At some point in 2023 I asked online for WordPress experts for the remake of a website, and it felt like opening a fire hose.
In the next few minutes, almost literal seconds, I started receiving not just a few, but literally hundreds of replies. Not only via the online platform that I used at first (LinkedIn) but also via email, instant messaging, and even quite a few phone calls. Yes. Phone calls.
The replies came from all over the world: India, Colombia, Nigeria, Ukraine, Vietnam. They came from small and big agencies, and hundreds of freelance experts requesting for attention. The reaction was so overwhelming that I literally deleted the post one hour later. I could not cope with the quantity of replies.
I did follow up with a few of those offers (arguably, those that arrived in the first few seconds after I published the request) and ended up choosing one of those companies. I explicitly wanted to work with an agency with at least 10 employees.
Some of those agencies I followed up with were extremely unprofessional, while others were doing an admirably good job. The variability in quality of the offers, the handling of the specifications, and the price ranges were outstanding large. In particular regarding the price, the variations were 10x as large from the cheapest to the most expensive. Some companies sent an offer just 24 hours later after our first contact, some did it almost a month after our first contact. Some offers were one-pagers, some were PDF booklets worthy of a multinational.
In 2004 W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne published a (now classic) business book called “Blue Ocean Strategy”, together with an article on the Harvard Business review. The central thesis of their work is that some markets are “red oceans” where competition is the toughest you can imagine, with innumerable competitors fighting for scraps.
During the RFP process I understood Kim and Mauborgne’s concepts from the point of view of the consumer: the WordPress market is one of those “red oceans”. It is very hard to tell competitors apart in such markets, if anything because of their sheer number.
I also had the impression that most of these agencies did not realize that they were in such a market; only two or three actively marketed themselves out of this cutthroat environment. I do not know if the other agencies truly understand how much generic they sound and look like from the outside.
The whole idea of a “blue ocean” is to distinguish yourself from the competition in such a way that you truly stand out, as a lone boat would appear in the middle of a blue sea. Your offering stands out, your professionalism shines, your reaction times are swift and short, you go the extra mile at every step of the way, and you distinguish from others in pretty much every possible way imaginable.
In the software industry, the WordPress market is not the only one that requires such tactic for survival; in my career I’ve seen that happen many times: .NET, Android, iOS, “full-stack” web apps, etc. The Kubernetes and Cloud Native markets are becoming red oceans as we speak.
Most of those “red ocean” markets are occupied very early by first movers who enjoy little competition and high margins, and use those profits to grow fast and build a strong position early on. Late-comers can only pretend to scraps, and here is why the creation of a “blue ocean” strategy can make them stand out from the crowd.
It’s not that you should not join an already populated market, but you should do so with a clear market strategy. Most companies don’t even bother, and it shows.