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Ask HN: Are you put off building something because it already exists?
1046 points by strimp099 27 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 292 comments
Big market, check. Validated demand, check. Product or service exists, uh-oh.

I set out to build a reverse address book. Instead of updating your address book with changes from everyone else, you update your own details and it pushes to everyone else. Turns out someone beat me to it and my inspiration evaporated.

Zoom is a recent and great example of competing in a crowded market and winning. For you builders/founders out there, are you on a never ending quest to find something new/unique or do you prefer another quality in your idea to start a project?




Here's the recommendation I give to students when they ask me this question (it's a common one!):

You come up with a brilliant idea, you obsess over it, you Google some info, and on your screen lies your idea, being done by someone else, for the last two years. You’re all too familiar with that sinking feeling in your stomach that follows. You abandon the idea almost immediately after all that excitement and ideation.

First (as already mentioned), existing solutions prove your idea — their existence proves that you’re trying to solve a real problem that people might pay to have solved. And it proves that you’re heading in a direction that makes sense to others, too.

Second, and this is the biggie: The moment you see someone else’s solution, you mar and limit your ideas. It suddenly becomes a lot more difficult to think outside the box because before, you were exploring totally new territory. Your mind was pioneering in a frontier that had no paths. But now, you’ve seen someone else’s path. It becomes much harder to see any other potential paths. It becomes much harder to be freely creative.

Next time you come up with that great idea, don’t Google it for a week. Let your mind fester on the idea, allow it to grow like many branches from a trunk. Jot down all of the tangentially related but equally exciting ideas that inevitably follow. Allow your mind to take the idea far into new places. No, you won’t build 90% of them, but give yourself the time to enjoy exploring the idea totally.

When I do this, once I do Google for existing solutions, I usually find that all the other things I came up with in the ensuing week are far better than what’s already out there. I have more innovative ideas for where it could go next; I have a unique value proposition that the other folks haven’t figured out yet. But had I searched for them first, I never would have come up with those better ideas at all.

Finally, I’ll say this: if you see your idea has already been done and you no longer care about it, then it probably wasn’t something you were passionate enough about in the first place; it was just a neat idea to you.


I had a very enlightening talk with a sales manager at the first company I worked for. We were pioneering some augmented reality applications and really had a few worlds first. As an engineer, I had thought that guaranteed us a market.

That guy explained to me that quite the opposite, that forced us to "create" the market. A thing that is like exploring a jungle with a machete, whereas marketing an existing product is like driving on a toll road. To my surprise, he explained he preferred to have competitors: you know where the market is at, the typical pricing, there are events for your field, you know the essential features, you can compete on prices and plans, users are talking about the products, know how they can use it.

We, often, met clients who had no idea what our products could achieve for them, how to use them, how to integrate it into your processes. I have learned that there is nothing more dangerous than depending on your clients having imagination for a sale. You need to spoonfeed applications.


This really resonates with me as an engineer/CTO working on a product that went into the jungle with a machete. We never anticipated how difficult it would be educate the market, so eventually pivoted to more of a "toll-road" product.

There's really a second/third/fourth mover advantage that often isn't talked about, which is that you don't have to explain the entire point of your product before convincing them that your pricing makes sense and it's worth their time. When clear competitors exist, the sale is just why your specific solution is superior (more efficient, smarter features tacked on, cheaper pricing etc.)


> That guy explained to me that quite the opposite, that forced us to "create" the market.

Indeed.

That's the underlying reason for the hoary old truism that "the pioneers get all the arrows". In terms of business, you really don't want to be first to market. You want to be second or third, so you can learn from all the first's mistakes, and benefit from the market-building that the pioneers engaged in.


I don't think it's true that you always don't want to be first. It is true that it is very different being first, and requires different skills, timelines, etc. Also worth remembering that a company doing a very serviceable 3rd to market may not actually be able to pull off 1st, and that's ok too.


Well, yes, as soon as absolutes like "always" are used, the statement they're used in is most likely to be false.

That said, the odds aren't in favor of the ones who are first to market (although patent ownership can change the odds significantly).


Agreed, but I don't believe the odds are not nearly as strongly against as the post I replied to suggested.


Brilliant advice.

I've have been on the exact journey you described - the idea that won't leave me alone (probably 6 years old now), Googled early on to see if anyone else had built it yet; found two existing companies pursuing the same thing, but in two different ways that don't quite match my own.

I've been sitting on the idea for the last two or three years (it still won't leave me alone), and it has now evolved significantly. Fortunately, due to a rare moment of foresight, I've been keeping a journal capturing thoughts around the idea as I've had them, so I've now got a really nice record of the original concept, iterations, evolutions and adjacencies. The best part though, is that I have a record of the excitement that this idea gives me (re-kindled every time I read it), which is a great pick-me-up when the self-doubt takes hold.

I am now entering my last months of employment as I ready myself to jump in and make it real!


As an angel investor, I'm curious. If you need seed funding, email me :) My contact info is on zorinaq.com


May I suggest investing in an SSL certificate for your website? I find it really hard to really trust if that's your contact information ;)


Not OP, but I don’t have certificate on my personal web site either, and I don’t think I need one.

> find it really hard to really trust if that's your contact information

Because Google implemented warning in their web browser, and you comply without understanding their reasons?

SSL is most useful for credit cards processing.

SSL makes some sense for e-mails and chat messages, also for authentication.

SSL is useless for static content.

I think Google did that for money, just sold the security story really well. They’re smart people, they can’t possibly be unaware of certificates being useless for majority of the web. Here’s the reasons.

Increases entry barrier, centralizing internet even more. For-profit internet companies have zero issues paying for certificates, it’s part of their business. It raises barrier for ordinary people. Also creates more incentive for placing ads on their web sites to reduce costs. Guess who earns most profits from internet ads?

Also, SSL breaks caching proxies by design. This opens market for technically inferior google AMP. Technically inferior, because proxies are closer to users, 20 years ago most office buildings had a caching proxy like Squid or MS ISA Server.

Also, there’s unintended consequence, users learning to ignore SSL errors and proceed anyway. People processing credit cards usually know what they do, take security seriously and SSL errors there often means what it’s supposed to mean, warns about potential hacks. People implementing SSL just to shut up the google browser don’t need security, they care much less and screw up much more often.


> SSL is useless for static content

This is just... false. Without SSL, static content can be MITM'd just like anything else. Don't believe me? Connect to the WiFi in any Starbucks and visit http://example.com. That redirect to the Starbucks WiFi login page certainly isn't being served from example.com...

Please stop spreading misinformation about SSL.


> Connect to the WiFi in any Starbucks

Need to cross national borders for that, more than once.

> That redirect to the Starbucks WiFi login page certainly isn't being served from example.com

Also saw these things here in a couple of places. Most places here don’t charge for WiFi and have a single PSK key for all clients, but couple indeed ask for authentication this way.

I’m not sure how SSL helps? As a user, I don’t want to have access to WiFi blocked, I rather prefer redirects. Despite it’s technically MITM, it does the job i.e. allows to access the network.

> stop spreading misinformation about SSL

I have written that unless it’s credit card numbers or other sensitive content like e-mails or facebook messages, there’s very little security value in it, and it costs web sites owners. What exactly do you think is the misinformation in this statement?


While this may not answer all your questions, here's a good write up about the topic by Troy Hunt, a respected thought-leader in the industry: https://www.troyhunt.com/heres-why-your-static-website-needs...


If your site is vulnerable to a MITM attack you are not protecting your users and someone can serve them anything. The security risk isn't people reading your blog in flight, it is people injecting your blog with malicious scripts that can compromise your users.

Would you be happy if when I visited your website I was asked for my credit card details through a phishing scam? Not secure for me, not a good look for your site.


completely ignoring privacy. ISP's "collect" (read: eavesdrop) on all data they can get their hands on.


ISPs know IP addresses anyway, even with HTTPS. Same with DNS names.

SSL makes a lot of sense on web sites like facebook and youtube: users enter sensitive data there, servers serve terabytes of available content, not all of which is public, and even for public, the user’s selection is privacy-sensitive.

For a small static web sites, any person in the world can get their hands on all the content, that’s the whole point of public Internet. There’s no privacy-sensitive data in HTTP traffic to these sites, unless there’s google analytics, ads, or some other malware on that site.


Say you trust mrb on hackernews. He lists his website on his profile page. You go to that site. How do you know you are seeing what mrb wants you to see (his contact info). SSL.


> Increases entry barrier, centralizing internet even more. For-profit internet companies have zero issues paying for certificates, it’s part of their business. It raises barrier for ordinary people. Also creates more incentive for placing ads on their web sites to reduce costs. Guess who earns most profits from internet ads?

Lets encrypt is one obvious thing to mention here, besides removing the cost barrier to entry it really is quite simple to set up.


> it really is quite simple to set up

I haven’t tried but I think it’s only simple is you’re willing to manually renew every 90 days. I’m not willing to.

Automatic renewals are only simple for popular environments like LAMP, my web server runs Windows server with IIS and old school asp.net. I can run arbitrary native code on that server, but I don’t have GUI access to that machine.

But even if it would be super-easy and automated for 100% web servers, that’s still introducing a dependency to a third-party service, for no value for audience of my web site. Just shutting up a web browser that I don’t even use myself is not a good reason, IMO.


It's probably not as nice as linux, but there are a lot of options for Windows / IIS

https://letsencrypt.org/docs/client-options/#windows-iis


> [...] manually renew every 90 days

That's the opposite of the design goals - Let's Encrypt is designed to be automatable.

They set the expiry to 90 days precisely because they want you to automate the renewal.


It can actually be quite difficult to set up if you have a non standard configuration.


This view is way behind the times.

Lots of commenters have raised good points and pointed you to instructive resources on the subject, and you've quite selectively ignored the best ones. Please take a moment and withhold the assumption that we've all been brainwashed by Google, and consider that other people might know something you don't.


> SSL is useless for static content.

No it ain't. The cert is at least some assurance that the static content was not altered in transit between the original server and some MITM. Non-HTTPS sites absolutely suck to browse on less-scrupulous public wi-fi hotspots that try to inject their own ads into your browsing sessions (cough cough Greyhound cough cough).

