Competitive Advantage: Why 100,000 People Follow a Guy They've Never Seen
Have you ever heard of Jerry? I doubt you have, unless you spend your time watching chess videos on YouTube like I do. As far as I know, Jerry, who goes by the YouTube and Twitch personality ChessNetwork, is the most well known chess personality on the Internet, aside from a few of the top players in the world.
I have no idea what Jerry looks like—his videos are chessboards with simple, off-the-cuff commentary. Heck, I don’t even know Jerry’s last name. But he’s practically a close friend of mine; I would recognize his voice anywhere. And a lot of other people would, too—he has over 100,000 YouTube subscribers and his videos have nearly 25 million views.
So what makes Jerry so special? Why have I, along with roughly the entire population of Boulder, Colorado, watched hours and hours of him playing chess when I don’t even know his full name?! He’s got a competitive advantage. And the formula he’s followed is simple and repeatable, so that any one of us could do the same.
I’ve thought a lot about Jerry—he does what he loves, people love him for it, and he’s turned it into a competitive advantage. Why shouldn’t we follow his example? Let’s learn Jerry’s secrets to creating a personal competitive advantage.
Jerry’s Rise to Nerdy Internet Subculture Fame
When you take a look at the path of Jerry the ChessNetwork guy, you can start to pinpoint some of the reasons for his success. First and foremost, the guy absolutely LOVES chess. You can’t handle 7 years and 800 videos of online chess streaming and commentary if you don’t love what you’re doing. And his passion is contagious.
Though you may hardly know the rules of chess, you couldn’t miss the fact that he’s passionate. Just take this short clip as an example, where Jerry (an elite level chess player) makes a laughably amateur mistake. He just really really loves the game of chess.
The second advantage for Jerry’s success is that he has multiple skills that are above average, and he COMBINES those skills. One of the secrets to success is that you don’t have to be the BEST at anything. Just be above average for more than one thing, and combine those things.
For example, Jerry is far from being the best chess player in the world. The highest title he’s achieved is “National Master.” As a point of reference, the website Chess.com currently offers a training program to help anyone become a chess master within five years. That’s not to undervalue the time and effort Jerry has put in to become a fantastic chess player. Rather, to point out that many people, if they had the same dedication, could reach the same skill level—especially since Jerry is self-taught.
Jerry’s other skill is live commentary. He’s fun, and funny. He turns slow, methodical chess games into high quality entertainment, by letting his personality shine and creating hundreds of inside jokes and goofy chess terms along the way. Being able to engage an audience for hours on end, with no script and without being visible on screen, is certainly a unique talent.
Jerry’s third advantage is one we often overlook, because at first glance it seems relatively easy: persistence over time. Most people have very few hobbies or activities that they’ve kept up for seven years, which is the length of time Jerry’s been making videos. I can’t imagine he had very many viewers at the outset, if any, but persistence can cover up thousands of other mistakes.
Creating Your Own Competitive Advantage
A quick review of the steps that I outlined above:
I thought it might be helpful to give you an example: how could you apply this in your life? I’ll use myself, since I’ve been trying to apply these principles for a while now.
1. For a long time I’ve known that I enjoy writing. It’s cathartic. It can be painful, but I really do enjoy it. I love sorting out my feelings, and I love the reaction I receive from other people when they can relate to the way I think. I do my best to write my personal thoughts in my personal voice to share my passion and authenticity. Given my passion for writing, it only makes sense that I would have a blog.
2. I’m not the greatest writer in the world—I’ll leave that to Malcolm Gladwell and my favorite author you’ve never heard of, Brian Doyle—but I’ve done a fair amount of writing, completed an English degree, and seem to be passably above average. I’m also not the world’s foremost expert on habits—but I’ve found that my experience helping people change their habits, along with the time I’ve spent studying habits, has left me with above average skills and knowledge in that area.
So how do I develop a talent? I try to combine two areas in which I have slightly-above-average knowledge, to turn that into a niche talent. Add a third area, like technology, and I’m that much more unique.
3. What can I say but that the more I write, and the longer I stick with it, the more I enjoy it. The longer you stick with it, the more opportunities you’ll come across, and that certainly has been true for me. I believe strongly that persistence is one of the greatest factors in determining success.
Now: the formula works, and anyone can apply it. So how will you create your personal competitive advantage?