Peopel are always raining on each others' ideas
"Oh, what, you're going to make a myspace clone? Bahahahaha." (facebook)
"Oh, what, you're going to make a facebook clone? Bahahahaha."
"Oh, what, you're going to make another dating website? Bahahahaha."
"Oh, what, you're going to make another social bookmarking website? Bahahahaha."
(Reddit, digg, hacker news, etc.)
This sort of "You can't improve on an existing design" rhetoric is usually coming from the same people who champion companies like netflix and say things like "The RIAA suing downloaders is like wagon wheel manufacturers suing car tire manufacturers! GET WITH THE TIMES, HELLO!"
You want to make a better dating website? Awesome, I hope you do and I hope it's better than okcupid! If it fails, guess who's going to come out the other side better than they were when they started?
You want to make an abstract machine learning system? Good! I hope you do! Guess who's probably going to be learning a lot about ML when they come out the other side?
You want to make a craigslist/ebay mashup? Good! Do it today! Start it right now and, if it's better than craigslist, my friends and I are all going to use it! How much are you going to learn about interface/UX design in the process?
You want to apply gaming mechanics to exercise? Good! Do it and tell me about it! That sounds awesome! Make an iPhone app for it, make a facebook app for it, let me pick random strangers across the internet to challenge at it. Make leaderboards and lots of badgers, and blog about it. If you fail, write more blog posts about why you failed.
I'm sorry, I'm sure the author of this blog post had good intentions; trying to help other geeks, but I find this sort of "don't even try this because it's a stupid idea and you're going to fail" attitude extremely harmful.
The first project I ever did was called http://newslily.com it was a fark/reddit/hn/digg clone. Did I sell it to google for 2 billion dollars and retire to a yacht somewhere just east of anywhere on the planet? No. Did I go from knowing absolutely nothing whatsoever about web development to being able to turn ideas into things? Yes.
My current project is called http://thingist.com . Have people said "oh, psh, you're making a twitter clone...boorrrrriinnnggggggg."?
Guess who doesn't care? My daydreaming about having 50 millions users is forcing me to learn about scaling, and how to use mod_python (oh, and if I get super crazy, maybe nginx as a web cache for my 10 users!). In a year, or two months, or six weeks, or however long it takes me to decide that, yeah, well, it's just another twitter clone and isn't going to get more than 10 users, I'm going to be 1 twitter clone closer experience wise to making something people love. (Although I still think that thingist isn't a twitter clone).
My advice: make 10 twitter clones and 20 abstracted ML frameworks. NOT doing this is like a running coach advising their runners not to waste their time jogging around their neighborhood because they're really not going anywhere anyway.
At the end of each failed company, you are going to feel like "well, at least I learned a lot". I know, because that's how I felt. You feel that way because your brain is insulating you from the real loss. You have indeed learned things; that's what makes this particular rationalization so powerful.
Many, many people tried making Myspace clones. Many, many more will try to make Facebook clones. Inevitably, one or two people will be successful, just like people will occasionally win the lottery.
Other people will succeed with companies that contain elements of Facebook, or OK Cupid, or Twitter, or Craigslist. But their businesses won't be "better Twitter" or "better Facebook"; they'll be distinct, unique, interesting businesses that learned lessons from earlier successful companies and applied them to do something different. Some of these companies may grow to challenge Facebook, just like Twitter did. But they won't have gotten there by pointing a finger at Facebook and saying "you're going down".
My advice: learn everything you can from Twitter, and then use the ideas to come up with something you can build and get money from.
My point is that this sort of philosophy helps nobody. People who are already successful already know this stuff. At least to me, this sort of list feels like it's being aimed at people who haven't "made it" yet and are still trying to figure "it" out.
When I was in High School a friend of mine named Steve Fisher said something that I doubt he remembers, but has stuck with me. He was trying to teach me how to skateboard, something that was totally not the type of activity that a nerdy, awkward, 15 year old Ryan thought he could do. So we're sitting at the skatepark and there are lots of other people around doing what I thought were difficult tricks. I was sitting on a bench just watching and trying to think of a valid reason not to ride my skateboard around because I was 100% positive that I was going to fall flat on my face and that all of the other people were going to laugh at me.
My friend comes over and says "What the hell are you doing?" "Oh, I was, err..just, uhh, tightening these bolts." "Bullshit, did you figure out how to ollie it yet?" "No, dude, I'm just going to practice at home in my room more until I can figure it out, I don't want to get in everybody's way."
He told me that I had to just go ride the thing in circles until it felt natural, and that if he saw me sitting on the bench again, I wasn't invited to the skatepark anymore. I rode my skateboard around all afternoon, probably fell on my face a few times, but didn't get laughed at even once.
A stupid story, probably.
How does this apply to startups?
Maybe it's just the communities I hang around in, but many coders are really really not like the skaters in my story. They really will laugh at the kid riding his skateboard in circles (writing twitter clones and craigslist mashups) like an idiot. How many designers have posted tirades to their blog talking about how everybody is stupid, and how they're sick of all these stuuupid people asking them to do designs? To me, lists like this are exactly like telling a kid that he's riding his skateboard in circles and to stop wasting his time doing that. If you can't show up and start doing backflips, then don't waste your time even coming. People have already figured out how to ride in circles.