> It raises barrier for ordinary people

Let's Encrypt has existed for multiple years now. There's certainly an effort-related barrier to entry, but not a financial one.

> 20 years ago most office buildings had a caching proxy like Squid or MS ISA Server.

And they can still have that by setting up their own internal CA and installing their own root cert on company-owned machines. Hell, running an internal CA is pretty standard practice for large enterprises (and even some medium ones) specifically so that Intranet applications can use TLS without browsers whining about self-signed certs.


Thank you for your offer.

One of the advantages of holding on to this idea for so long is that it's given me time to save a bit of a runway.

Hopefully the fabled Product/Market fit materialises before this runs out :)


I would go one step further: don't Google the existing solutions at all. If you haven't heard of any one of them by the time you are done conceiving it you are in the exact same position as the other companies are, possibly minus some funding and their initial batch of customers.

There are far more potential customers that haven't heard from either of you yet. So your next order of battle then becomes to try to contact as many of those potential customers ahead of any of your - would be - competitors.

Competition is healthy it keeps you sharp, but don't bother mapping it until you've established your position well enough that you are actually in competition, until that time it is usually a waste of time.

On the other side of all this: if you have heard of a particular company that executes on an idea you have had as well then unless you are willing to eventually go head-to-head with that company you may as well leave it alone. Chances are they are so far ahead on the 'mindshare' metric that a head-to-head battle will be extremely costly leaving you with a much diluted share in your own venture once all is said and done. If you're comfortable with that go ahead but if I were in the position of a founder I'd prefer a start-up where the founders had majority control until at least well past series 'A'.


> If you haven't heard of any one of them by the time you are done conceiving it you are in the exact same position as the other companies are

This assumes that you can do meaningful research without ever Googling the problem space, which is virtually the same as finding competitors. And if you don't research at all while conceiving it, how exactly would you hear about competitors?

> don't bother mapping it until you've established your position well enough that you are actually in competition, until that time it is usually a waste of time.

Trying to open, say, a grocery store without the knowledge of a Walmart down the street sounds like the definition of wasted time.


Great advice, so I am not going to repeat this because I 100% agree with it.

However additionally I would add that if you think that it is the software alone that will make or break the company, then it is obvious that this is your first time doing this and that you have never brought a product to market. There are a ton of examples where one product that was of less quality absolutely annihilated another excellent product where the difference was the rest of the "business" machinery (marketing, sales, support, operations, etc).

It is an unpopular opinion in HNs, but good software is not enough to win.


> good software is not enough to win

This might give the idea that good software is necessary [1] to win, but history has proven this is not always the case.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Necessity_and_sufficiency


> good software is not enough to win.

But presumably if you combine it with the other stuff then it helps?


Depends. If your software is really good, you are probably paying your developers a lot. Someone else can copy your idea for a fraction of the price, while using outsourced developers from East Europe or India


Don't you think that saying that all software that comes from these places is plain old racist? Some of the best engineers I have worked with are from Ukraine, for example.


> good software is not enough to win.

This can be generalized: a good product is not sufficient. To succeed in the market requires a lot of things, a good product being only one of them.


In some cases a good product is not even necessary.


True, but that often depends on your definition of "good". A barely adequate but very inexpensive product can be "good" for its intended market.


Marketing always wins.

So many business owners fail to understand this. We have a better product, better support, we're made in America....

None of that matters. How do you present the product? What image does it portray? How is your name viewed?


> Marketing always wins.

The lack of marketing will always cause failure, but history is littered with examples of how marketing alone does not always win.


> Next time you come up with that great idea, don’t Google it for a week. Let your mind fester on the idea, allow it to grow like many branches from a trunk. Jot down all of the tangentially related but equally exciting ideas that inevitably follow. Allow your mind to take the idea far into new places. No, you won’t build 90% of them, but give yourself the time to enjoy exploring the idea totally.

I can only confirm this works. Sort of.

In 2014-2015 I had an idea for a roguelike beat'em up game. Something like adding roguelike mechanics to Castle Crashers. I did google it, but there were no games like that on the market at the time, so I developed everything from scratch.

While developing I never checked Google again. And when I released the first version into Early Access in late 2016, I noticed that there are now two games in the same sub-genre that came out in the meantime. Apparently those were in development long before mine, but the developers didn't bother to tell anyone about it and they just hit the market (i.e. Steam release) one day.

Now, one of the games had a lot of ideas that I came up by myself. One of those was a magic potion called "Crank" based on the movie of same name. You have to keep moving and kill enemies or your health goes down. Exactly the same idea with the same name for the potion. I removed this feature from my game, because this other game was already out and I didn't want to be called a copycat.

But beside those few similar ideas, the rest of the development went completely separate ways. The other two games were mostly linear, mine has procedurally generated mazes to explore. The other two games allow you to carry and use one weapon, mine allows multiple. The other two games have a fixed boss at the end of each level, mine randomly picks one of 24 bosses, etc, etc.

In the end, I have built a successful product that is different enough to cater to slightly different market segment.

Had those two other games been on the market already when I started, I would have probably given up at the very start.

P.S. Sorry if my English isn't top-notch, I'm not a native speaker.


Your English is great.


I like the "Crank" potion idea, that was a bonkers action movie, and I'd love to see a modern game use those types of powerups.


It's very like a Fighter's 'Rage' ability from D&D. They must hurt things or receive damage or they lose the ability.


Exactly. And while we are at Google. They were not the first search engine, but merely one of dozens if not hundreds. Facebook was not the first social network. Apple was not the first producer of computers for consumers. Amazon was not the first web store.


And Altavista and Yahoo were much larger than Google, at the time when it appeared.


I remember when Google was first introduced, and a large number of people were calling them insane for going toe-to-toe with the Big Boys.


That's interesting. I guess the moral of the story is to never be discouraged by something already existing. There's always room for another twist, if well executed.


Let your mind fester on the idea, allow it to grow like many branches from a trunk. Jot down all of the tangentially related but equally exciting ideas that inevitably follow

I recently bought a Sony Voice Recorder just for talking about the wild ideas. Its amazing how much I was self-editing when jotting notes. Training yourself just to blather into a recorder (I don't use my phone because it felt weird) and then using some text to speech to extract the words later has really been a better workflow for me to get the fleeting thoughts out of my poor memory and into something I can continue to churn.


Having been through the startup journey for the past 4 years, this advice is solid especially around the passion.

Having passion for your idea is quite understated. Passion is what pulls you through the tough times and helps truly unlock the magic in your solution. It's because you care about solving the problem that gives you the competitive advantage.

In my early days, I only spent about 3-6 months on an idea trying to validate it, hitting a roadblock and feeling deflated. With my current product, the idea has been worked on, thought about, validated and iterated for close to 6 months. Long time in the startup world but it's important for me to truly understand what the market is looking for before diving straight into sales. This turned out to be quite important as potential enterprise customers to make sure our solution resonates.

We're now looking to land demos and hopefully close some early sales and then look to raise seed funding once things have been derisked.


Wonderful!

Your point of view is unique, by definition. Your idiocyncratic view, priorities and approach can have niche appeal or be better outright.

So true that your unique view can evaporate and recrystallize into the incumbent's way.

Search was old before google.


Ha. Most people here never had to struggle with NexisLexis.


> When I do this, once I do Google for existing solutions, I usually find that all the other things I came up with in the ensuing week are far better than what’s already out there. I have more innovative ideas for where it could go next; I have a unique value proposition that the other folks haven’t figured out yet.

No, you don't know what ideas the existing company had (that were simply not implemented yet). Perhaps they had brainstorm sessions too.

Also, what prevents them from copying your ideas?

I don't want to sound like a downer, but there is simply no denying that they are one step ahead of you. They already have a working implementation of your main idea. You can still beat them, but it is like being behind 0-1 before the start of the match.


> No, you don't know what ideas the existing company had (that were simply not implemented yet). Perhaps they had brainstorm sessions too.

Of course they did. All I'm saying is that by giving yourself the opportunity to explore your ideas in a green field, having not seen others' implementations, you give yourself the opportunity to extend your idea into new directions that others may not be exploring yet (maybe they didn't think of it, or maybe they aren't attacking that direction, or maybe they want to but they just haven't gotten there yet).

> Also, what prevents them from copying your ideas?

Nothing. But also, nothing really prevents anyone from copying any of your ideas, whether or not similar solutions exist.

> they are one step ahead of you

At their game, yeah. In my experience, if I give it a week, I end up exploring a pretty different game anyway (different niche or audience, different way to solve it, etc.). They'd only be one step ahead of my game if they decided to pivot away from theirs and into my direction.


Good points. If you don't find any existing solutions then is it a sign that your idea is probably not that good? Or very few people care about your problem?


Not at all. We've had this happen quite a bit. The key is making sure that people have the problem that the product solves (and that they really hate the problem, or it costs them quite a bit of time or money, etc.). That's what you're really looking for: if people would pay to have the problem solved. That's indicator #1; not necessarily if there are existing solutions out there.

While it is harder marketing something that has no existing solutions like it, we've found that it's definitely not impossible.


It could very well be that people simply don't know they are dealing with a problem that can be solved.


These are my favorite problems - the ones people hate but seem resigned to living with; almost as if it's a simple fact of life. When you come in with a solution, they'll be skeptical at first, but you'll know quickly whether or not you're on a great solution for them.


Do you suggest asking people directly what are there most pressing problems helps? Or do you think it is better to observe people struggling with something and then propose a solution and have them evaluate it.


I personally employ a balance of both.


I think looking at other solutions won’t limit your creativity when you are conscious about this potential framing. It might even give you a new perspective, a requirement that you neglected, it could have a synergetic effect. Just like a todo list might constrain you to thinking about lists if you don’t question every assumption you make. I really like the book „thoughtful interaction design“ by Jonas Löwgren


I think overall by Googling the idea and finding that someone else already is doing it should be taken as a positive thing, since it's validates your idea and gives you confirmation that there is a market share for it. Now you just need to make your idea better and more appealing when trying to reach to those existing users ;) Instead limiting yourself, look at it as an opportunity.


