is constantly leading you to improve your products and services. In sports, for example, there are many stories of the healthy competitive relationship that exists between athletes of the highest levels and who develop a deep respect for their most bitter opponents because they come to understand that they make them grow. To take a few examples: Leonel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in soccer, Mika Hakkinen and Michael Schumacher in Formula 1, and Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in tennis.


Cristiano Ronaldo and Leonel Messi / Image: Depositphotos.com

And if we talk about business, we can rename the famous love-hate relationship that ended in a relationship of great respect and admiration between Steve Jobs of Apple and Bill Gates of Microsoft, to such a degree that the latter became the main financial rescuer Apple in its difficult years. What’s more, in his last days as Steve Jobs, before he passed away, Bill Gates was one of the people who visited him in the hospital on several occasions.

Two little stories

I would like to share with you two little stories about this new way of understanding the competition.

The first is a story about a farmer in America. This farmer had won a regional award for the best crop for several years in a row.

When asked what his secret was, he replied:

“Very simple. I take my best seeds and give them to my neighbors, to my competitors ”.

The person who was interviewing him, surprised, asked him in surprise: “But if they are your competitors, why are you giving them your best seeds?”

The farm man replied: “In agriculture there is cross pollination. That is, with the wind and insects, the seeds of my crops end up pollinating the crops of my neighbors and vice versa. So, if I gift my best seeds to them and they improve their crops, then I will inevitably receive cross-pollination from their crops in my crops and what better than the best seeds. We all win when we all do well ”.

Image: Depositphotos.com

The second is a story of a Chilean chicken production company.

I do not remember the details of the names of the companies involved in this story since I studied this case many years ago in a Diploma in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). In Chile there were two leading chicken production companies that competed fiercely for the market. On one occasion, one of them caught fire at its main production plant. The other competing company, instead of taking advantage of this tragedy and trying to give it a final “thrust” to get its “rival” out of the market, approached the company to offer its own facilities to continue producing chickens while they recovered and rebuilt the plant that caught fire.

And now, how do I apply this in my company?

I’m going to tell you about my own experience. A few months ago when COVID-19 emerged, in my company we sent an email to all our entrepreneurial contacts who own SMEs to offer them a series of free tools to help them. And at the end of the email we made a comment in which we mentioned that if none of the options we offered to help them worked for them, they should seek help elsewhere, but not stop doing it. We listed five of our direct competitors for them. We did it from the heart, without any hidden agenda, understanding this new concept of competition: cooperation.

To my surprise, a couple of weeks after sending the email I received a response from the director of one of the competitor companies that we had mentioned who was registered in our database without us knowing. His email was a pleasant surprise, he thanked me for the gesture of that email and invited me to talk one of these days. We scheduled a call and it turns out that I met one of my “new best friends”, we hit it off on this vision of cooperation instead of competition, understanding that there was enough market for everyone and that we would never have enough to serve him alone.

After another week I received another email from another competitor who was also on the list and we also scheduled another call. To cut a long story short, today we are having Master Mind sessions every 15 days to help us by openly sharing without reservation our best practices, frustrations and challenges to be better and thus better help our clients.

Who better to understand what I live in my business than someone who has a business very similar to mine? And I can tell you that I have a real interest in helping them in any way I can so that they do very well and I know that the feeling is mutual.

I am convinced that only good things are going to result from this by giving “my best seeds” to my competitors so that eventually with “cross pollination” we will all be better. In addition, by sharing all my best practices with them, I am fulfilling my mission of helping all entrepreneurs who own SMEs that can be successful in an “indirect” way through them.

I hope this that I just shared with you helps you change your perspective on your competition. In the new post-COVID-19 era if we do not raise our consciousness and start doing business in a different way – more ethical, more comprehensive, more holistic – we will end up destroying our planet.

The recent history of the human being is plagued with unethical and often immoral actions that companies commit against their own clients, the environment, their collaborators, and others, in order to “win the game” and “eliminate the rival ”.

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The Trump campaign celebrated a growth record that Democrats downplayed.

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The White House celebrated economic growth numbers for the third quarter released on Thursday, even as Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s presidential campaign sought to throw cold water on the report — the last major data release leading up to the Nov. 3 election — and warned that the economic recovery was losing steam.

The economy grew at a record pace last quarter, but the upswing was a partial bounce-back after an enormous decline and left the economy smaller than it was before the pandemic. The White House took no notice of those glum caveats.

“This record economic growth is absolute validation of President Trump’s policies, which create jobs and opportunities for Americans in every corner of the country,” Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign said in a statement, highlighting a rebound of 33.1 percent at an annualized rate. Mr. Trump heralded the data on Twitter, posting that he was “so glad” that the number had come out before Election Day.

The annualized rate that the White House emphasized extrapolates growth numbers as if the current pace held up for a year, and risks overstating big swings. Because the economy’s growth has been so volatile amid the pandemic, economists have urged focusing on quarterly numbers.

