Arvid Kahl talks about starting and bootstrapping businesses, how to build an audience, and how to build in public.
Today, I want to discuss a problem some founders face when they discover someone else has already created their idea. I certainly felt deflated when my cool idea was already being done by someone else in the past. Many founder feel disappointed, thinking it's too late for them.
And then they drop their idea.
This is one of the biggest and most impactful mistakes you can make as an unexperienced founder. You’re literally ignoring the strongest validation signal you could possibly get: competition.
Learning to value the presence of competition is an amazing opportunity, especially for solopreneurs and indie hackers — because it allows us to skip a few steps in the beginning.
Finding your idea already exists in the market is a good thing because it provides validation without having to build the product first. It proves that there is enough interest and —most importantly— budget within your target audience for someone to profit from it.
The fact that you see established competitors means that the thing you want to build actually has been making people money long enough for them to stick around.
Now, this might all sound wonderful, but if they’re so successful, why should an indie hacker even attempt to get into that market?
The choices made by existing businesses often locked them into specific niches or ways of solving problems. Path dependency kicks in: any tech stack choice or design decision ripples into future development choices. The more of these you they make, the more they’re locked in. As an indie hacker, you have the advantage of making different choices which then appeal to unsatisfied customers who are unhappy with current offerings.
For example, let's say there's a tool designed specifically for scheduling tweets on Twitter. I certainly have seen a few of those come and go, and I have my own preferences. But even the tool that I use most doesn’t have everything I want. It has several features that I wish were different.
That’s where you as an indie hacker have an opportunity. Not only could you build a tool that works best for creators like me, but you could also zoom out and create something more versatile that supports multiple platforms or even new competitors like Mastodon or BlueSky.
You get to build the version of the product that its current customers wish it would be.
People using existing tools might wish certain features were added or changed; these users are likely voicing their frustrations online where you can find them easily. Scout communities where those customers hang out, or look at review sites. By listening to these complaints and understanding unmet needs in the marketplace, you'll be able to create better solutions tailored specifically for those users' preferences.
And these are paying customers. They have a budget, and they’re using it.
It’s worth listening to them.
But, one challenge entrepreneurs face here is setting aside their ego when adapting ideas based on customer feedback and demand holes in the market. It’s just not as glorious as inventing your own thing.
But once you understand just how risky a blue ocean business is, you’ll want to convince your ego that it might be looking at a mirage.
Embrace making incremental changes to existing solutions. It’s much safer than going all-in on some random idea. Focus on satisfying unfulfilled demands rather than sticking rigidly to whatever dream of entrepreneurship the over-glorified founder media circuit has taught you to chase.
We all dream of being the next Steve Jobs. But there was only ever one Steve Jobs. Realistically, you’ll find a much less risky approach in looking for competing alternatives.
If competition exists around your concept consider it to be proof of it working as a business.
Don’t chase the dream. Chase validation.