Really solid advice, thank you!


What questions do you ask yourself to develop your ideas further?


Some of my recommendations:

* Ask yourself what would kill the idea, or the category it's in. Sometimes this leads us to come up with entirely new, even better ideas. Often it leads us to come up with a few better pieces to your original idea.

* Ask yourself what the simplest solution would look like for the user in an ideal world, then what the best technical solution would look like under the hood in an ideal world, then how you can marry the two in this world.

* Workshopping the idea with others can lead to totally new developments on the idea as you understand the problem you're solving better, what people think their solution would be, what people think of your solution, etc.


Not GP. Try out the competition. You'll find yourself coming up with many ways to improve their service.


Thank you so much taking your time to write this down! It helps me in a recent situation.


Love this advice. Thanks so much for sharing!


Great advice!

Thanks for sharing, it will help me in a current idea I have.


Jumping on the bandwagon - great advice indeed!


This is very good advice.


A while ago, I was in the same boat. Why try to recreate GitHub, or Uber, or Salesforce, or Facebook? And once I discovered any competitors in my idea's field, I would chalk it down to "not worth trying" and call it a day.

But then I realized, if my town can have 3-4 Chinese restaurants with the same exact menus (probably supplied by the same exact distributors), and they've all operated continuously for over a decade....who cares about uniqueness? Sure, none of these copycat places are raking in millions, but it's enough to support the livelihoods of the owner and all of his/her employees, so who cares? Your business doesn't need to be a unicorn to make you happy, as long as you're happy with that outcome.

Of course, tech does not operate the same way as Chinese restaurants, and for that I point you to Accumulative Advantage:

>Accumulative Advantage is when a small advantage at the beginning of something, such as kindergarten, becomes a little difference that leads to an opportunity that makes a bigger difference a bit bigger, and that edge in turns leads to another opportunity, which makes that initial small difference even bigger.

Put in context: You don't have to follow the same path your competitors did. Uber/Lyft poured billions into normalizing the concept of being driven by some stranger who uses the same app as you, so any new ride-sharing platform can spend that money in other areas. Giants like Microsoft have decades of technical debt they need to tackle; you can start building with 2019 libraries, 2019 paradigms (wouldn't the cloud have been great for startups ten years ago?) and 2019 performance.

In order for the underdog to win, there first has to be an underdog. If you're brave enough to start, you may just be brave enough to win.

[1] https://educationinnovation.typepad.com/my_weblog/2008/12/is... (yeah, weird source, but I'm just trying to define the phrase)


Also worth noting the downside of scale: some opportunities are "too small" for a Microsoft or Google to pursue. Google revenue for 2018 was $136.8B. Extra effort to possibly address a small niche segment of a market, that would improve revenue by $1M per year, is too small to draw anyone's attention.

However, that same $1M/yr is enough to sustain a bootstrapped business and even possibly build the credibility to raise a larger round and try to win the space.

If a company is already solving a problem, a better question to ask is "why didn't I know they exist?" It may be that they aren't properly tailoring their marketing to the target audience, in which case you have a clear opening.

As a "personal anecdote", we (https://sheetjs.com/) offer a variety of solutions for problems involving structured data. Before we started, there were plenty of solutions but every solution had various compatibility issues or didn't work with our data. Even in 2019 companies turn to us because of compatibility issues with Google Sheets or Excel 2019. We went through the same analysis and concluded that neither company thinks there will be a meaningful improvement in revenue or marketshare


> $1M per year, is too small to draw anyone's attention.

I'll take this opportunity to tell a long-winded story about how that number can be two orders of magnitude larger, and still be too small.

I was with Slide when Google bought us in 2010. They bungled the acquisition (bought us to work on Google+, which had already made a bunch of disagreeable decisions by the time we were ready to rumble), so we were left to our own devices for a year, in which time about 12 of us made something called Photovine, a photo sharing app that would have competed with Instagram, and we were getting pretty universally positive press. I think TechCrunch called it the best mobile app google had ever produced, and all of our beta and early release engagement numbers were bananas.

(We also had loads of fun with it — the core sharing mechanic was organized around shared captions that we called vines, and we spent most of our play-testing time swapping visual puns.)

Anyway, if you project our trajectory generously, which didn't seem out of the question given our early traction, we would have wound up competing with Insta, doing business in the hundreds of millions. But Larry, in all his "more wood behind fewer arrows" wisdom, decided to axe the project, as he did many, many others, and re-assign all of us to YouTube, which, granted, was gearing up to compete with TV, and needed more staff.


I remember looking at photovine when it came out. I was only 11 but I thought it was a brilliant idea. And it was so much more colorful than any other Google apps I'd used at the time.


> However, that same $1M/yr is enough to sustain a bootstrapped business and even possibly build the credibility to raise a larger round and try to win the space.

And often, $1M/yr is not even needed. Many developers don't necessarily want to become managers and worry about funding rounds, hiring, etc. $1M/yr is already a pretty good lifestyle, no need to get further funding or scale the business if you're happy running the project on your own.


FWIW, @sheetjs took that $1M/yr to be revenue, so your profits are going to be smaller than that.


Don't forget that large companies and established players typically are extremely bad in listening to their customers or providing good support since it doesn't scale well for them to do so. Even if the product is the same, you can steal marketshare by being responsive to your customers and being able to iterate at a quicker pace than the larger competitors.

Competition isn't bad - that just means there's a market large enough for different companies to want to fight for a share of.


Yes, this is a great point.

As a small businessperson, I find it's critical to be aware of the different strengths and weaknesses that come with being big or small, and to leverage them to your advantage.

My favorite one-liner about the difference is: small companies make it possible, big companies make it cheap.


Also personnel costs at FAANG are high - something like 200-250k per engineer. The upside has to be very high, accounting for the personnel costs, to make building a product worth it.


> It may be that they aren't properly tailoring their marketing to the target audience, in which case you have a clear opening.

Then you would start a marketing company. Or it will become a fight about who spends the most on marketing, and the only winner would be the marketing companies.


You restaurant analogy fails, because restaurants are at a fixed physical location and the seats are constrained. I find Ben Thompson's "Aggregation Theory" quite insightful on this topic: https://stratechery.com/2015/aggregation-theory/

That's not to say that you cannot be successfull running a small service, but it needs to be differentiated in some way and not just copy the existing ones (which works fine for a chinese restaurant if there isn't one in that part of the town).


That's fair but how about streets in any big city or town (certainly in the UK) where there is fried chicken shop after fried chicken shop after kebab shop after another kebab shop? The only thing that differentiates each of those places are usually the logos and the name of the shop (London Fried Chicken, Tasty Fried Chicken, Hackney Fried Chicken etc. - not a great deal of imagination there).

The food is almost identical, the prices too, they are of course at a fixed location (but not quite sure how that makes any difference) and there are no seat constraints. Yet these places seem to stay alive even though none of them really offer anything different to the chicken shop next door.


Game theory suggests why this is the case:

https://mindyourdecisions.com/blog/2008/03/25/game-theory-tu...


Multiple shops like this can survive because each has limited capacity, i.e. these two go up exponentially after a certain (quite early) point:

1. Time between walking in and paying.

2. Time between paying and receiving your food.

If one of those restaurants could maintain quality, and keep the above two metrics flat whilst a scaling to 4x, then the other 3 restaurants would lose business and eventually go out of business.

Online businesses don't usually have the same limits to scale.


A lot of those fried chicken places are fronts for money laundering.

Not all but many, ask yourself if you've ever wondered how 7-8 chicken ships stay open when only one is good and ever has customers.

Something does


Small shops multiply instead of swelling because their capacity limitations are either a high barrier to individual growth or an essential feature of their service ('coziness').


Exactly. Those restaurants differentiate on physical location, not on the feature set.


You're making a really good insight here. I just wanna give some examples to add to your point. Here in Indonesia there are 2 big Uber clone (at least initially): Gojek and Grab that are both unicorn. In the beginning, they both started off ride-hailing. But after about 4 years, Gojek morphed into a payment company like Chinese We-Pay. It seems they were thinking of ride-hailing as a good customer-acquisition strategy in order to build the initial user base. On the other hand, Grab still seems to be focused on being a transport company, but they expand to a lot more countries. Their main strategy seems to be South East Asia expansion.

I think these are very cool examples on how two seemingly the same thing end up diverging and finding up their own path.


Just do expand a bit further on Grab, they added food delivery and parcel courier services recently, as well as transport subscription services (for around $40 you get 35 car rides a month, for example).


Steve Yegge, high profile developer previously at Google and Amazon, now head of engineering for Data Insights at Grab, wrote a nice blog post about why he quit his job at Google to join Grab:

https://medium.com/@steve.yegge/why-i-left-google-to-join-gr...


Google entered a "mature and settled" search market in 1998. Just do it


Not only that, but DDG entered after Google was considered “Unbeatable.”

Doesn’t matter, they don’t need to dominate, just stake out a niche and distinguish themselves from the dominant player.


Google brought to market a unique and powerful approach to getting the most relevant content to the top of the search results: PageRank. It was a good solution to a big problem with search engines at that time, and the difference in quality of results was obvious.


This reminds of one of the more memorable question/advice from Peter Thiel's book, Zero to One. "What's the one thing you can do 10x better than your competitors?". IIRC, the chapter was titled "The last mover advantage".


In SaaS you need some differentiating factor, but that's pretty easy:

We're faster, simpler, privacy friendly, cheaper, etc.

Most leading SaaS businesses have proven there's a market, but they're vulnerable on one of those key differentiators.

Sure, you might not conquer the market, but it's probably a safer way to build a lifestyle business than trying to come up with and market a novel idea.

Much easier to find forums of people complaining about product X not doing Y and fill that gap.


I don't think this is a super helpful comparison.

There is a net demand for Chinese food in the area, and there will definitely be such a thing as 'too much or little' supply (though obviously each offer i.e. supply is a little different)

A single restaurant will only be able to meet so much demand, so if there's a niche in terms of region or menu, maybe there's a real opportunity.

GitHub, Uber, FB - they all have network externalizations to some extent, there definitely have economies of scale, and they are playing in a global marketplace (or at least, say 'the Western world').

