Markets can support competition
This year one piece of unsolicited feedback I’ve heard more than anything else is this:
“Why are you building X when Y exists?”
For example, why create Fathom (a website analytics platform) when Google Analytics, Piwik, etc already exist? For example, why create Pico (a writing platform) when Medium, Svbtle, Tumblr, Ghost, and others already exist?
The same could be said for any book I’ve ever written or any course I’ve ever created. There are other business books or online courses, so why bother at all? Aren’t I just copying someone else’s business model or intellectual property? There are already so many companies that do X, why am I creating another?
To start, let’s look at a few examples of companies that were created when competitors existed (thanks to Jack Ellis, my Pico cofounder, for this list):
- Myspace (2003) – Facebook (2004)
- Yahoo Mail (1997) – Gmail (2004)
- Basecamp (1999) – Asana (2008)
- Todoist (2007) – Wunderlist (2011)
- MSN Messenger (1999) – Skype (2003)
- HipChat (2009) – Slack (2013)
- GitHub (2008) – GitLab (2011)
- Coca Cola (1886) – Pepsi (1893)
To the best of my knowledge none of the companies that came second (or third) straight-up copied the other. They just offer the same or similar thing. No project I’ve ever done has taken someone’s code, writing, design, or actual intellectual property or patents. Important Note: ideas aren’t intellectual property—that’s why copyright law and patents don’t apply to general ideas. Because ideas aren’t worth anything, only execution is. Uber is a better executed cab company (in some regards). AirBnB is a better executed travel stay company than hotels (again, in some regards). Copying is taking someone’s execution and passing it off as your own. Making something new is taking an existing idea in use in a market and attempting to do it better. That’s just how business works. It’s not even underhanded or nefarious – it spurs innovation, change and healthy competition.
Indeed, the best ideas are ideas that already exist. Seeing that an already executed idea exists in a market and is making money proves that there’s a market. It shows that people are willing to pay for the executed idea, which means there’s possibly room for your executed idea in the same market. Every single market on the planet can support competition. In fact, they should support competition (because that reduces monopolies, which tend not to benefit consumers).
Ideas don’t have to be new. They probably shouldn’t be. Where creativity and innovation come in is that the execution of your idea to create a product or service has to have your own flare. Your own take on the idea. Your own values that are added to it.
For example, just because there are 13 million or so existing business books that already exist on Amazon doesn’t mean I shouldn’t write my own. It just means that when considering how I write my own, it has to include my own take on the ideas, my own voice in how I make my arguments and my own research/stories that I use to make them. Even Company of One (it’s pre-order-able soon, I promise) isn’t the first book about what happens if a business considers not scaling. There are other books on the same subject (most of them are great and I’ve even recommended them to this list in my quarterly book recommendation emails). But my book could only have been written by me. Even though it’s light on my own personal stories (it’s not that sort of book), it’s heavy on my own point of view, which was shaped by my own personal experiences. I’m not even saying it’s better than the competition, it’s just different from it.
For any new idea I have, I make sure there are similar products out there, making money currently. Otherwise, the market may not support the executed idea (i.e. people don’t value something enough to pay for it). Lately, my focus has been on markets where there has been very little innovation from smaller players or are thought of as boring: like website analytics or blogging platforms. Both Fathom and Pico gained traction quickly because I was clear about relating the values of each, which was what people latched onto. For Fathom, it was privacy and data protection. For Pico, it was that the “advertising model” for content writing ends up with annoying distractions. In both cases, I leaned heavily on the idea that people are waking up to and unhappy with being the product (i.e. if you aren’t paying for a product, then you are the product).
Of course, when creating something for an existing, competitive market, we do have to be aware of certain things before proceeding. Like making sure what we’re making is executed in a way that’s unique to our own thing. And that it’s easy to distinguish and explain quickly how what we’ve created differs or varies from what’s out there. Even if it’s in what you stand for (values or what a business stands for, especially right now, are as important as what a company offers).
This idea that other, similar products existing currently or in the past means that no one should try to do the same idea in a different or possibly better way is ridiculous, illogical and ill-founded. Seeing an existing product or products in a market proves there’s a market for your new and interesting take on the exact same idea. This isn’t copying anyone, it’s simply staking your claim in a place you know people may want more options than are currently available.