Anybody whose time would be wasted writing yet another dating website doesn't need a list like this to tell them that. They know.
If you need somebody to tell you not to build this stuff, then you probably aren't yet at a point where building one of them wouldn't be a learning experience for you, even if that learning experience is just "stop building twitter clones".
When I was 16, my friends and I thought we were going to take over the world by starting a "tech company". We knew we were all nerds, and we knew we wanted to own a "tech company". We got together, thought up a cool name, made a cool website, and got some cool business cards.
Was this a stupid idea? Yes.
Did I learn a lot from it? Yes.
Do you consider 4 years spent in business school a waste of time? Toxic? Do you consider time spent going to school for computer science, learning to program a "waste"?
How many times have computer science students written "cash register" programs in java? Hundreds of thousands? Millions? Was this time all wasted?
I would say no.
Yes, Java cash register programs are a waste.
Yes, doomed Craigslist competitors are a waste.
People too young to go to business school have cashed out of YC companies. Aspire to that, not to rationalizing very expensive learning experiences.
Did these people crawl out of the womb with a keyboard in one hand and an apache server in the other?
How do you suppose they learned how to program?
Like you said earlier, a lot of it is luck, just like winning the lottery. By not playing/trying at all you will most definitely not win any lottery.
Doing exactly 100% the same that is already existing anyway (facebook,twitter,myspace..) doesn't sound like a great idea but improving on that, well why not?
Great analogy & why I keep reading the comments before the story.
Given the choice between building a cliche project and something a bit more off the beaten path - you may as well put a few extra days of thought into a project before you start, and come up with something unique (as long as you don't spend all your time thinking and none of your time doing).
The problem with the ideas listed is that they're obvious - both myself and my friends have talked about/wanted to approach almost every single one - but it's not obvious how to actually build a better mouse trap for each of them. It's useful to realize when you're trying to attack a generic problem (that has already been solved) with an equally generic strategy.
Lots of people want a Craigslist alternative that doesn't have the shittiest search interface this side of 2004. Lots of people want a dating site with a 'market' that doesn't heavily heavily favor women. Lots of people want to exercise/lose weight in a fun game-like way. Lots of people want the concept of TripAdvisor but don't feel like they identify at all with the typical TripAdvisor reviewer.
It's hard to learn about why these things are difficult without actually trying to do them.
Yeah, they're called men. And given that history tells us that attracting men to dating sites isn't a business-limiting problem, it follows that building a (heterosexual) dating site that appeals to men is not a good business idea.
The problem with most Craigslist competitors is that they are designed for mainstream Craigslist users. This indicates that the people doing them usually don't have the level of thoughtfulness that's needed to succeed. And while it's certainly possible to listen to your fans and make changes as you go, it's too hard to succeed this way against an already entrenched competitor unless you have at least a little bit of an ideological advantage compared to the existing platform. For example, if you want to start yet another fitness company based on game mechanics but you haven't read Punished By Rewards then you are probably pretty screwed.
It is surprisingly difficult to tell if an idea seems obvious because it is just, well, bloody obvious, or because it is a really good one.
A surprising amount of great, original ideas seem obvious with the help of just a tiny bit of hindsight. Or foresight, for that matter.
If you see your project as learning about tech, then awesome. But I think the OP was warning against those that see their projects as paths to riches with those ideas. There are certain startup ideas that are perennial tar pits with good reason. There's something specific about the problem area that everyone's banged their head against, and often times, it's not a tech problem.
It'd be worth your while to understand it first.
Thank you for the kind words :)
That, sir, is a brilliant summary. I have the feeling that I've been running around the neighborhood a lot recently, but I can also detect my legs getting stronger, so to speak.
However; when I inwardly cringe at these ideas being rehashed (possibly not the machine learning one), it's when someone non-technical is eagerly pitching me their Facebook for Dogs idea and trying to get me to code it up for free, it'll be the Next Big Thing, just you wait and see...
I wonder if the failure rate is higher, because those ideas are common, and everyone tries it. Yeah maybe the same number will succeed, but since everyone and their mom is doing it, it probably won't be you . . . dunno.
Btw, a news site should be on the list too. Even I have one of those: http://tech.rawsignal.com.
sports was for my brother, but then he wanted college football specifically, so we rolled out this for him: http://collegefb.rawsignal.com/
will we become huge, who knows. who cares really, we love what we do.
We just did that for Medical field - "Prognosis", currently at 5th position on iPhone medical apps (after 15 days).
(Just installed it. Was this supposed to be only for doctors...or?)
Take a look at iMedicalApps review for detailed analysis (good and bad) : http://www.imedicalapps.com/2010/11/prognosis-your-diagnosis...
That's not what the author had in mind. In fact, it's explicitly written: "[...]or alternatively, that they are unsolved problems that someone, someday, somewhere, may actually come up with a variant that hits big."
So, it's rather "If you invest serious resources in that, you better know why exactly you're better than the gazillions other guys who had tried this." than "Don't try at all".
And yes, trying those ideas as a sort of training is a brilliant idea in itself.
Frankly I wish more people would say 'your idea is bad (because of X)' because that's useful feedback, rather than the usual feels-good-but-useless 'good idea'. You can always choose to disagree with X; or maybe you'll find a solution for X.