So, no, it's probably not a good idea to compete directly with them.

In fact, incumbents almost always win - the idea is to do something different enough, solve a problem in a different way.

Slack did not build 'better email' they went up one level and built 'better communication'. And a whole bunch of other things of course. But 'slack e-mail' probably would not have yielded them the same result.


Google won against Yahoo and Altavista, Facebook won against MySpace, StackOverflow against ExpertsExchange.

One thing that the losers have in common is that their execution was not good enough (or outright bad in the case of ExpertsExchange).

But Altavista was huge when Google started. AOL had network effects that did not help them, so it is absolutely not clear that it is impossible.

People however are more lethargic and programmed by their mobile devices these days, so it may be more difficult now.


Alta Vista was tiny when Google beat them.

Google had the entire internet inedexed and was running their engine from Standford with just a few machines.

The internet was tiny back in 1997.

In 1997 there was 1 million web sites.

Today there are 2 billion.

[1] https://www.internetlivestats.com/total-number-of-websites/


It depends on your ambitions. If you want to be a stinking rich billionaire, ok fine. Good luck!!

If instead you want to have some fun and maybe get more money back than you put in, that's a different world.

I'm increasingly persuaded that unless you go to dinner parties with say Sequoia capital people, it's better to start small, get the principles working right and then build on it.


Slack is centralized Irc clone with better UI.


'better UI' might be debatable... It is a bloated inefficient sack of kack that demands ~1GB RAM per channel! In fact, didn't the original developer label it thus and abandon the whole thing?


And Dropbox is rsync, we know already


Both have GUI the original services did not.

And Google Talk/Allo/Jibe is Jabber and Asterisk with a fancy coat of paint.


> and 2019 performance.

This is kind of amusing given that most new modern things in the hacker news ecosystem use either electron or some other variation of nodejs. Which is usually the exact opposite of 'performant'.


You're confusing performance with efficiency.


Most Electron apps are not only not efficient but also not performant.


Except in development time and cost.


And the users care about this why?

Delphi calls from 1998, it was even faster than Electron in development time and cost. Yet almost nobody uses it now.

What killed it? Just one has economic bust and developer generation change perhaps?

(And no, it was not networking, it had good capabilities the too. It wasn't web either.)


Ha! I still use Delphi (amongst other things)! It's great for producing Native Windows apps and is extremely performant (and still works with Win 10). I stuck with Delphi 7 (and thus avoided all the subsequent politics).


As a adjunct, apparently it is still really popular in Germany.


You may be comparing to the C era. Compare nodejs to PHP/Python/Ruby and "2019 performance" makes sense.


Additionally, Github, Salesforce, Uber and Facebook all entered into spaces with existing competitors.


And Alta Vista existed before Google...


I agree with you on many points. The restaurants analogy is especially true when the provided service or product is very simple. Additionally if the size of the user base does not influence the experience of the individual user there is no need to catch up in this area. Competitors can be seen as a proof of concept and are not a real obstacle if there is no network effect involved.

I also agree that not starting a project if it doesn't have unicorn potential is ridiculous, but I don't feel like there is anything to explain there.


Restaurants don't scale like applications do.

You can franchise, but the expansion is very different to what software can do.

That said, there are so many things that can be done better than the standard software, or where different varieties can work better for specific cases.


There's a big difference between apps and restaurants. One chinese restaurant can only serve so many customers, but one well made website can serve the entire market, making other solutions of lesser quality almost worthless.

That being said, I agree with the point of your comment in general, and we shouldn't stop ourselves from creating something we value just because it exists already. Working on something we care about gives meaning to our life, and who knows, maybe your solution will turn out to be the best one out there.


> If you're brave enough to start, you may just be brave enough to win.

I love this quote. Thank you. Gonna ponder about this for the rest of my day.


I’ve had this feeling since I used my first Zebra label printer back in ... 2003? It wasn’t until 2012 I was working on the backend programming of Zebra printers that I realized Macs had very little support for designing and printing labels. I created a one off (as in still at version 1.0) native Mac app that used a transparent window and printed whatever was behind it. It is called LabelScope.

Fast forward 6 years and I come to this realization that the label printer software landscape hasn’t changed much at all. I start poking around Electron/React and native node modules for USB, fonts, barcodes and ... a year later this app is born: http://label.live

The problem is, it’s really difficult to market. 95% of my users come from organic App Store search...

My competition is either the free software that comes with the printer or very complicated and expensive Windows software.

Yep, it already exists... but no one seems to be doing the “any desktop computer, any label printer” solution.

It’s been a fun ride so far.


you should write a paid react native/flutter/xamarin library. corporate apps use label libraries a lot and they usually suck coz provided by manufacturers. lots of man hours could be saved


That's pretty cool! Thanks for sharing. You should post it to indiehackers.com, people would learn so much from your experience :)


It depends on the size of the total addressable market. If the size of your target market is big, even if there are bigger established players, there is always a chance for a small, nimble product to carve out a niche. Established players often head upmarket (especially if they are VC funded). This often gives an opening for a new entrant to capture some of the SMB market share.

An example closer to me: the search engine market is dominated by Elasticsearch, which is open source, extremely popular and is now even a public company. However, I decided to work on a small project called Typesense (https://github.com/typesense/typesense) to try and carve out a niche (and perhaps charge for it later).

I decided to take a dive simply because of the size of the market -- search is required in almost every SaaS application, and there are plenty of downsides to ES that can be addressed with a nimble, alternative search engine. And that's what I am doing :)


I'm one of the people who'd definitely use an alternative to ElasticSearch! I hate the fact that elastic search is using Java. It just takes up too much memory.


There are few Rust based projects now for Full Text Search. So you can move away from JVM.

- https://github.com/valeriansaliou/sonic

- https://github.com/toshi-search/Toshi


Great, I would love to hear your feedback on Typesense then. It's not meant to be a full-blown ES replacement. Elasticsearch is a beast but most people don't need that (atleast to begin with).


You could use Lucene directly in a couple of languages:

Python Port: https://lucene.apache.org/pylucene/index.html

.NET Port: https://lucenenet.apache.org/


Please also check Xapian [1].

[1] https://xapian.org/


FTS in PostgreSQL is pretty good, except for missing rank algorithms like tf-idf.


Interesting idea. How's it going so far? Do you have any customers?


Started this as an open source project with the goal of first creating an ecosystem. So far, I have been getting good reviews from people who are using it as a search solution.

Eventually, there will be certain premium features that maybe only 10% of people will really want, and I will charge for that. Playing the long game here.


How do you protect yourself from Amazon offering it on their cloud? Same issue as MongoDB and Elasticsearch.


Good question, and something that's always on the minds of open core companies these days. In my case, I don't mind, and in fact would welcome it! It would solve my no.1 pain point: discoverability.

I'm not planning to build a billion dollar startup out of Typesense, so I don't face the same problems that Mongo and ES do. I also don't plan to offer a hosted version of Typesense. If somebody else fills that void, I will happy to let them do that. For an infrastructure product, there will always be people who want to run it in-house -- there is enough $$$ to be made in that space.


Surprising, AWS is quite open with startups about potential cannibalization if you can form a relationship with the Accelerate program.


If you are put off, it's a good sign you shouldn't even try to build it. If you're discouraged that easily, you aren't going to have the desire or drive to stick with it.

Let's go back in time 20-25 years. I was a wannabe game programmer, and every few months I'd get a stick up my ass to write a Doom clone, RTS, or whatever game I was playing at the time. I'd recruit a buddy or two from a chat room or messageboard. Even though whatever game was out there (Quake II, AoE) was amazing and something we'd never come close to, we'd start methodically planning out the game, star writing an engine, have some test art created...you couldn't stop us. At least not at the start. Eventually we'd get distracted and go our seperate ways, but we still worked on the project like it was the most important thing in our lives for 2-3 months.

Back to today. I wanted to make a chess website, just something simple where you could login and play a game with other users. Mostly so my dad and I could play without being in the same room. I wrote a simple web-based chess engine, got about 75% of the way to what I would consider a 'completed' project. Then I went to chess.com.

Now, I wasn't planning on making something even close to that. No chat rooms, blogs, rankings...but seeing all the features on the site just sucked every last drop of motiviation I had. It didn't help that my current site was basically playable and didn't need much more work. But from that point one, every time I opened my project it just felt so futile.

I know that products evolve over time, and whatever Chess.com looked like in it's first revision probably wasn't anything special. But it's like I knew that I would never even want to take it to that level, so I just lost every drop of motiviation I had at that point.


I'm a chronic wheel reinventor. If you're trying to make money off of your project, your mileage may vary. However, I've found that there are plenty of good reasons to reinvent the wheel. Although I'd very rarely reinvent the wheel when I'm doing something for pay as that implies issues like deadlines and maintainability, I do it all the time for personal projects.

Professionally, I'll write only the code that I feel comfortable that I understand and can maintain. Otherwise, I'll look to third party open source code. Unfortunately, I have been bitten a few times recently by popular and well-maintained but poorly designed or tested libraries that include frustrating bugs.

In my personal projects, I like to challenge myself. I will choose to write any and all code that isn't provided by the language's standard library even if trustworthy open source libraries exist that I would use in a professional situation. I like to think of it as "desert island programming". If nothing else, it has taught me interesting things about all sorts of domains I wouldn't have otherwise sought to learn about. And that knowledge is worth the struggle when making it to market as fast as possible isn't the goal.

There are other reasons for reinventing the wheel besides supplementing your personal understanding. Sometimes the licenses of the alternatives are inadequate. Of course, that's a somewhat personal assessment. Sometimes the alternatives are poorly maintained, poorly designed, or have fundamental flaws or bugs. Sometimes it's not that the existing software is bad per se. Oftentimes writing software involves trade-offs and perhaps the trade-offs the major library's authors have chosen are different from what you might choose. Recreating it yourself can clue you in to these trade-offs and gives you the opportunity to explore different paths.


