This is a guest post from Alex Yumashev. Alex is a founder of Jitbit – a UK-based self-funded startup with a suite of customer support oriented products. You can find his blog at blog.jitbit.com and meet him at the Business of Software 2012 this October.
Does this sound familiar?
“Shake things up!”
“Don’t be a “me too” product!”
You keep hearing this from all the industry gurus – Paul Graham, Jason Fried, Hiten Shah, DHH and many others. You keep reading this in fine startup blogs and in HackerNews discussions. You keep hearing this at conferences. “Don’t be a me-too product”. This has become a mantra. But, you know what?
“Me-too” products are just fine.
In fact, starting with a “me-too” product as your first product – is the preferable way to go. I hate to break this to you, but your first “innovative” idea will most likely fail. Your second “revolutionary” idea will fail as well. Just like the third one. In fact, almost all the famously successful people have failed at first. Including Bill Gates (two failed businesses before Microsoft), Walt Disney (fired from a newspaper as a “mediocre artist”), Soichiro Honda (yes, that Honda, was fired from Toyota), Henry Ford, James Dyson, etc. Overnight success is an exception, not a rule. For every “Angry Birds” there are thousands of game studios who never made it.
Your first me-too product, on the other hand, might turn out pretty good.
Innovation is glamorous. We love to hear stories about two guys making a fortune by inventing something completely new in a garage. But don’t chase the “innovation”. Chase the customer needs instead. With an “innovative” app you are tempted to fall in love with your idea. And take the “idea-first” road, instead of the “market-first” approach, where a “me too” concept becomes perfectly acceptable, as the market is proven to be right there.
You need competition
“The big problem with avoiding competition is that you are also avoiding customers.” – Erik Sink.
Don’t drop an idea as soon as you find out somebody else is already doing it. This is actually a good sign. In fact, no competition is nothing but a sign of an empty niche.
So if you feel you can create a product in a crowded niche you are familiar with, and you can make it even slightly better than the existing ones – go for it. In fact, it’s even easier to innovate in crowded niches, because you have reference points, weaknesses and strength right under your nose. There are more chances to disrupt an existing niche then to create a brand new niche.
70% of my company revenue comes from me-too products. When we first launched our Macro Recorder five years ago there were seven other titles on the market. But making the first couple of bucks out of it inspired us so much, that we rushed into polishing and improving the tool, adding more determinant features that eventually made us the leader in the niche. By the way, becoming a leader is not even required: another flagship product of ours – the web-based help desk app – has never made it to the top of Google search but it still generates half of our company’s revenue. There’s enough space for everyone.
We do experiment with “revolutionary” products as well – a media-streaming service, social apps, we even wrote a plugin for Spotify just for kicks… And trust me, it’s much easier to launch the “innovative” stuff when you already have a “me-too” product background. You already know how to do SEO, how to accept online payments, how to do marketing, how to manage your team and many other. Learning all these things is easier with a “me-too”.
Same guidelines & tools
Turns out, all the startup concepts apply to “me-toos” just fine. Releasing an MVP (“minimum viable product”) soon enough to gather some initial feedback – works great. The “build-measure-learn” cycle concept (from the Lean Startup approach) also works like a charm. “Fail fast”, “be data-driven” – all these apply beautifully. And don’t forget, with a “me-too” product you can also measure/learn from your competitors as well! Sometimes publicly available data points out some cool stuff you can learn from. Or – weaknesses you can beat.
So it’s OK to be a me-too. Disrupting crowded niches is not that hard. Forget the stereotype and go for it. Even Google was a “me-too” product at first.
Next AMA: Clarke Ching, 23rd February 17.00 GMT.
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