I also think that you should differentiate your brand from the get-go. If you use differentiation as a strategy, then you can analyze the competition and then do something different then they are doing. Use them as a "what not to do model." The strategy here is to resonate with your customers by positively standing out. It's not to be different for the sake of being different, but different by being better - a leader. Your brand image should reflect something other than them. Most industries use a follow the leader mentality. Look at the leading brand in a category, more often those competing against the leader use the same colour palettes, the same images and the same conversation.
You want to own the conversation and attract by your difference. Values you adopt and consistently abide by will see you go from start-up to flourishing. Your brand values define you and your brand. Who ever you decide to become, be sure to be authentic and passionate. Branding can be your friend and positively affect every touch point of your brand.