Mine is mostly a mental problem, I feel like my product will never be good enough compared to others. Even right now, I'm working on a simple website for a specific niche, but there's already another website that does exactly the same thing. I feel like people will just think I copied there idea, or that they might have better content than me. It's always been an issue for me, and because of it, I've never been able to finish anything.


> there's already another website that does exactly the same thing

I don't think there's anything wrong with this per se, but you still need something to set yours apart. For example, if the features are identical, then the price can be different. If the price is the same, then you can edge them out with features or service or get ready, experience.

Amazon won us over with price, but now there are often other places with lower online prices (often walmart.com) but we tend to use amazon more because the experience is good (although they're killing that now too, but that's another discussion).


> For example, if the features are identical, then the price can be different.

Just a reminder that pricing "cheaper" isn't always a good idea. Newbies often think they'll charge less, but without having the data competitors have of how long the product takes to develop & maintain, how much support is involved, how much advertising costs to acquire a customer, how often you need to upgrade your equipment etc.

Please make sure that your competitive advantage is not "selling at a price you can't possibly make a living from".

(Hint: being found first can also be an advantage. Even if you're not better or cheaper than the competition, if they try you first and think "meh, good enough, I can afford that", that can still get you the sale. Not everyone exhaustively researches the competing products.)


> Just a reminder that pricing "cheaper" isn't always a good idea.

That's all true, but also keep in mind that they will often charge as much as people are willing to pay so there can be room for a lower cost competitor to play. Even removing one (costly) feature and charging less could be a good option if it captures customers who didn't need that feature or wouldn't pay more than your lowest cost option to begin with.


Can't beat "free" on price which is why Google is so terrible to compete against.


Sometimes you can beat free! You can outlive the free / freeware competitors, because they're often not making money!

Remember Google often kills off their services. They bought Picasa & the Nik Photography Collection & made them both available for free... now Picasa is gone (even though there's a ton of customers who still want it), and Google sold the Nik Collection to DxO and it's back to costing $70 again. And Fastmail exists even though Gmail is free.

Google is not known for providing friendly personal customer service... so why not aim to get your customers saying "yeah XYZ costs more, but oh my god, they have the friendliest & most hilarious people answering their emails, and they actually fixed my problem!" You can only do that if you've got money coming in to pay for the support team (you want to pay your employees well too, right?) Derek Sivers has some great ideas on doing awesome customer service:

https://sivers.org/cs

(Anyway, just some food for thought. Sometimes pricing cheap is absolutely the right thing, sometimes Charge More is the right thing. Experiment with both!)


I said on price. Beating service on stability and support is not competing on price - that is very much possible. You can compete with Google on both of you aim at their enterprise package or cloud offering.


You can compete on price. But definitely depends on your niche and market segment though.

There are plenty of users who are not happy with how the big companies create products. Google and Apple create for the mass market and in the process generally eschew features, functionality and quality of life improvements which a certain subset of users demand. That's why people pay for Evernote, Todoist etc even though Google/Apple notes and reminders exist. Some companies have even raised VC funding for creating calendar apps even when Google calendar exists.

If your potential customer is happy with the free product, then they were potentially never your customer in the first place. Creating product in such a niche won't be easy nor will it make you a billionaire. But there's a decent chunk of money to be made in both B2B and B2C.


I understand that, I also compare services / products and make a decision, even if one is a copy of the other, I generally don't really care about it. (Unless it's just a 1-to-1 knockoff)

But somehow with the products I work on, being seen as a knockoff is constantly on my mind.


Fair enough, but keep in mind that Oreo cookies are a knockoff. But nobody thinks of them that way because they're the best known cookie of that type and usually the first cookie of that type that someone tries. It is the original in their mind.

If your customers are introduced to all of the products in your segment at the same time, they probably won't even know who is the "knockoff" and who is the original.

Also, when I think knockoff I think of some less than desirable product that isn't as good as the "original". Even after we know that Oreos are knockoffs, it doesn't change our perception of them because they make a high quality product that is desirable (if you're in their target market).

Many products that Apple makes could be considered "knockoffs" but again, most people don't think of them that way because they do an excellent job with design and use high quality materials.

It's probably a bit of imposter syndrome, but as long as your products are great then I wouldn't worry about going to market after a competitor.


If it's "exactly the same thing", I personally wouldn't do it. It doesn't have to be something so significantly different, but it has to be a solution to some real pain points that persist on the existing solution.

On his book "From 0 to 1", Peter Thiel goes even more extreme. For him, if something isn't 10x better then the alternative solution, he wouldn't do it.

Of course, all the above doesn't apply if your goal of building it is for learning-purposes or just for fun.


Sorry, "exactly the same thing" was bad wording, it's the same concept, but executed differently. You can compare it to two tech blogs who write about the same things. Definitely not an issue, they both give different takes on the same things.


But isn't Peter Thiel's view on what's a worthwhile return on investment different to most of us (who I expect would be happy just making a decent living)


That's true. His perspective is more of VCs than us.


What is it if you don't mind sharing? I am working on something niche too.


It's more of a list of resources for generating static sites. I've handwritten everything based on my own experience, so I'm sure content will be different, but the end result is the same as what others have done.


I voluntarily entered one of the most saturated markets that I'm aware of. It's literally a cliché to "do a photo startup."

That rumbling dark cloud of well-funded, well-established competitors on the horizon, and (perhaps my mistaken) belief that I see gaps of sunshine where I can succeed, is one reason I get out of bed every morning and persevere.

That, and my wife needs the product. https://blog.photostructure.com/introducing-photostructure/

(forgive the Always Be Selling, please!)

It was common sentiment when I went through YC that many excellent ideas would be dismissed by investors due to perceived existing competition or absence of market. Only rapid execution, iteration, and customer feedback can actually determine if the idea has legs and can find product market fit.


That looks interesting, and what sets it apart from other solutions that I know of, is that would allow me to host it myself, so instead of handing over my precious pixels to some company.


This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine, so I have to point out that clicking your logo while in the blog takes you to the blog index, rather than the site home page. This is wrong.


I wish the post you linked to had some sort of demo of what the software does. Even if it's just a quick gif that runs through landing and clicking a few options.

I think I get it from the post, but seeing it would be so much more helpful.


im in the Smartphone business, talk about saturated :D ! btw love your product, some of my customers have asked us about something similar perhaps we could collaborate.


There are two reasons for building something: 1. Money 2. Fun / Learning

Both have good reason for building something even though a similar product might exist. Mark Zuckerberg didn't look at MySpace and say "Oh well, there's already a social network where people can connect with each other. I'll stay in Harvard". He saw MySpace and said "I can do better".

For the learning side, it's useful to build something despite its existence for gaining a greater appreciation for how that tool works. There's a service I've used before called Cloud66, which is essentially a wrapper for cloud services like AWS. I liked it so much I decided to build a clone just to see how it all works under the hood, and after replicating it I realised the underlying technologies used to achieve this are pretty simple. There's always good outcomes from building something, whether that be money, learning or just the joy of building something from nothing


There's a large company (30000~ employees, market cap "north of $3 billion") called Rocket Internet [0], based mostly (solely?) on the business strategy of building something that already exists.

Seeing how successful they are, it seems the "uniqueness of a product/service idea" is not such an important factor as it's commonly considered. Perhaps it's more about the execution, how the idea is implemented - UX, marketing, etc.

[0] https://thehustle.co/rocket-internet-oliver-samwer


Worth mentioning that they only work in a very specific niche — e-commerce sites. That's literally the only thing they do, although admittedly very well.


Any time I am talking to younger entrepreneurs about ideas they have that already exist in some fashion I give them a simple analogy to ponder over: Rice!

I tell them to take a look at the rice isle in the supermarket and ask themselves "why are there so many varieties of rice?"... it's rice for goodness sake! How can one be different to another?

How can there possibly be a need for hundreds of different types of rice.

Even if you just pick one type, like white rice, there are multiple brands competing with something as simple as rice.

Every item on a supermarket shelf has earned the right to be there because people are buying it for different reasons.

Everyone is different: Some people only buy Uncle Ben's rice at 4 times the price of the supermarket rice and others only touch the unbranded value rice.

It's all marketing.

So if your idea already exists then it means there is probably a demand and you just need to find your angle and market it appropriately.


I have a history of taking on giants head on. Even I thought on so many occasions that what I was doing is insane and will never work, lo and behold, it did.

Currently I am building a simplified windows deployment system (fdeploy.com) which already exists but is no longer available freely. I want to change that.

My advice is: yes, do it. Give it a try, with most essential features and do not get lost in the details.

Deliver something and see if people want it. Anything. The sooner the better.


I am in the same boat, I started a side project a few months ago and released the MVP without looking too much into the competition. But it turns out there is a lot of it.

The reason I am not going to stop working on it is:

- I am learning a lot while developing the new features(using lots of different tech that I don't necessarily use in my day job)

- it allows me to channel some creativity that I did not know I had

- it doesn't cost me anything to run

- even if it fails I can always use it as a showcase of my skills if I decide to start job hunting.

At the moment my goal is to get 10 users. When I get there, I'll re-evaluate how far I want to take it with this thing.


There are advantages because you can see what features work or not before you build them into your product.


Yes, I have actually been copying/improving existing features from the competitors while trying to improve some of the things that I consider "bad user experience"


Lovely. If you are enjoying yourself and learning new things, why stop? Worst case scenario, it won't work as a business, and you will have learned some new skills.


This reminds me of an old blog of mine.

"The culture of Googling everything is diminishing innovation and critical thinking."

Person A: "I have this great Idea!" Person B: "What is it?" Person A: "Well its ______ for ______!. Isn't that awesome" Person B: (Quickly googles on his phone) "There are already X companies doing exactly that" Person A: "Ohhh..."(Drops his head in shame and moves on"

The most innovative ideas were mostly created by multiple people independently and not knowingly.

Do the lowered barriers to knowledge reduce our ability for critical thinking? How can we maximize the inherent benefits of the web; while minimizing these negative 2nd order effects?

https://dannysalzman.com/second-order-google-effect/


I use to work with a friend from high school on a lot of side projects. He was entrepreneur, and I was just a hacker. I'd generally share all my random ideas with him because I just wanted to talk through the idea with someone and he was generally the only person who would be interested at all in any of my ideas. However, he commonly would come back with a google search and saying "It's that just X". He was very focused on how can an idea be monetized, and all I cared about was how I could build it / how it works.

