It’s already been done

The first thing many entrepreneurs do when considering a new idea or startup is comb the market to see if it has already been done. The most common result is the realisation that someone thought of it, and even built it, way before we did. Beside the fact that this is a validation of awesomeness, it also leads us to make the rookie error of looking for a new idea. Instead we might consider these two questions.

  1. If it’s been done and we didn’t know about it, has it really been done?
  2. If they did it and it didn’t work, is it because the idea is crap, or did they do a crap version of it?

The only real way to answer these questions is to ignore the fact that it has already been done, and do our version of it anyway. While it is true there is only room for one stunt or advertisement using a particular idea, creating a business on a certain idea has greater complexities and nuance, all of which the idea itself represents a very small part.

If you’ve still got doubts, here’s a little known fact worth remembering: There  were over 300 video sharing channels when Youtube launched. What Youtube did was create a simple user experience and had the killer app of easy embed across the blogosphere and most other social web services.

Startup blog says: Build your version anyway.



  1. Spot on Steve.
    I love that line that says “for every idea you come up with there’s 3000 other people that have already thought of the same thing. The trick is to just try and do it better”.

  2. We live in a post modern world – everything thats to be done has been done.

    That said, there are so many subtleties to an idea it can make the brain bend – even for the ever so popular “photo sharing” startup. (that which I don’t really get BTW.)

    A lot of it goes into the assumptions of what needs to be in place for it to work – AND a lot of this can come for expertise in the are you are planning the startup. Remember domain knowledge?

    That said, when I started what I am doing now with Google just appeared with the Google Power Meter (remember that?) Then some other cats from that Microsoft company appeared calling something Hohm. These two goliaths both assumed that the utility companies would give them the data to feed some web application that makes graphs and stuff. A fair assumption for those who don’t know the utility industry.

    Anyway, when I started doing what I am doing now I knew the utilities were a waste of time ( they may become useful in the future however) and I had to do the hard thing – invent some hardware to get the data to so my website could make pretty graphs and things.

    The important thing is that you should have a good idea of what you can do, can’t, will and won’t. If you are a business person – think very very hard about a tech startup – unless you will learn to code. Same goes for a person specialising in graphic design beginning a golf course management company – unless they really really love golf.

    Insight is what helps define and pick the correct assumptions. Appreciate this before taking the journey for the next 7 or so years of ones life.

    Note: I consider the definition of startup as an idea looking for a business model, that can earn money and isn’t for the flip. I don’t consider a feature product, like a photo sharing app made for a flip a startup.

    Rant mode is now off.

    Sam, @samotage

    1. Sam, I would call that a rant – I’d call it a does of reality about building a business versus the simplicity, and narrowness of an idea…

      thanks for such a thoughtful comment.

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