Who Needs Original Ideas?

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I don’t make hits, I take risks
And make flops like floppy disks
I still stay professional and not sloppy
I try to be original, not a photocopy
Never Stop by Chilly Gonzales.

A few months ago I was honored to be a mentor at a mobile app hackathon called App Camp. During the first day “idea people” and teams pitched their ideas to recruit missing members to the team (or just to practice their pitches, if they didn’t need people).

My first thought after the pitches was that there weren’t many really original ideas, if at all. It seemed that either people didn’t do any research on the number of similar apps already in app stores, or they just didn’t care. But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense from the small business perspective.

Basically the high level process of app business (or probably any business) consists of 3 steps:

  1. Coming with an idea
  2. Building an app
  3. “Selling” it (that includes popularizing free apps)

Anyone can come up with some idea. It could be a good idea or a bad idea, but most of the times there’s no lack of “idea people” at these coding events or even any drunk party for that matter. Technical and creative people can relatively easy evaluate their ability to implement that idea. That covers 2 steps out of 3.

Now, for selling the app, 99% of the people in the app business have no idea how to do it. Naïve “entrepreneurs” suppose that it’s enough to build a good product, drop it into the marketplace and start collecting money. More experienced (or just sober) people know that it’s not easy at all.

If you have an original idea and no one out of the tens and hundreds of thousands of developers thought of it, chances are that none of the users thought they need it either. It doesn’t mean that your idea sucks. It only means that you’ll have to somehow convince people that they have a problem that your app solves or, in case of a game, just shove it into faces of users until it catches some word-of-mouth inertia. All of this requires a lot of work and most likely money and it’s not what idea or techie/creative people have and/or want to spend.

Much easier and predictable route is to identify a large(ish) market segment and evaluate your abilities to outexecute the competition. In larger segments there’s enough space for more than 1 or 2 or 3 players. Each platform has a dozen of twitter clients, photo effect apps or Angry Birds clones, and definitely more than one app in each category is doing relatively well. People search for these apps. They evaluate a couple before settling with their favorite. If you execute well, there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to succeed with relatively passive approach to “sales”.

Later in the above mentioned song there’s a line

And if I lack authenticity
Remember – authenticity is often shitty

So, honestly, even though I frown at the idea of creating another “fart app”, from a purely small business standpoint, it seems that unless you want to take big risks to go big, doing a good job on a non-original mass market idea is a safer bet.

What do you think?

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