The flip side of that is as soon as I figured something out I moved on, which lead to many half baked projects that I never got to completion. Once I figured out how something worked or how to solve a problem I lost interest in the idea almost completely and moved onto the next thing.

I still haven't completely figured out how to frame thing in a way to avoid this. The best way I know how to do it is to over shoot the idea most of the time. The issue is this doesn't work very well when working within a team.


I don't think you have a problem at all. You just need a partner who enjoys the money making side as much as you love to create and work together.


I used to think that once a product was created it made no sense to try to produce another one. It's not a valid reason not to try. If you can make the product better or have a way to monetize it then it's a good idea to try.

The hardest way to succeed it to create a brand new product no one has seen since you have to not only find the market you are selling to but convince them that they need the product plus teach that market how to use the product. Something that's expensive and time-consuming. So in a way having a product in the market is an advantage to someone that wants to compete in that area.


My $0.02.

If you feel like the problem exists, start building. But, if you think the problem is solved, then it makes no sense to proceed with it.

For a startup, people use your product because they have a problem to solve. It does not matter how bad your UI/UX is, how drastically bad your flows are, if you are offering a solution no one else is, you will have users. It just needs to work. The more pertinent the problem, more the users will be annoyed if it does not work. Ideally, your idea should be one of the solutions to the problem, and the entire initial phase is there to establish two things: 1/ Whether your solution works? Can you find a unique solution for the problem? 2/ Do a lot of people really have that problem?

For example: If you want to get into ridesharing and taxi market today, it will be difficult. But there is an open case where the wait times and variability annoys a lot of people. That is, if I am taking an Uber, I dont know how long will I need to wait. The app says 5 mins, but can be anywhere between 5-15 depending on the match. Sometimes, I have waited for >10 min and the driver cancelled and had to wait another 15. If some app can tell me exact time - or even let me schedule a ride - I would be happy to pay extra for that given it saves me the time and frustration. Not sure how many will have the problem, or it is good enough for others, but I will prefer a cab which allows me exactly this - even at a higher price point.


I really like this perspective!

Maybe Zoom is a good example. For remote meetings, I was using Skype, Google Hangouts, and other video chat software. I kept having problems (especially on Linux). Products existed, but the problem wasn't solved. For me, Zoom solved the problem.


The same for me. Zoom works well for me on Ubuntu Linux. IIRC, Google Hangouts works as well. Skype for Business I have had problems with.

I have primarily used Linux for 25 years. In recent years the only other program I had trouble with was that the Unity IDE would run on Ubuntu, but to compile and export a VR scene, I needed to use a Mac.

Noting the OP - I created a thesaurus site a few years ago - https://www.matchingwords.com . I tried to pay for Google Ads for it, but they said the site was "not unique enough" and refused my money. Well there was an aspect of the site that was somewhat unique, although not completely unique - I had integrated hunspell into the site, so not only would a word like "laugh" yield a result, so would "laughs" and "laughed". That still was not enough for them though.

Tangentially, the thesaurus backend work was something another project had needed and was done before the web site was put up. With that backend work done, I thought it would be easy to just put up a website so that the backend work could be used twice, so I put up the website.


For a startup, people use your product because they have a problem to solve. It does not matter how bad your UI/UX is, how drastically bad your flows are, if you are offering a solution no one else is, you will have users. It just needs to work.

It's funny because I came to the same conclusion years ago, but had not written it until yesterday in a different context:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19770812

Great minds think alike :)


True that. Great minds really do think alike :)

I came to the conclusion the hard way when I focused on UI/UX (it should look good) instead of focusing on providing the best possible solution. This is the most important learning I took from the entire entrepreneurial experience.


UI/UX does matter if that is the problem you are trying to solve. If users can't use your product because they don't understand it, it isn't solving their problem.

Source: We sign up people because, and these are quotes from sales calls, "You have a good font size, easy to read", "I won't have to train new staff on how to use this correctly".


Of course, if your core value proposition is usability then obviously it matters. I think this is true for many of legacy Saas products. I was more talking in terms of b2c where there might not be a solution to a user's specific problem. (In your case, the solution is there but impossible to use so its similar to no solution available)


I've been working on a project for the last 6 months, and this week the company will be founded. When I came up with the idea I barely googled it, I just assumed that if it existed I would know about it. A few weeks ago however, I found out that a version of the system I'm building exists already.

After the initial negative response I started to carefully examine my competitor's solution, and the more I look at it, the more I'm convinsed that our system will outperform it big time. They apparently have technical problems which has stopped them from capturing market shares in the past 6 months.

If I would have found out about this other company 6 months ago, I would have never started working on the project. Thank god I did though. I have learned so much about web and app development, I have expanded the idea of what I'm capable of, I'm about to found a company (which of course anyone can do but feels super exiting for me :D ) and I actually have a shot at making it fly.

It is always better to do something than nothing.


I've long been baffled as to why what I'm building doesn't already exist. Sure it's tough to actually design-and-make, but it's basically a holy grail of computing that a ton of people have, I think, generally wanted since long before I was born.

The weird thing is that I often do find people working on similar things. Sometimes they're historical projects I'll find a Wikipedia article on, or sometimes they're posted here on HackerNews.

Every time I see one, I think, "Wow! That's a lot like what I'm doing! How is this not a bigger thing?!". The initial surprise used to last a while as I started to dig, but further explanation tended to reveal that things weren't as they appeared.

For an analogy, say that everyone's still using horse-drawn carriages, not cars, to get around. Then, you want to invent a car. Then, you see what looks a lot like a car in someone's lab or in a museum. Then it's like, woah!, right? I mean, if someone already made a car, why are people still using horse-drawn carriages?

So then I'd look into the car and see that it doesn't actually have an engine inside. Or maybe it's got like a major piece of an engine, but still 80% missing.

Anyway, back to the thread's topic...

If you're building something that already exists, how sure are you that the thing that you think is a preexisting implementation actually does what you want your thing to do?

And maybe it does, and maybe your thing's a replication effort. But, my experience has been that things that look the same are off. That I'd see something that I'd think to be a car, and then mistakenly assume that surely it must contain an engine, only to later find out it doesn't.


> I'm building an "intentional system". The idea's that you just tell the computer what to do, and it does it the best way possible. This includes figuring out what you told it to do, how to do that, how to optimize it, etc., in a provably optimal way.

Maybe I'm misunderstanding what you're trying to achieve, but to me, this sounds prohibitively difficult for even the largest most sophisticated organizations at this point in history. It's just way too general. Like general AI kind of general.


Didn't IBM do a programming language like that once? They found out, that most times, people don't actually know what they want, or how to explain it in a way that only have one or two perfectly valid interpretations.


It'd be neat if you could recall what IBM's programming language is called.

It does seem to be the case that a lot of things can be interpreted multiple different ways, which does require people to precisely state what they want.

I think a classic example if a house-cleaning robot told to keep the house as clean as possible, only for that robot to then try to murder the residents after correctly determining that the residents are a primary source of uncleanliness.

Within the system's own logic, I have to be super-careful to precisely specify exactly what I want something to do, much as someone working in any other system has to be careful to specify exactly what the code's supposed to do in its various use cases. But with user-facing applications, it'll tend to assume some default assumptions. For example, if you hire someone to clean your house and tell them to keep it as clean as possible, obviously they know not to murder people to accomplish that goal, as that intent has been communicated through other channels.

However, this also proves to be beneficial in a lot of cases. For example, if you say, "Go buy eggs from the store", but don't clarify which store, that can be interpreted multiple ways. Still, say that the first store happens to be out of eggs; then, it's good that a valid alternative interpretation exists, as the first attempt at interpretation wasn't viable.


SQL? That's an interesting case. It sits at the nexus of a well-defined relational theory, Codd et al., and normalised table data, and you can only ask it things which make sense like selection, projection and various joins. To the question of intentionality, it is declarative and does hide a lot of the work of arriving at the requested result.

Perhaps when viewed in the context of a more tightly defined problem set and solution space, and allowing for the advances in algorithms, AI and computing power since the 1970's - DNNs, evolutionary algos, backpropagation, annealing etc. -intentional goal-seeking self-programming should at least be conceivable.


Having a grab bag of algorithms did not make an idea. I suspect the author thought more of responding to user's intentions not software doing whatever it wills.

This being a multitude of hard AI unsolved problems layered one on another. Such as building a fitness function or goal based on natural language input combined with context and refinement.

I know if two semi successful very limited attempts, one being Google DeepMind AutoML, the other being Bayou. They're really not too useful in practice anymore. (State of the art surpassed anything they are capable of.)


So you mean Prolog? It's not quite IBM's. And yes, many expert systems are about guessing what the user wants rather than providing an accurate answer - and refinement later.

They're called search engines, I heard Google was making a darn good one in 1998.


> Intentional system

I want to build the same thing. It seems hard so i haven't started working on it.


Just because something exists, doesn't mean it can't be done better, faster, smarter, cheaper. In fact it's usually a good sign that someone else built it first because it may indicate a valid market.


Exactly this, the market is validated. Can you find an opening? The game changes more to marketing.


And to a certain extent: cost.


Competition is the fun part! Once you see existing products/services, you can use them as a proxy to validate some aspects of your idea, but also study from them to see what they're lacking:

- Perhaps the service isn't able to meet 100% of the user needs, maybe because some users jumped onto that product because it was the closest (but not perfect) solution to their problem. Or maybe the company grew too big and lost focus/decided to ignore the needs of a few because they moved up.

- What about the non-technical parts of the product/service? Sometimes you can differentiate by user experience (the note-taking app "Notion" is a really good example of this, and totally swept me up. Kudos to their team!).


At the end of 2006 I decided to build a job search aggregator. After 2 months of developing a prototype I found out that indeed.com and simplyhired.com already implemented job aggregators for ~2 years.

So, instead of continuing with job aggregator - I decided to build a job board (postjobfree.com)

My job board grew OK, because indeed.com and simplyhired.com sent us organic (free) traffic for couple of years.