Those showed a 7.4 percent gain in the third quarter. That rebound, by far the biggest since reliable statistics began after World War II, still leaves the economy short of its pre-pandemic levels. The pace of recovery has also slowed, and now coronavirus cases are rising again across much of the United States, raising the prospect of further pullback.

“The recovery is stalling out, thanks to Trump’s refusal to have a serious plan to deal with Covid or to pass a new economic relief plan for workers, small businesses and communities,” Mr. Biden’s campaign said in a release ahead of Thursday’s report. The rebound was widely expected, and the campaign characterized it as “a partial return from a catastrophic hit.”

Economists have warned that the recovery could face serious roadblocks ahead. Temporary measures meant to shore up households and businesses — including unemployment insurance supplements and forgivable loans — have run dry. Swaths of the service sector remain shut down as the virus continues to spread, and job losses that were temporary are increasingly turning permanent.

“With coronavirus infections hitting a record high in recent days and any additional fiscal stimulus unlikely to arrive until, at the earliest, the start of next year, further progress will be much slower,” Paul Ashworth, chief United States economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a note following the report.

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Black and Hispanic workers, especially women, lag in the U.S. economic recovery.

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The surge in economic output in the third quarter set a record, but the recovery isn’t reaching everyone.

Economists have long warned that aggregate statistics like gross domestic product can obscure important differences beneath the surface. In the aftermath of the last recession, for example, G.D.P. returned to its previous level in early 2011, even as poverty rates remained high and the unemployment rate for Black Americans was above 15 percent.

Aggregate statistics could be even more misleading during the current crisis. The job losses in the initial months of the pandemic disproportionately struck low-wage service workers, many of them Black and Hispanic women. Service-sector jobs have been slow to return, while school closings are keeping many parents, especially mothers, from returning to work. Nearly half a million Hispanic women have left the labor force over the last three months.

“If we’re thinking that the economy is recovering completely and uniformly, that is simply not the case,” said Michelle Holder, an economist at John Jay College in New York. “This rebound is unevenly distributed along racial and gender lines.”

The G.D.P. report released Thursday doesn’t break down the data by race, sex or income. But other sources make the disparities clear. A pair of studies by researchers at the Urban Institute released this week found that Black and Hispanic adults were more likely to have lost jobs or income since March, and were twice as likely as white adults to experience food insecurity in September.

The financial impact of the pandemic hit many of the families that were least able to afford it, even as white-collar workers were largely spared, said Michael Karpman, an Urban Institute researcher and one of the studies’ authors.

“A lot of people who were already in a precarious position before the pandemic are now in worse shape, whereas people who were better off have generally been faring better financially,” he said.

Federal relief programs, such as expanded unemployment benefits, helped offset the damage for many families in the first months of the pandemic. But those programs have mostly ended, and talks to revive them have stalled in Washington. With virus cases surging in much of the country, Mr. Karpman warned, the economic toll could increase.

“There could be a lot more hardship coming up this winter if there’s not more relief from Congress, with the impact falling disproportionately on Black and Hispanic workers and their families,” he said.

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Ant Challenged Beijing and Prospered. Now It Toes the Line.

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As Jack Ma of Alibaba helped turn China into the world’s biggest e-commerce market over the past two decades, he was also vowing to pull off a more audacious transformation.

“If the banks don’t change, we’ll change the banks,” he said in 2008, decrying how hard it was for small businesses in China to borrow from government-run lenders.

“The financial industry needs disrupters,” he told People’s Daily, the official Communist Party newspaper, a few years later. His goal, he said, was to make banks and other state-owned enterprises “feel unwell.”

The scope of Mr. Ma’s success is becoming clearer. The vehicle for his financial-technology ambitions, an Alibaba spinoff called Ant Group, is preparing for the largest initial public offering on record. Ant is set to raise $34 billion by selling its shares to the public in Hong Kong and Shanghai, according to stock exchange documents released on Monday. After the listing, Ant would be worth around $310 billion, much more than many global banks.

The company is going public not as a scrappy upstart, but as a leviathan deeply dependent on the good will of the government Mr. Ma once relished prodding.

More than 730 million people use Ant’s Alipay app every month to pay for lunch, invest their savings and shop on credit. Yet Alipay’s size and importance have made it an inevitable target for China’s regulators, which have already brought its business to heel in certain areas.

These days, Ant talks mostly about creating partnerships with big banks, not disrupting or supplanting them. Several government-owned funds and institutions are Ant shareholders and stand to profit handsomely from the public offering.

The question now is how much higher Ant can fly without provoking the Chinese authorities into clipping its wings further.

Excitable investors see Ant as a buzzy internet innovator. The risk is that it becomes more like a heavily regulated “financial digital utility,” said Fraser Howie, the co-author of “Red Capitalism: The Fragile Financial Foundation of China’s Extraordinary Rise.”

“Utility stocks, as far as I remember, were not the ones to be seen as the most exciting,” Mr. Howie said.

Ant declined to comment, citing the quiet period demanded by regulators before its share sale.

The company has played give-and-take with Beijing for years. As smartphone payments became ubiquitous in China, Ant found itself managing huge piles of money in Alipay users’ virtual wallets. The central bank made it park those funds in special accounts where they would earn minimal interest.

