by David B. Yoffie and Michael A. Cusumano
ITH THE RISE of Intemet-based competition, David and Goliath battles between companies are becoming more and more common. Fast, flexible entrants are taking on dominant incumbents, not only in high-tech sectors such as software and networking equipment, but also in traditionally low-tech industries like retail. Well-known examples include the conflicts between booksellers Amazon.com and Barnes &. Noble; toy retailers eToys and Toys R Us; and, most notably, Netscape, an upstart Internet-software maker, and Microsoft, the most powerful software company in the world. David B. Yoffie is the Max and Doris Starr Professor of International Business Administration at the Harvard Business School in Boston, Massachusetts. Michael A. Cusumano is the Sloan Distinguished Professor of Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management in Cambridge. This article is adapted from their book, Competing on Internet Time: Lessons from Netscape and Its Battle with Microsoft (Free Press, 1998J.
ARTWORK BY CURTIS PARKER
Many of these companies use a competitive approach that we call judo strategy.' In the martial art of judo, a combatant uses the weight and strength of his opponent to his own advantage rather than opposing blow directly to blov^'. Similarly, smart Internet start-ups aim to turn their opponents' resources, strength, and size against them. Judo strategy is based on three elements-rapid movement, flexibility, and leverage-each of which translates into a competitive principle. The first principle requires judo players to move rapidly to new markets and uncontested ground, thus avoiding head-to-head combat. The second principle demands that players give way to superior force when squarely attacked. Finally-and most important-the third principle calls for players to use the weight and strength of opponents against them. What judo strategists try to avoid are sumo matches. In a sumo match, combatants wrestle each other directly; the goal is to force the opponent either to the ground or out of the ring. Agility and brains matter, but weight and strength matter far more. If a small challenger gets into a sumo match-in other words, if it goes head-to-head against a large player with deep pockets - it is generally bound to lose. Judo strategy is a useful mindset for any small company competing with a large, better-established one, and it's especially well suited to turbulent, technology-driven Internet competition. However, judo strategy can be a powerful tool for any company-new or old, high-tech or low-tech, large or small. In fact, one irony of the NetscapeMicrosoft story is that giant Microsoft has turned out to be just as skilled a judo player as Netscape and maybe a better one. In the following pages, we will discuss the principles of judo strategy, as well as some of its limitations, using the battles between Netscape and Microsoft as an illustration.
What judo strategists try to avoid are sumo matclies, in which combatants go head-to-head.
still in college, Andreessen had been the driving force behind the creation of Mosaic, the first massmarket browser for the World Wide Web. Mosaic had an easy-to-use, button-based interface, and it integrated images with text; those elements made information on the Internet as attractive and useful as a printed page. Mosaic quickly became the "killer app" that turned the Internet into a consumer medium. Following the browser's release in February 1993, the Web exploded virtually overnight. Between June 1993 and June 1994, the number of sites on the Web grew by 2,000%. By the end of 1994, users had downloaded two million copies of Mosaic. The browser continued to proliferate at a rate of 100,000 copies per month. Clark and...