Early stage · Competition

What to do if you find your idea has been done by some other startup?


August 23rd, 2014

I have an idea which I would like to start a new venture on. This has been a side project for a while.  By some research, I found a couple of early stage startups, almost all just got series A, or have already been there for 1-2 years.  

As a late comer,  should I continue work on the idea? But I do not see a strong advantage of my team so far. Or in other words, I do not see my competitor's advantage except they started early and probably have a beta version already, which is still far far from what I wish to do.

Or should I think more positively by treating this as an endorsement of market/VCs?  if the market is large enough, we won't compete with each other in the early stage. As long as we move fast enough, we should be able to outpace my competitors.

Any suggestions?

Diego Basch Holder of Self-Referential Title

August 23rd, 2014

The startup world is littered with the corpses of first movers. Friendster, MySpace, many search engines that ruled the world before Google, etc.

It's not even about outpacing the competitors. It's about starting with an idea, iterating and seeing where your market takes you. It's often the case that companies that start as competitors diverge and focus on different markets.

Jay Feitlinger Digital Strategist | Entrepreneur | Digital Strategy Agency CEO | Speaker | Business Consultant

August 23rd, 2014

@Lei I see we both have a connection at ASU. :-) 

I wanted to jump in on this and offer some perspective. With my last business when Facebook started getting very popular with businesses & I was working with a lot of eCommerce clients helping them with their digital marketing I saw a huge opportunity to be the 1st company to come out with a social commerce app on Facebook with the goal that in minutes an eCommerce company could build their shop on a tab on their Facebook page fast, cheap and results oriented.

We called it ShopTab and for about 6 months I put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into trying to be "1st" to market. Of course, literally a week before our beta launch a huge competitor came out that had $3.5 million in funding and we bootstrapped this baby.

Sure at first I was discouraged but then as @Eric Sexton stated, it was a huge opportunity. We slowed down our launch, monitored them very closely for about 30 days and then we pivoted our business to focus on the areas they were weak on. We were not 1st to market, not never the #1 but we were definitely in the top of the pack and got customers like Coca Cola and Barneys NY to use our App over the top competitor. 

As Eric said, take this as an opportunity to look at what they came up with and make your solution better. I always tell entrepreneurs that I consult that if they think they are 1st to market with an hour and the help of Google I will find someone out there that has started up something similar so its quite hard to be 1st and from my experience it does not matter anymore. Just be different and better! Even being #2 our business did very well (still is) & I was able to sell it a few years ago so I can focus on my current business.

Dimitry Rotstein Founder at Miranor

August 23rd, 2014

My first reaction is a ping of jealousy (naturally), and then I remember that according to statistics there is a 99% chance that the other startup will cease to exist in a couple of years (either because it fails or is acquired). That helps. And, of course, everything else that said here is correct (or is widely considered to be correct): strong competition indicates a viable market, competitors pave you a way, you can always come up with a simple but interesting twist, and if the market is big enough there is plenty or room for you and them.

Chris Sorensen Startup Executive / Mentor, Expert in Innovation and Product-Market Fit, MBA, MS

August 23rd, 2014

This is a classic "First Mover" vs. "Fast Follower" dilemma.

Diego is right - the road is littered with the bodies of many First Movers who were "disrupted" by later entrants - but there are also many First Movers who have been able to maintain market leadership.

So what makes the difference?

Here is my humble opinion: First Movers are taking their best guess at developing a product and market entry strategy that will achieve high "Product Market Fit" (PMF).

If their guess is relatively accurate then they can quickly securely capture a significant or dominate market share.  In this case they have (or will) lock-up the market making it very hard, or very expensive for late entrants to compete.

This scenario is very unattractive to VC's.

However - if their product design is "just a little off" or if the market is rapidly changing - then the First Mover product  will NOT reach high PMF, and it will be vulnerable to being "leap frogged" (passed) by a later entrant.

So to my mind, the question comes down to this:

Do you have a deeper and better *insight* into what the market wants than they do?
If so, is your product *sufficiently different* to create substantial competitive advantage?

If you do, then you have a chance to help build a new market and control a reasonable amount of  market share.
If you don't - then you will only be offering a "me too" product which are much less likely to survive, but not impossible.

So I propose that your chances of success are not so much based on your ability to "go faster" or even "execute better" - but rather are most related to your ability to be "smarter" than the first mover.

Eric Sexton Game Desginer at Crate Entertainment

August 23rd, 2014

It gives you a good position to see where they got it right, where they got it wrong, and how you can improve your own idea.

From my perspective I have been trying to get funding on an idea for almost two years but because nothing else exists like it in my target market, there is nothing I can point to and say "See...they did it and they have X users and Y profits".  

Your competitors will pave the road allowing you to build up momentum to bypass them later.  I can't wait till someone else makes a product similar to mine so I can have a road to drive on.

Tom Maiaroto Full Stack Consultant

August 23rd, 2014

It doesn't matter in most cases. The market is so huge and there's very rarely ever a "unique" idea. First to market is very important in many cases, but not always required. If you can do something better or target a more specific set of users, then you could very well have a successful business. Rare is it anyone has 100% of the pie. In fact, if your business does have 100% of the pie, you might have some problems at some point.

Ajit Gupta Entrepreneur

August 23rd, 2014

I found myself to be in the same position recently.  The other company had actually taken forward the idea two years earlier and then seemed to disappear.  I contacted the owner and he was really helpful - he told me about what hadn't worked, what had worked and without giving their crown jewels away was happy to discuss what they had done using the rationale that the market is so big there will always be competition...

All completely unexpected.

Tom Maiaroto Full Stack Consultant

August 23rd, 2014

@Josh Benjaimin 

As far as contacting the competitor, if I do so I'm always friendly and open. Surprisingly enough - depending on the circumstances, you could actually be more working together than against each other. You could simply be addressing different people with the same product or you could be complimentary. Regardless, competition is healthy and no one can expect to enter a space by themselves. I feel that it's far better to have a good relationship than a hostile one. Image accounts for a lot and the last thing you want to do is look fearful of competition or be unprofessional. 

Be confident in what you do and happy that you aren't alone. I guess that's my feeling these days. I only wish more people would feel that way. I see, all too often, people being snarky and making fun of others despite the fact that they aren't doing so hot themselves =) 


August 26th, 2014

Go with idea, research competitors and crush them like bug

Josh Benjamin Founder of Lifechime | Authentic Human Being

August 23rd, 2014

What do you all think about how to frame contact with the competitor?