Someone is already doing it.
Annoying but true. Whenever you come up with a truly great idea, it’s a 99% certainty that someone, somewhere got there before you.
Good ideas get around pretty quickly these days. At the same time, it’s easy to research them. Even a modest internet search will unearth something similar in a few minutes.
There are three reasons why this is good news.
Firstly, surveying the competitive landscape is easier. Prior to the web, you could do all sorts of things before discovering you had a competitor.
Second, It means you can find out whether your idea has worked, or if it hasn’t, you can examine what went wrong.
Third, someone else has already cleared a few of the early hurdles. Can you make the idea work even better?
Knowing what’s out there
The first is about competitive analysis – about understanding the options. If you were opening a coffee shop in a new location, the first thing you’d do would be check out the competition. What are they doing right, and what are they doing wrong?
The process also makes clear if there are barriers to entry. If setting up a successful business is easy, it won’t be long before more people are doing it.
It helps to start in a walled city. If you have anything that prevents others from making a quick entry – like proprietary IP, or even simple things like location or key staff advantages – then you have more time to establish critical mass before the competitive hordes arrive at the city gate.
So your idea is working for someone else.
Why has it? Don’t assume a cookie-cutter version will do the same for you. If you had to list the real drivers behind their success, what are they? Check for special characteristics of their product or service, their pricing, customer service, terms and conditions or distribution channels.
Equally, check the platform from which they launched. Many new ideas are product developments built on existing business, like accountants offering financial advice or retail businesses launching order-taking apps for mobile devices. New ideas are not necessarily start-ups. Often they are backed by existing infrastructure and financial strength. Have you got either?
On the other hand, maybe you are in a position where you won’t be held back by existing commitments.
Can you do it better?
A first-mover strategy can work for some, but a second-mover strategy can be just as successful and has lower risk. When Yahoo was the dominant search engine, no one predicted Google’s success. The Iphone was a late entrant into mobile phones and most Facebook users don’t even know what MySpace is.
Look at what particular strength you can bring to the marketplace. It can be something as simple as convenience, like the ease of signing up, or of using the service. Google got a huge advantage from the clarity of it’s home page. Free of ads or distracting junk, it just seemed easier to type and press search. Now it’s a verb.
Before you even pass Go on your new idea, see how it scores on a simple stress test. Is there anything like it out there? How does it work? Can you make it work better?