After people piled into an easy-to-use investment fund inside Alipay, the government forced the fund to shed risk and lower returns. Regulators curbed a plan to use Alipay data as the basis for a credit-scoring system akin to Americans’ FICO scores.

China’s Supreme Court this summer capped interest rates for consumer loans, though it was unclear how the ceiling would apply to Ant. The central bank is preparing a new virtual currency that could compete against Alipay and another digital wallet, the messaging app WeChat, as an everyday payment tool.

Ant has learned ways of keeping the authorities on its side. Mr. Ma once boasted at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, about never taking money from the Chinese government. Today, funds associated with China’s social security system, its sovereign wealth fund, a state-owned life insurance company and the national postal carrier hold stakes in Ant. The I.P.O. is likely to increase the value of their holdings considerably.

“That’s how the state gets its payoff,” Mr. Howie said. With Ant, he said, “the line between state-owned enterprise and private enterprise is highly, highly blurred.”

China, in less than two generations, went from having a state-planned financial system to being at the global vanguard of internet finance, with trillions of dollars in transactions being made on mobile devices each year. Alipay had a lot to do with it.

Alibaba created the service in the early 2000s to hold payments for online purchases in escrow. Its broader usefulness quickly became clear in a country that mostly missed out on the credit card era. Features were added and users piled in. It became impossible for regulators and banks not to see the app as a threat.

ImageAnt Group’s headquarters in Hangzhou, China.
Credit…Alex Plavevski/EPA, via Shutterstock

A big test came when Ant began making an offer to Alipay users: Park your money in a section of the app called Yu’ebao, which means “leftover treasure,” and we will pay you more than the low rates fixed by the government at banks.

People could invest as much or as little as they wanted, making them feel like they were putting their pocket change to use. Yu’ebao was a hit, becoming one of the world’s largest money market funds.

The banks were terrified. One commentator for a state broadcaster called the fund a “vampire” and a “parasite.”

Still, “all the main regulators remained unanimous in saying that this was a positive thing for the Chinese financial system,” said Martin Chorzempa, a research fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

“If you can’t actually reform the banks,” Mr. Chorzempa said, “you can inject more competition.”

But then came worries about shadowy, unregulated corners of finance and the dangers they posed to the wider economy. Today, Chinese regulators are tightening supervision of financial holding companies, Ant included. Beijing has kept close watch on the financial instruments that small lenders create out of their consumer loans and sell to investors. Such securities help Ant fund some of its lending. But they also amplify the blowup if too many of those loans aren’t repaid.

“Those kinds of derivative products are something the government is really concerned about,” said Tian X. Hou, founder of the research firm TH Data Capital. Given Ant’s size, she said, “the government should be concerned.”

The broader worry for China is about growing levels of household debt. Beijing wants to cultivate a consumer economy, but excessive borrowing could eventually weigh on people’s spending power. The names of two of Alipay’s popular credit functions, Huabei and Jiebei, are jaunty invitations to spend and borrow.

Huang Ling, 22, started using Huabei when she was in high school. At the time, she didn’t qualify for a credit card. With Huabei’s help, she bought a drone, a scooter, a laptop and more.

The credit line made her feel rich. It also made her realize that if she actually wanted to be rich, she had to get busy.

“Living beyond my means forced me to work harder,” Ms. Huang said.

First, she opened a clothing shop in her hometown, Nanchang, in southeastern China. Then she started an advertising company in the inland metropolis of Chongqing. When the business needed cash, she borrowed from Jiebei.

Online shopping became a way to soothe daily anxieties, and Ms. Huang sometimes racked up thousands of dollars in Huabei bills, which only made her even more anxious. When the pandemic slammed her business, she started falling behind on her payments. That cast her into a deep depression.

Finally, early this month, with her parents’ help, she paid off her debts and closed her Huabei and Jiebei accounts. She felt “elated,” she said.

China’s recent troubles with freewheeling online loan platforms have put the government under pressure to protect ordinary borrowers.

Ant is helped by the fact that its business lines up with many of the Chinese leadership’s priorities: encouraging entrepreneurship and financial inclusion, and expanding the middle class. This year, the company helped the eastern city of Hangzhou, where it is based, set up an early version of the government’s app-based system for dictating coronavirus quarantines.

Such coziness is bound to raise hackles overseas. In Washington, Chinese tech companies that are seen as close to the government are radioactive.

In January 2017, Eric Jing, then Ant’s chief executive, said the company aimed to be serving two billion users worldwide within a decade. Shortly after, Ant announced that it was acquiring the money transfer company MoneyGram to increase its U.S. footprint. By the following January, the deal was dead, thwarted by data security concerns.

More recently, top officials in the Trump administration have discussed whether to place Ant Group on the so-called entity list, which prohibits foreign companies from purchasing American products. Officials from the State Department have suggested that an interagency committee, which also includes officials from the departments of defense, commerce and energy, review Ant for the potential entity listing, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Ant does not talk much anymore about expanding in the United States.

Ana Swanson contributed reporting.

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