History Repeats Itself

by Jess Brown

In my previous post I discussed the struggle with staying in an optimistic entrepreneurial mindset when you feel like all of the good ideas are gone, the market is saturated, and opportunity has left the building. I surmised that this is just a feeling and not reality. Well, along the same lines, I have another question I want to ask you about.

A few weeks back Seth Godin wrote a post about Same as it ever was where he displayed two of the first portraits ever taken and basically as asked: could they have been taken with Instagram? The point he was making (in my opinion) is that there's plenty of opportunity in products, services or technology that already exists.

History is full of examples of companies who did not pioneer their core offering, but came to dominate it anyway. Think of the way that Apple has come to redefine and dominate the market for mobile devices—a category pioneered by Motorola. Boeing did not pioneer modern jet travel, nor Google the Internet search engine. Yet both companies are now industry leaders.

In Seth's post he says:

No need to fool yourself into holding back just because your innovation or product doesn't contain a flavor that's never been tasted before or an experience previously unimagined.

I believe this, but what about the other end of the spectrum? For instance:

This is a terrible quality video, but the only one I could find.

We make fun of the five thousandth To-Do app, or the social network for X. NOOOO, not another project management tool. Anybody want to build another CMS?

There's been tons of silly ideas (and as developers we've built them) yet occasionally something new will surface that competes with the industry leader and even surpasses it. What made Slack different from Hip Chat? What made Gmail different than yahoo mail? I'm not that knowledgeable about all the different startup successes and failures, so you fill in a few blanks of the ones you know.

My question is, when are competiting products valid? When are they seen as another lousy idea?

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