I have a buddy who’s been thinking about a startup for a few months. He just got started working on it. Domain name secured, potential investors wooed, website prototype built, application specified. He woke up this morning to an email from me that read something like this:
Subject: Hope You Don’t Mind Some Friendly Competition
<Link to TechCrunch article about a piece of technology that Microsoft is planning which will compete directly with his brain child.>
I should note at this point in the story that this friend’s idea was in no way an obvious play for Microsoft. It’s not like he was planning on building a font for Word here. I got this back from him a few hours later:
Subject: Re: Hope You Don’t Mind Some Friendly Competition
Dear God! I think this proves Microsoft is listening into my inner thoughts.
Thanks for sharing!!! You most likely just saved me oodles of more money, time, effort, and (ultimately) disappointment.
We should catch-up (like, by phone – remember those things?!) sometime soon.
I hope all is well!
I love this type of work, but it does have this danger. Hey, the reason I love it is because it requires you to be quick on your feat and ready to out think the other guy. You can’t eliminate the risk. If you have a great idea it’s not unlikely that someone else is capable of coming up with it too. Here’s what you can do to mitigate the risk:
- Keep an idea list (Chris Dixon had a great post about this a while back). Start a google news alert or at least apply an eye to your morning news reads and try to perceive any competition or potential competition.
- Do NOT panic. Competing against other startups should be expected. If you’re in the right market this will not keep you from being successful. It’s nice if you’re at least a little bit different, but you can be as similar as Gowalla and FourSquare and still be successful.
- Conquer the dip (I mean Seth Godin’s Dip). The more repeatable your idea is, the more you’re going to have to innovate on it and grow it out. You will have to flat outwork the other companies with the same idea. You’ll have to build more features, come up with more uses, ensure more usability if you want to be THE company in your market space.
- If you can’t win, quit. The thing is, you can’t be working on the next big thing if you’re working on something with no potential. In general, you need to be stubborn, hard-headed and determined but when the time comes to step away you need to be able to recognize it.