But then (~2009) Indeed and Simplyhired started to charge job boards money for the traffic, and then refused to send even paid traffic to job boards (~2012).

In addition to that, Japanese "Recruit" holding bought Indeed in 2012 (for $1.2B).

Then "Recruit" bought Simplyhired (2016).

Then "Recruit" bought Glassdoor in 2018 (for another $1.2B). Glassdoor worked as a job aggregator as well.

So now largest job aggregator companies convert from "job aggregator" model to "job board" model where customers are direct employers and not other job boards.

So few years ago I started to transform my job board business into job aggregator again. I think if I never abandoned job aggregator idea in the first place, my business, probably, would be a little bit more successful by now. However it is hard to tell for sure. I could have given up competing against Indeed and SimplyHired back in 2007-2012.


An impressive story. As I understand it, you did it more or less singlehandedly.


As a single founder - yes, but not singlehandedly.

I always used help from employees. Initially part-time, then full-time, then more than one employee/contractor.


When we started CircleCI, there were at least 3 other things that were pretty much the same. In addition, two similar services had died, and one had pivoted to be a PaaS. There was also Jenkins, TeamCity, Bamboo, and lots of other alternatives. And then over the next two years, there was at least 20 competitors that started, some with significant funding.

I agonized over so many competitors, and none of them mattered. If you're going to do it, just do it.


That’s inspiring! Did you get to a point where the joy of creating something was superseded by the need to keep it alive and winning? How do you balance both? Often I worry that when a product that I feel so passionate about turns into a business, then the time I spend running the business (which I might not like) will be far more than what I’ll spend working on the product. Not sure if it will be as much fun.

Also is it still the same thing that you envisioned when you first stared?


I was always looking to make a business, though I really enjoy the creation and product side of things. It turned into a business pretty quick, though: we had customers within 3 months and paying customers within 6. 18 months later we had $1m ARR.

I enjoyed running the business up until about 15 employees. When it turned to 25 people I asked someone else to take over as CEO, which was a pretty good decision in hindsight. Circle is now 200 people, and the activities that the CEO does are not ones I would enjoy.

I'm the CTO of https://darklang.com now, and honestly I much prefer being CTO than CEO, especially now that I appreciate how hard being CEO is, and given that I'm working with a great CEO.


I had, or I guess still have, an idea for Yet Another Web Framework. I've written four versions of it in three languages already. I kept running into a problem: if it was complex enough to realize my full vision, then I wouldn't have time to maintain it, especially if it got any traction at all. Plus, for each single thing I wanted it to do, there were pretty well established things you could use instead.

I enjoyed programming it as a learning experience and to scratch my own itch. But I eventually decided it would actually be harder to maintain the system than to write a dumb little web app for any given project. And that there were probably much more valuable things I could teach myself than My Excentric Web Framework.

On another front, while I have never written any code for it, I keep thinking it would be cool to have GeoCities back but updated for all the cool stupid things you can do in the modern Web. A place for your weird taste in CSS, in public, with no shame and open to all. But I keep wishing somebody else would do it, which is not exactly the thing you asked about but somewhat close.


> GeoCities back but updated for all the cool stupid things you can do in the modern Web. A place for your weird taste in CSS, in public

Sounds like Neocities


Oh yeah, I had forgotten about NeoCities, though I did know about them at some point! Thanks for the tip.


I think someone else did it: https://neocities.org/


Indeed! And probably much truer to the original than I would have done.

I wonder if there is room for multiple flavors of this idea. IIRC somebody had something similar that was text-only a while back.

I suspect the Faceborg has let so much air out of the Web that there might not be, but I love the idea that at least in principle anybody with $5/mo for a server could create a *Cities tuned to their own preferences, and people might show up and participate. All free and in the open.


I've been building Jive Search. There's already tons of competitors in search (Google, Bing, etc.). There's also DuckDuckGo, StartPage, etc. that claim to be privacy-focused but are just as opaque as Google. The niche I'm targeting is users that understand that for true privacy in search you have to be transparent and open source so that users can view the code and run it on their own if they want.


It's pretty hard nowadays to come up with a brilliant unique idea that has never been implemented before. I'm not even sure it's possible at all. Competition means there's a market and customers willing to pay for a product. This is a validation of your idea.

Now, unless you're shooting for the unicorn status, there's a pretty good chance you can build a good product, compete and get enough customers to make a living. You don't have to be the best or the cheapest to compete and you don't need hundreds of thousands of customers to make a living.

In the end, i think it really depends on what you're trying to achieve: unicorn status or small side project that you'll enjoy working on and might someday become a full time job.

Either way you should try to do what you love, or if that's not an option, to learn to love what you do. That way, even if you don't succeed, your time won't be wasted and will be spent doing something you love.


It depends whether you're building something for the utility of it or to make money.

You can do the latter in a crowded market as you said, but often if you think you would like to build something for yourself, which is often the best way to build a product, then it's certainly possible to be satisfied with something that already exists.


I was told early in my career that you can't sell something unless you have competitors. it's not universally true I expect but many potential customers operate from the mindset that a) if you have no competitors, it's not a real thing and b) there's no hurry for them to look into it.


I had an idea, that I was going to implement over the month of May as soon as I finished my internship. I was very excited, I wrote up a pitch and mapped out the infrastructure. I just hadn't written code yet, I was saving that for when I could just write code for myself in May. This weekend someone else launched it. It's not as if I was thinking that my idea was novel, I just didn't think anyone else would get onto it let alone 'beat' me to market. I can still work on that idea for sure, but it really took the wind out of my sails.

Here's Overcast with Clip Sharing[0]

[0] https://marco.org/2019/04/27/overcast-clip-sharing


I gave up trying to invent something unique (because trying too hard tells you that you are failing), but I constantly contemplate on ideas to make something that already exists better. There are many things that are already great, but some weird or restrictive design decisions are making it impossible for me to accept their 'greatness'. Take the G5 Power Mac, for instance. At the time it really was one of the greatest products Apple ever conceived. But then came some weird design decisions, partly due to IBM's inability to provide more efficient chip designs and it all went to hell. Coolant leakage, overheating, insane power consumption. Since then I've been trying to come up with ideas to make the Power Mac design a thing again, but with another system inside.


I think your idea is fantastic. That doesn’t exist for me today; even if there is another solution out there, it hasn’t come to my attention, consideration, or adoption.

I think the idea of a reverse address book could be generalized across many contexts. Tim Bernes-Lee is laying tracks for a protocol with that in mind, but it needs apps, especially ones that reach into where people store data today and migrate it to a network where people can subscribe to others data and publish their own.

Meet me where I’m at: on an iPhone, with its contacts system and cloud. Give me shared data without making me relearn contact management over again. Make it so I can show my mom how to do it in a minute, or better yet so easy she doesn’t need to ask about it. Don’t wait for big tech to deliver this. Prove it’s possible.


Can you share more information about the protocol Tim is developing? Any Link?

The idea sounds promising.



I am in the same boat as you are in.I Have so many ideas but not sure which one to follow. I found steve blank's "The startup owner's manual" very useful in evaluating ideas. I have created this excel(https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Cap3CIWHJq3WdAypU6l3...) using the website http://www.guidearama.com/guides/fwb.html


1. Your idea is probably not identical. You execution almost certainly won't be. 2. There is usually room to compete. 3. Innovations often take root slowly and need a network of collaborators and competitors to nurture them.


I think one of the question to ask yourself is: is that competing product the one I'd have built? Is it a product that would solve the problem I wanted to solve perfectly? Is that product awesome?

If the answer's yes, you probably should stop. Because at best, you'd make the same product. If not, see where the product fails and try and estimate what could be better and is it worth it.

Last, remember that the later you are on the market, the more expensive it gets to get attention. You'll either need cash or need to seek funding.


If there are no competitors I generally worry far more than if it exists. I have built many things that do not exist and found out why they do not exist; there is no (sustainable) market (even though we did some research which showed enough market, but turned out there was not or at least not enough to reach that market with limited/bootstrapped means). I have also built many products into (we then thought) saturated markets (dating, free hosting, ...) which did well for us.


I try to ask myself, if I execute this idea really well vs. really badly, what is the full range of possible outcomes? If the range isn’t that big then the problem doesn’t really matter. This has saved me from building a lot of cool, neat stuff that isn’t important.

I think my current idea (a new IDE) has potential to be very important, and I think I’m going to do 2 or 3 key things better than my competitors, so I just have to do it :) It doesn’t matter who else is doing it.


The longer you are in the industry, the more you realize that things repeat and the only thing that matters is getting some market share and growing your business. This can happen in a number of ways - perhaps a beautiful UI, network effects, lower costs, or a new technology platform (web) that shakes up existing markets. So it happens all the time, you just need to find the right angle to best the incumbents.


This is a funny question because most successful open source software seems to be a clone of existing software. E.g. gimp/Photoshop, inkscape/Illustrator and libre office/office. Of course the nice part is that as an OSS developer, you don't have to think about the requirements and specification and even the UI of the software because that has already been done.


> This is a funny question because most successful open source software seems to be a clone of existing software

This is just wrong. None of the examples you mention are clones.


My favorite example of this is jet.com - who in their right mind would compete directly with Amazon on Amazon’s home turf? Well, it turns out it only looked like the same turf (“e-commerce”), but that’s the catch. Differentiation is subtle yet powerful, and Jet.com went for slower, bulk commodities, with a different pricing approach. Markets are, apparently, full of fickle niches!


I only build things I actually want to use myself. If I, after research, find that my idea has already been done it simply means that there's an untapped market where either their product sucks or they're bad at marketing. Otherwise I would have already have known about them and I shouldn't need to do research to find it.


The saying:

“Pioneers get arrows. Settlers take the land.”

Basically represents that being first to market is not ideal. Out execute when the market is proven.


There is always a new component to success.

Facebook's was a social graph. Google's were big analytics. Uber's a new terrible business model. Microsoft's was coopting so many good ideas to build a software ecosystem. Apple was the same with hardware.

And sometimes the space is just free for the taking, given strong enough budget. That's how DTP and CAD, electronics design and 3D graphics were almost duopolized. (And by better part libraries.)

