Competing with companies is an inevitable challenge that all startups must contend with. But when those competitors are influential industry players, achieving a prominent place in the market can become a near-impossible task.

However, in 2000, Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry entered the cleaning supplies industry and successfully took on multi-billion dollar corporations such as Procter & Gamble and Clorox.

After realizing that the market was saturated with products of a harsh and toxic nature, they formed Method—a company that produces chemical-free home care and cleaning products.

Echoing the quintessential David and Goliath story, Method took on the industry’s bigwigs with very little money to start with. In a relatively short space of time, they’ve grown to become the largest green cleaning products company in the world with annual sales above $200 million.

The Difference Is in the Design

Ryan was walking through the domestic cleaning products aisle in a grocery store and cleverly observed that the cleaning industry was essentially “dirty.” Not only were the products full of adverse ingredients, but the stats also indicated that there had been a number of childhood deaths due to chemical harm. Thus, the idea of Method was born.

Once the company’s wheels were in motion, Ryan and Lowry found it difficult to convince investors that they’ll be able to compete against the likes of existing heavyweight companies that had dominated distribution. After observing that most of the products on the market looked the same, Ryan and Lowry decided to focus on design to stand out in a monotonous industry.

If you have a business idea in an industry full of existing products, focusing on the design of your product can be a great way to make your mark. If you’re going to launch a new aerosol or deodorant, picture walking through an aisle where one product stands out vividly from the rest of the tube-shaped brands. Your instinct would probably tell you to pick up that particular product to find out more. To achieve a similar effect, you should then aim to design your product in a way that would make it more noticeable.

The same applies if you’re starting an online business. Think of ways in which you can design your website differently from your competitors. Maybe create a unique landing page? Or use an engaging popup with each click? Whatever your business may be, the fact that the number of small businesses in the United States has increased 49 percent since 1982 is a reminder that you have to stand out from the crowd. The difference in the design of your products might just help you achieve that.

Examples of Effective Design

Adopting clever designs is a great way to evoke specific consumer perceptions about a brand. A unique design can make audiences believe that a product is comparatively different on the inside, too. Here are two great examples demonstrating the effectiveness of design stem from the highly competitive food and beverage industry.

In an interview on Mike Dillard’s Self Made Man podcast, Ryan explained how the unique product designs of Ben & Jerry’s and Red Bull added to the companies’ success:

Ben & Jerry’s: Not only has the ice cream giant devised a sustainability program for dairy farms in its home state of Vermont; it’s made the iconic pot-shaped ice-cream containers popular. The Ben and Jerry’s brand can now be easily identified from competing ice-cream and frozen yogurt companies. Notably, founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield are worth a cool $150 million each.

Red Bull: A minimalistic two-color design that clearly states “Energy Drink” below the brand name has ensured that Red Bull holds a conspicuous shelf space. You could be forgiven for assuming that such a design should be in the alcohol aisle, hence its uniqueness among the crowded carbonated competition. According to Forbes, the Austrian beverage giant holds a brand value of $7.9 billion.

Ryan states that the media prefers to write about “pretty little things” and merchants prefer to display attractive items. Keep this in mind when designing your own product to make up for lost ground on established companies.

Lack Dollars for Design? Get Creative

When you’re just starting out, it can be financially straining to create shiny new products using the most expensive materials. As Ryan did for Method products, you might have to do a lot of DIY to begin with.

Ryan and Lowry found a camping fuel bottle for one of their first prototypes, and with a little help, they created Method’s first four products. They then contacted about 20 different independent grocery stores which led to an increased sense of confidence to carry out further consumer research.

Test Your Prototype

After creating an initial design and product concept, Method “told 20 smart individuals” to provide them with critical feedback. Rather than receiving unconstructive praise, they wanted selected critics to list all their products’ flaws and state the three biggest reasons why their products would fail.

Only when nobody could come back with serious flaws, Ryan and the team realized that the product in question would work, allowing them to move on to the next step. A great way to produce the best possible prototype is to test it as much as you can and get the most constructive feedback possible. Ask local stores if you can provide product demos. This is a great way to promote your product as well as receive genuine consumer feedback.


When you’re trying to launch an existing product, Ryan advises that you’ll find a business opportunity in the “space of a cultural shift” within your industry. For example, Method was born out of the idea and realization that the world is more aware of things they put onto and inside their body, and “going green” is more popular than it has ever been.

When you find your opportunity, make sure that you create products with great design and high sustainability in mind. Ryan acknowledged that beautifully designed products weren’t perceived to be sustainable and vice versa. So, Method created and marketed a product that is not only sustainable but has a unique and attractive design.

Remember, since you’ve got a lot of ground to catch up with your competitors, getting your product design right is one of the important things you can do.