Competitive Scale-up Positioning— Know your Sandbox ⦨ Master Your Scaleup's Competitive Positioning: Define Your Sandbox for Product-Market Dominance ⦨ Midstage Institute

Competitive Scale-up Positioning: Know your Sandbox


Strengthening the competitive positioning for your scale-up company is the key to reaching product-market-dominance. Using our free “sandbox” tool, you can quickly figure out your competitive focus in products, segments, geography and activities.

Are You Growing In All Directions?

Is yourscaleup company seeing incredible growth? You may both be lucky—and set for disaster. Of course, growth is definitely what you want for your scaleup. But when it happens on all fronts, you may stretch yourself too thin. Does your approach feel too generic? More specialized competitors will be pitching to your juiciest customers already.

Defining The Sandbox(es) You Play In

In my experience, the times when you could grow in any direction are the best times to be clear about your “sandbox(es)” you play in:

  • product offering(s)

  • customer segment(s)

  • geography/ies served

  • business activities performed in-house

Our competitive sandboxes tool (free download) helps you and your team define that very sandbox. Both for you and your closest competitors.

Towards Product-Market-Dominance

Startup founders seek growth in any direction promising product-market-fit. But scaleup leaders seek only growth that gets them closer to _product-market-dominance._The #1 goal of a scale-up is to become the undisputed leader of a growing market segment. However narrow the definition of that segment may be.

All About Focus On The Chosen Market

Winning a chosen product-market-segment requires intense focus of resources. Are you nowhere near projectable leadership of your current markets? Then you’re not focusing enough. The solution is to define your market more narrowly. Not broader, in the hope that you may catch a few clients elsewhere.

The fewer sandboxes you have to play in, the more likely you are to dominate one. And once you have one under full control, it becomes much easier to expand into adjacent sandboxes one-by-one. Without risking control of your home base.

Verifying Your Sandboxes

The competitive sandboxes tool helps you understand the sandboxes you serve. I recommend the executive team use the tool in a quarterly or annual planning session.

  1. Defining the sandboxes. List products sold, geographies (continents) covered, segments targeted and key activities performed in-house. In case of doubt, count only activities/products/segments/geographies with resources assigned. Do not count opportunistic forays without an owner.

  2. Now plot the number of products, segments, geographies and activities on the axes of the chart. E.g. if you sell three products, plot a dot on coordinate (0,-3). You should have a dot on each of the four axes. Connect the dots with a line. Mark the squares within the shape with a black (strong) or white (weak) circle.

  3. Compare with your colleagues. Do you have the same shapes? Are they roughly the same size? Can you agree on a common shape and size?

  4. As a group, identify your top #3 competitors. Do the same exercise for each competitor. First as individuals, then compare results.

  5. As a group, discuss which competitor is most and least successful. To what degree is their focus a driving factor of their success?

  6. How can you increase your own competitiveness? Would you be better off expanding your sandboxes or reducing them? In which direction would you first seek reduction or expansion?

  7. Write the desired areas of focus for the short, mid, and long-term into the table at the top right.

  8. Plot your short, mid and long-term sandbox positionings on the bottom right chart.

  9. As a group, derive the most urgent short-term action points. How can you move from the current state to the future state as fast as possible.

Download The Competitive Sandbox worksheet below