Sound and video editing are a bit more competitive, but not a lot.


> For you builders/founders out there, are you on a never ending quest to find something new/unique or do you prefer another quality in your idea to start a project?

I take on projects (both commercial and hobby) that satisfy a need that isn't already being adequately addressed elsewhere.

I don't care much if a product of the same sort already exists. I only care that it isn't adequately meeting a need.

In fact, if I've come up with an idea and find that nothing like it already exists, I consider that a red flag. Not a showstopper, but a reason to be much more cautious. This is because it often happens that if nobody else is addressing a given market, it's because there's some serious problem in addressing that market that I haven't foreseen (perhaps it isn't as big as I think, or there is some technical gotcha that I didn't notice, etc.)


16 years ago I created a database for video game mods and led the market. Now I’m in the opposite position where services like Steam’s Workshop have taken over. Despite that my conviction that mods are critically important has never waivered, and alternatives / competition is required. So now I’m the upstart and it feels good to be building something I’m passionate about and believe in, despite the 200 ton gorilla in the room. We both serve slightly different roles, developers using our tech love what we are creating and I’m confident we can carve out a worthwhile piece of the pie.

Long story short I’m glad this is a rule I broke and didn’t let my inspiration evaporate.


"Being first to do something is unimportant. Being best is what counts." (https://www.theverge.com/2015/3/13/8202873/first-doesnt-matt...)


Not necessarily.

Overall: Look at all these products that have nearly identical features (with only some distinction).

The key is to think about the features that would make your product unique and to analyze whether there is people who will prefer your product (at your price point) to all the other options.

I'd love to bring something innovative to the market but it really isn't necessary. A lot of people focus on things that a lot of other people don't care about or like. So it's easy to get a decent market share with basically already existing products that just provide some "buy-worthy" features.

Of course competition can be harder here but on the other hand you don't have to put that much effort into building something completely new (which will give others the opportunity to improve upon your great idea).

It's also easier to analyze an already existing market.


A musician doesn't stop writing a love song just because there are millions of love songs already written.


I know a VCS service and a support tool that could let you steal their lunch. Both are lumbering giants under their current owners and have not innovated for years. If its lean they could beat you on execution. If its riddled with bloat and the good engineers have left, you could win.


I think a lot of people are missing the point about what actually makes a startup work in the early stages: a reliable and affordable route to customers. If you have this then go for it. If you don’t, then your real first step is to find this. Without this you won’t be able to compete.


The heuristic for this is can you make the product 10x better (along a dimension that matters) for some subset of consumers? The subset can be equal to the set: Zoom makes video conferencing 10x better on reliability for the whole market. That said, that case is much rarer. It is often much easier to deeply understand the needs of a subset of users and make a tailored solution that delivers a 10x outcome to that set of users. Examples here are CRMs that specialize on industry verticals vs Salesforce. A pharmaceutical CRM is functionally very different than a one size fits all CRM. PS Also, stop looking for big markets. Look for a small market that you can dominate quickly and logically extend from there. PPS Most ideas here stolen from Thiel


Have you thought of 'joining' the competition?

We were somehow conditioned to believe that we either have to be the Founder or nothing. We are not losers if we are employees and not employers.

We don't have to be the CEO to pursue an idea we are passionate about.

And if it is impact that you want; think that most often, the impact you can have joining an existing successful company will be waay bigger than reinventing the wheel and building your own.

I do respect the nobility of wanting to be your own boss and doing your own awesome thing but in general(not giving advice for this specific case), that's not the only way..


No, except in certain cases.

When the market is large you can almost always carve out a stake. You already know the demand is there, you can get a share of it by reaching people who haven't heard of or don't like your competitor, or by doing something a little different and better. The risk and reward are both lower in these businesses vs a Valley style moonshot that VCs tend to like.

However if the market is just a few companies or the service depends heavily on network effects I wouldn't do it. E.g. the investment required to offer as many apps as Google Play or as many social updates as Facebook is huge, you can't really bootstrap your way into this, and people are only going to engage with so many app stores or social networks.


I think it will help if you know why what you're going to build is going to be better than what exists. Like Google knew its search will be better, like Zoom knows its conf is better than WebEx.

Apple is the quintessential example of "take a sad song, and make it better".


Consider that 99% of new products are evolutionary, they don't represent a fundamental new approach or a fundamental new innovation. Most real innovation is incremental, and small, and new 'great products' are a compendium of a lot of little things.


There is a difference bt. building an app/software and building a business. If you enter a field with existing businesses, you have to treat it like a business, otherwise your app will generate zero revenue. Talking unfortunately from experience.


I feel your pain. I spent a year building a SaaS and then another year trying to find customers. Never made a single sale.

I realize now I approached the whole enterprise bass-ackwards.

Next time: find customers first, then build the thing. If you can't find customers, then at least you haven't wasted time and energy building the thing.

I know this is common wisdom now, but I apparently enjoy learning all of life's little lessons the hard way.


Copying ideas is highly underrated.

Competition is a fantastic signal of an existing market where customers are likely used to paying. I think the fear of replicating an existing idea is usually overblown while in reality every founder/entrepreneur ends up giving the solution his/her own unique touch. Even if you're blindly copying an existing product, you cannot help but add your past experience and your taste for products in it.

I elaborated more on this in my essay: https://invertedpassion.com/copying-ideas-is-highly-underrat...


I realized a few years ago: You don't have to be the best. You just have to be better than some. You can always cannibalize the market share of the current worst performers. You get your start there, and build up as you can.


I think it makes a difference whether you're looking for ideas that will do well, vs just having an idea that you would go for as a pet project. I have one of those "just a pet project" ideas which I have been developing for no reason other than my own benefit, and let me tell you, I love finding competition. It's like Christmas every time I find out there's a service that incorporates some of the concepts, and I keep a big document of inspiration that draws between all of them.

If your idea isn't unique, you can still succeed, but you have to out-do the competition on something other than uniqueness.


For sure. I have concepts written down for things like a social network where the user retains ownership of their data and advertisers can offer them money for access to it. There are partial concepts out there like this but the biggest issue preventing me from creating a prototype is simply that I don't think I have the time to nurture a social network into being (which is probably harder than creating the thing). You need people on it to gain other people, a real chick and egg problem.

I still want to build the prototype. But, in trying to be realistic, I don't think it'll become a business or even popular.


I’ve got tons of pages written for a similar concept, only you pay for it. Just as filters were the utility that drove the users which created the network for early Instagram, I think data ownership can be the utility that drives users for a for-pay social network.

This [0] kickstarter is trying to do a paid network, but I think they’ve over complicated it.

[0]https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/factr/factr-the-ethical...


Not so much about something already existing, but knowing how next-to-impossible it'll be to compete against the Googles/Microsofts of the world once the idea starts to take up steam/get noticed.


Sometime its just a single feature that makes a difference. There are tons of news aggregators out there but I decided to build my own anyways, because it updates the website automatically without that I have to scroll. After I build it I realized that I use it as a "second-screen website" where the news just runs over the site like a ticker. I don't have a lot of visitors, but the ones that come stay for a long time, that is great! http://www.uptopnews.com/


Clayton Christensen publishes “The Innovator’s Dilemma” in 1997.[1] No incumbent is safe. It can be easier to be first to market, but being first doesn’t mean permanent victory. If you believe your solution solves a problem people have then it’s a fine choice to keep going.

Also, you’re going to need alignment between your funding, the skills of your team, and your proposed solution.

[1]: The Innovator’s Dilemma, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Innovator%27s_Dilemma


I usually loose inspiration when I've thought the idea through and concluded whether it could be done, and whether it could be successful. If I know how to build it, that's generally enough. Like The FinalKey, yes, I'm using it every day, and I'm very happy with it, and many of those I've given one are very happy with it, and can't understand that I didn't pursue it further.. Well, it was done! and now there is FIDO and Mooltipass, so it's not needed anymore anyway, so I get to move on to something else.


My inspiration for creating things may often not be "let's make X exist", but rather "like X, but good". I make PWAs and APIs, so unfortunately making a better Civilization V or a slack that performs like AIM isn't going to fit in my schedule.

What puts me off is usually the lack of a usable API. Or, if closed source app X has a gorilla that's holding the banana wrong, I might have to recreate the entire jungle from scratch just to get some basic architectural or UX flow fixed.


In my opinion...

It's quite established how to answer this question. More specifically, it's a classic strategy question (with a lot of marketing in it). You should look up what broad theory is applicable. My take (have an MBA or equivalent) is to look at differentiation, segmentation, resource based strategy, feedback loops and platform theory, Porter's five forces with critique, a static VS a dynamic perspective.

If you can find a viable (hopefully quite sustainable) strategy, go for it. If you can't, then don't.


Would you be kind enough to point to resources where one could learn more about this?


I actually started on a project recently because a competing product already exists.

I really dislike Emby and Plex server (I don't want to besmirch them here but you can email me if you want a rant :) ), and as a result I've been working on/off on a product to replace them.

I probably won't monetize it any time soon, but it's not off the table honestly, since I personally feel that my system will be better. Even if it's not, I had a lot of fun making it.


I've developed a few ideas that I would love to work on, but I'm extremely pessimistic about business ventures. If anything remotely similar to my idea exists, I assume that they've considered my idea and there's something I'm missing. Like there's some reason it wouldn't work the way I'm imagining, and I'd fail.

So yeah, I tend to quit unless the idea is super unique.


If you haven’t heard of them without doing competitive research, but you are in the target market, then you can at least beat them at getting the word out.


No. And I think that creating something entirely new is overrated sometimes: one might argue that it's a requirement for a startup to achieve skyrocketing growth rates. But it's pretty feasible to build a healthy business creating a new version of something, specially on fields where customer relationship and after-sales services play an important role. That's been my experience at least.


Everything exists by now. Every single idea that you might have has been tried already. Your next startup is not going to be the first doing what it does.

Believe me: it’s not the idea that makes a great project / company. It’s the execution. It’s the market fit. It’s providing the best solution possible. It’s delighting your customers. It’s giving them real value for their money.


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