Focus on Steaks on Tables, not Table Stakes

Focus on Steaks on Tables, not Table Stakes

I've been thinking about the tech buzzword "table stakes" lately. It's meant to signify that a company needs to have feature parity with a competitor to be considered competitive. Here's the Wikipedia definition:

"table stakes also refers to the minimum entry requirement for a market or business arrangement. It can refer to pricing, cost models, technology, or other capability that represents a minimum requirement to have a credible competitive starting position in a market or other business arrangement."

There's always been something about that term that didn't sit quite right with me, but I could never quite put my finger on why.

But I just figured it out: Table stakes is a reactionary philosophy. It's the equivalent of Blackberry's incremental phone improvements that were blown out of the water by the iPhone. When a company focuses on table stakes, it'll always be one step behind its competitors. That's why you don't hear startups ever using that phrase, but you do hear it at bigger companies.

So I'd like to propose my take on table stakes: Instead of trying for feature parity, focus on changing the game with order-of-magnitude product innovation. To me, that's the surest way to have your competitors talking about table steaks, while you're eating steaks at a table celebrating your wins.